I visited Hong Kong for work for the second time in Autumn of 2016 and stayed for three weeks, which gave me time to eat in quite a few places…
Dim Sum are small snack-sized portions of food. Most commonly these are steamed or fried dumplings and buns, with meat or seafood fillings, but can also include steamed green veg, roasted meats and soups and desserts such as custard tarts. Eating dim sum is a Cantonese tradition, originating in Guanzhou, which overlaps with the older Silk Road tradition of Yum Cha (tea drinking). Typically the occasion is a shared family brunch at the weekend although nowadays dim sum can be eaten at any time, and often as takeout.
The ideal number of people to eat dim sum is four, as many portions have four items. In restaurants they were traditionally served from trolleys pushed around the tables but in more modern, often smaller places, food choices are made via a tick box menu. There will also be a wide range of teas to choose from which will often include Green, Black, Chrysanthemum, Oolong and scented teas like Jasmine. Alcohol is rarely served.
In Hong Kong yum cha is very popular and there’s a big dim sum restaurant scene. Here are five excellent places I’ve been to. They’re all different, and I like them all for different reasons. The first three are all innovative newcomers, the fourth is an ancient institution and the last is a big posh palace with a view of the harbour. My Google map is here.
The first two places are two branches of the same company, Tim Ho Wan, which now has 45 branches worldwide. The Sham Shui Po, North Point and Tai Kok Tsui branches all have one Michelin star. Tim Ho Wan get props from sources I respect like Anthony Bourdain, Where Chefs Eat and Eat Like A Girl. In fact in 2009 they got international accolades for being the world’s cheapest Michelin star meal. Expect queues at peak times.
Tim Ho Wan – Sham Shui Po (Intermediate A), G/F, 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Tong Mi, timhowan.com.hk
This was my first experience of dim sum in HK. I was attracted by the rep and this particular branch because it’s a short taxi ride from the Royal Plaza Hotel where I was staying. I was expecting a queue but was seated straight away, although I had a family join my table soon afterwards.
One of my favourite Cantonese food items are Chāshāo Bāo 叉燒包, Barbecue Pork-filled Buns, which come in two forms; steamed, white and fluffy or baked, golden and glazed. At Tim Ho Wan they serve the latter, (Chāshāo Cān Bāo 叉燒餐包) with a sugary glaze, which has made them the most famous item on the menu (A+).
I also love their Shāomài 燒賣, Steamed Pork Dumplings with Shrimp (A).
The Steamed Spareribs (Páigǔ 排骨), served here with Black Beans (Dòuchǐ 豆豉), are very good (B+).
Luóbo Gāo 蘿蔔糕, Pan-fried Turnip Cake, is another favourite of mine, made more flavoursome here by the inclusion of dried shrimp (A).
Chángfěn 腸粉, Rice Rolls, can be eaten plain but the ones on the menu here are stuffed with BBQ pork (A).
Tim Ho Wan – North Point (Intermediate A), Shop B, C, & D, G/F, Seaview Building, 2 Wharf Road, North Point, timhowan.com.hk
Another branch, also with its own Michelin star. I walked straight in without queueing. The menu is a couple of dishes longer and the desserts are different. I tried a few different things this time.
Phoenix Claws (Fèngzhuǎ 鳳爪) is the euphemistic name for chicken feet which have been deep fried, boiled and then steamed. Often, as here, they are served with black beans. I’m slowly learning to appreciate them, but I’m not completely there yet (B).
The Wontons in Chilli Sauce were pretty good (B+).
The Pan-fried Green Pepper with Mixed Fish and Pork was a new dim sum to me (B+).
I also enjoyed the Steamed Rice with Chicken and Chinese Sausage (B+). It had two kinds of sausage, one with blood and the other without, both of which were less challenging than the ones I’d have with my claypot rice at another restaurant.
