Hong Kong is a city of 7.2 million people which, to put into perspective, is nearly twice as populated as the city of Los Angeles, and more populated than the boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn combined. Suffice it to say that as it would be practically impossible to eat at all the fabulous places in LA or NYC in a week, it’s nearly impossible to eat at all the great places in Hong Kong on a week’s vacation. Even if you were to venture out of traditional Cantonese cuisine or food at Hong Kong style cafes (茶餐廳), there are still a range of other options from Teochow cuisine to high end French fare. And nearly everywhere you walk, no matter what neighborhood you are in, your nose is assaulted with the smell of food whether it’s fresh or cooked.
So with only 15 meals in the 6 days I was there, I couldn’t possibly eat it all. In fact, some places I really wanted to go ended up being inconvenient from where I was staying or traveling to and others were outside of my price range (which only allowed me to splurge once, which you can see below). Of the 30 places I had starred as “wanting to go” on my OpenRice app (similar to Yelp), I ended up only going to 7. Nonetheless, given that the city is filled to the brim with food basically 24/7, nearly every place I ate at was delicious.
But in order to break my blog posts to reasonable reading sizes, I’m making this a 3+ part blog series on my travels. Today’s focus is on something I have blogged about here copiously: dim sum. So without further ado…
Dim Sum (點心)
Dim Sum as we know it today was perfected In Guangdong province and has, of course, continued to evolve in Hong Kong since it became the center of Cantonese culture and food after World War II and the Chinese Civil War. Much as it has evolved in North America, dim sum has transformed from a breakfast meal to get starch and protein before a long days work to food you can get at nearly any hour of the day whether you are eating alone or with numerous companions. Regardless of the time of day I ate dim sum, there were many fellow diners. Fortuitously, though, I never had to wait in line, even at Tim Ho Wan. I ate 4 meals of dim sum in total (only 2 were planned) and here are my thoughts on each of them:
6/F Langham Place Hotel
555 Shanghai Street
Situated on the 6th floor of the posh Langham Place Hotel in Mong Kok (旺角) is the Michelin star Ming Court. This was by far the most expensive meal I had on the trip, even more than my split of afternoon tea at the RItz Carlton, and one that I had planned in advance. I wanted at least one upscale dim sum option and Ming Court turned out to be the easiest to get a reservation with a fast an simple online booking system through their website as opposed to The Chairman, which needed you to have an email back and forth with the restaurant. I booked a table of one for Saturday morning as a good place to start on my trip to Hong Kong.
And I can say that the food was not simply good, it was excellent. Highlights included the:
- Bamboo Shoot Shrimp Dumpling, Steamed (貴妃醉蝦餃) – the first “perfect” har gow I’ve ever had – skillfully wrapped with 15 folds, really fresh shrimp accented well with the bamboo shoot, and wrapping that tore off perfectly when bitten.
- Egg Yolk Custard Bun, Steamed (明閣流沙包) – Steamed perfectly with a bun that was soft without being wet and filling that was salty sweet without being too runny.
- Bird’s Nest Egg Tart, Baked (燕窩蛋撻) – While the birds nest was honestly a little superfluous (but because I was splurging, why not?), but the texture melded nicely to these petite egg tarts with a nice buttery crust and delicious custard filling.
I also ordered the Crab Meat Dumpling, Egg White, Black Truffle, Steamed (松露蛋白蟹肉餃) and the Pork Dumpling, Whole Shrimp, Crab Roe, Steamed (燒賣), both of which were also good. Bonus? Because I was dining for one, they halved some of the orders that called for 4 pieces to orders of 2 pieces. However, that wasn’t the best perk of all! Ming Court’s teapots stood atop a teapot stand that had a candle underneath to ensure that the tea was always nice and warm! And at about $35 USD for the meal, while it was expensive it wasn’t that much more expensive as higher end places in the United States at lower quality (like San Francisco’s Yank Sing).
Sun Hing (新興食家)
Shop C, G/F, 8 Smithfield Rd
Kennedy Town, Western District
Sun Hing was highly recommended by the host of the AirBnB place I stayed in Sai Ying Pun (西營盤). Thus, the next morning I rode the MTR from the new Sai Ying Pun station a couple stops down to Kennedy Town for morning breakfast at 7AM. Sun Hing is known to late night revelers as the place to sober up as it opens dark and early at 3AM. And while the crowd wasn’t quite as bad at 7AM, this tiny joint was filled to the brim with many locals gathering for their Sunday lunch. I managed to nab a spot when I walked in because there was one seat empty (as pretty much every table in a non-hotel restaurant in Hong Kong is a communal table).
Sun Hing was as local and “old style” dim sum as I got on my trip with dim sum ladies quickly moving just steamed or fried dim sum through the narrow aisle between the 6 tables. It’s first come first serve (so being lucky to have a table spot close to the kitchen is a great bonus) and anything left over is piled at a counter near the cashier for to go orders. It’s fast, it’s furious, and it’s done almost entirely in Cantonese, which is something that can be daunting for first timers. Two standouts here were:
- Pork Meatball Cheung Gyun (腸捲) – These were simply hawked as cheung gyun (rice noodle roll similar to cheung fun, but not flat) but the rice noodle, tube of pork, and chopped vegetables were very delectable.
- Siu Mai (燒賣) – These were the best siu mai I had on the entire tripe. Very fresh with a little shrimp and juicy, tender pork meat.
I also got the har gow and pai gwat which were both pretty good as well. Sadly, I didn’t get their most popular item, the egg yolk custard/lava bun (流沙包) but after waiting patiently for 10 minutes to see if any would come after I had eaten my last dim sum item, I decided to call it quits. However, I would happily come again – not only because of the great food, but at $79 HKD (a little over $10 USD), it was also the cheapest dim sum place I went to on the whole trip.
Tim Ho Wan (添好運)
Shop B, C, & D, G/F 2-8 Wharf Rd
Seaview Building, North Point
Known primarily as the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world (which is now debatable after roast goose king Yat Lok received a Michelin Star this past year), this hole in the wall turned international chain is the mastermind of former Four Seasons Chef Mak Pui Gor. I deliberately went to the North Point location partially because it was near the hotel in North Point I stayed in during the latter half of my trip and partially because it has the smallest lines of all Tim Ho Wan locations in Hong Kong, due to location and size of the restaurant. Coming in a little after 1PM on a Monday afternoon I had little problem getting a seat, promptly washing my utensils in tea, and sitting down to order. Of the 5 items I got, 2 were stand outs in my book:
- Char Siu Bao (酥皮焗叉燒包) – These are THE signature item at Tim Ho Wan and they are surely not to be missed. The savory filling of the char siu matched perfectly inside a freshly baked “pineapple” bun. Definitely the best char siu bao I ever ate.
- Steam Rice with Chicken and Chinese Sausage (臘腸滑雞飯) – This simple tin bowl of rice, marinated and diced chicken, and Chinese sausage might not look special, but it was very tasty. It might not be exactly a bowl of claypot rice, but all the ingredients had nice flavor and I ate every last rice kernel.
I also ordered the har gow, siu mai, and a plate of poached lettuce. The lettuce mainly happened because I typically feel the need to balance my protein rich dim sum meals with some vegetables, though this lettuce was wholly mediocre. The har gow and siu mai were fine, in fact they are likely to beat at least 2/3 of all LA area dim sum restaurants with better quality and cheaper prices. However, as many seasoned local and frequently visiting dim sum enthusiasts note, their non-specialty items are fairly average for Hong Kong standards.
Kung Fu Dim Sum (功夫點心)
Shop 1, G/F, 98 Java Road
My last dim sum stop of the trip was Kung Fu Dim Sum’s branch in North Point. Kung Fu is a decent sized Dim Sum chain with a few outlets across Hong Kong. I was always intrigued walking by one, not sure what to think, but as luck would have it a friend I made in town decided that our last meet up would be here.
Because I was with a dining companion, Kung Fu Dim Sum ended up being the place where I sampled the most dim sum items. Of course I didn’t mind that and we ended up ordering 7 items. The 3 that stood out the most included:
- Braised Ox Tripe with Black Pepper Sauce (牛雜) – Yes, the tripe was excellent. It was cleaned, marinated, and steamed perfectly unlike the overcooked and marinated versions you would find in the US. The daikon underneath was steamed fantastically as well, with texture that was tender yet crispy and soaked some of the sauce.
- Malay Sponge Cake (馬拉糕) – This “Malaysian” sponge cake was probably the best I ever ate as it was just sweet enough, fluffy, and steamed just enough to be moist but not soggy.
- Mango filled Mochi – The fresh mango pared really well with the chilled rice cake and were a perfect bite size dessert to finish the night and end my last full day in Hong Kong.
We also got har gow, siu mai, jook, and a shredded diakon puff pastry. All tasted decently, and the diakon puff pastry added interesting texture. The quality here was probably more consistent than Tim Ho Wan, and I can see why the restaurant turned into a busy yet under the radar chain. However, if I were to chose I probably would go to Tim Ho Wan first because the Char Siu Bao are that good.
Post Trip Thoughts
All in all the dim sum was excellent in Hong Kong, as one might expect. Nearly every one of my favorite dim sum items in North America had an even better version in one of the places I went to in Hong Kong. Those that weren’t beaten during my trip in Hong Kong (like the prawn spring rolls at Kirin in Vancouver) may be only surviving in my top dim sum list because I never tried the dish during my rather limited time in my parents’ birthplace. And I look forward to eating them on my next visit.
Up next in my series, the ubiquitous Hong Kong cafes/cha chaan tengs (茶餐廳) around the city…