DimDimSum (Intermediate A), G/F, Man King Building, 26-28 Man Wui St, Jordan, www.facebook.com
In 2011 this restaurant won the Time Out Food & Drink award for the best dim sum in HK and in 2012 they were listed by Newsweek as one of the 101 Best Places to Eat in the World. I knew of them via the 2013 edition of Where Chefs Eat. The location is slightly off the beaten track in Jordan but it’s worth the walk from the station.
They have a rep for innovative, unusual dim sum and I was immediately drawn by their Steamed Rice Rolls with Black Truffles and Mixed Mushrooms (A).
That didn’t stop me ordering perhaps the most common dim sum of all, Har Gow 蝦餃, translucent steamed prawn dumplings, which I adore (A).
I liked their Chicken Feet and Spareribs on Steamed Rice because the smaller portion means all the feet get eaten when ordered by timid Westerners like me (B+).
They are well known for their cute Pineapple Buns with Custard Filling (A) which feature in the savoury section of the menu for some reason.
Where Chefs Eat recommends the house specials like Pan-fried Tofu Skin with Chicken and Cumin, or the fried ‘9 Dishes’ with Pig’s Blood and XO Sauce, Steamed Tripe with Black Pepper Sauce, and for dessert, the Sesame Seed Balls but many of these weren’t on the menu when I went. So, make sure you ask what specials are on that day.
Overall, excellent food and very reasonably priced. I urge you to go.
Luk Yu Tea House (Intermediate B+), 24-26 Stanley Street, Central, www.lukyuteahouse.com
This venerable institution was established in 1933 but moved to its present location in 1976.
It doesn’t seem to have changed much since then.
The décor has an Art Deco feel with wooden booths, ceiling fans, and stained-glass windows.
They get props from the Eat Like A Girl blog and in Where Chefs Eat they are described as one of the best places in HK for dim sum. They also get extra points from me for serving beer.
The menu is also very retro and included many hard-to-find items, and there’s nothing bite-sized about their portions. Take for example the Steamed Jumbo Sized Chicken Bun (B) which could easily have fed four.
I also found the ‘Steamed Shumai topped with Pork Liver Slice’ to be quite unsubtle in their presentation, but the flavours were good (B).
My favourite was the Lo Mai Gai 糯米雞 or Steamed Fried Rice with Shrimp wrapped in Lotus Leaf (B+).
Finally some Egg Tarts to finish (B).
The service has a reputation for being notoriously rude but I have no complaints about my chap who was friendly and attentive.
So not the best or the most reasonably priced food, you’re effectively paying for the history and tradition, but it’s still a good experience that I would recommend. In 2002 a businessman was assassinated by the Triads in here but don’t let that put you off, they’re not after you, are they?
Maxim’s Palace (Advanced A-), 2/F, Low Block, City Hall, Central, www.maxims.com.hk
This is a modern place that observes tradition. The location on the second floor of the City Hall building has a good view of the harbour…
…and the opulent surroundings merit the palace moniker.
The dim sum are old school and served off trolleys. This was my last day of eating dim sum and I was in the mood for dumplings…
I had the Har Gow 蝦餃 steamed prawn dumplings once more because I love them so much (A).
And of course the Chāshāo Bāo叉燒包, steamed BBQ pork buns again (A), along with the Steamed Ribs with Black Bean Sauce (B+).
Also the Chángfěn 腸粉 Steamed Rice Rolls with Shrimps were good (A).
The only dim sum I had here that aren’t mentioned above were the Xiǎolóngbāo (饺子). Also known as Shanghai dumplings due to their place of origin, these are pork-filled ‘soup dumplings’ (they can contain seafood but not usually) which flood your mouth with juicy rich broth when you bite into them (A). Here, the hole in the top allows you to top them up with blended vinegar and soya sauce.
My only gripe was that I was rather abruptly hassled to pay the bill while I was still eating which earned them a minus mark but otherwise it was a great experience.
Obviously as a single diner, the amount of different dim sum I can try at any one time has its limits so apologies if I haven’t covered a more comprehensive range of dim sum, there are many more. Hopefully though I’ve given you a good range of the best things to try. Go with a gang if you can.
Noodles next! 🙂