Traveling to a foreign country and diving head-first into its epicurean treats is one of the most satisfying aspects of any holiday; but when it comes to gastronomic adventures, there are few places on earth that can deliver mind-blowing experiences like Hong Kong. Think you’re well versed in Chinese food? Think again! Whatever it is you’ve savoured back home, let us assure you that it doesn’t even come close to the real thing.
Dim Sum, the most authentic of all Chinese dining traditions, is much like the Spanish tapas: get together with a bunch of friends, order an almost infinite amount of ‘snacks’ and feast to your heart’s content. While the bustling metropolis boasts local restaurants on every other corner, be aware that not all Dim Sum were created equal. Follow our guide to the very best joints in town and your taste buds will be guaranteed an almost-religious experience.
Now head forth and salivate…
Best Value for Money: Tim Ho Wan (Olympian City 2, 18 Hoi Ting Road)
Signature Dish: Yum Yum Pork Buns
Cons: none! (ok, other than long queues, shared tables and not much personal space)
First of all, we urge you not to be put off by the fact that Tim Ho Wan is a chain restaurant. In fact, what started as a minuscule hole-in-the-wall is now known as the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. Within months of opening, it became so popular that the owner was urged to open more outlets all over Hong Kong. Often referred to as the “Dim Sum King”, founder and chef Mak Kwai Pui has capitalised on his stellar reputation for offering brilliant food at incredible prices, and has even been persuaded to open a store in Singapore in 2013. When it comes to Dim Sum, the world just can’t get enough of this place.
Tim Ho Wan is as noisy as it gets, and as physically uncomfortable as can be (think canned sardines). but boy is the Dim Sum worth it! The roast pork buns (char siu bao) are an absolute revelation, and the reason why patrons queue for at least an hour to score a table. Do the same and you won’t regret it.
Best Splurge: Tin Lung Heen (International Commerce Centre, Kowloon)
Signature Dish: caviar topped prawn & pork dumplings
Cons: you may have to sell a kidney to pay the bill
As you take the lift to reach the 102nd floor of the International Commerce Centre, you get the distinct impression that you may end up emerging in outer space. And you actually do! The absolute contrast between the noisy and smoggy ground floor, and the serenity of this elegant restaurant are just mind-boggling….as are the views.
Try to concentrate on the menu for a minute, and you’ll soon realize that this is not going to be your average Dim Sum experience. Specialties like gold-dusted shrimp dumplings(har gow), and caviar topped pork dumplings (siu mai) are exceptional. The soft shell crab seems to be made of edible silk and the slow-cooked chicken in coconut milk has been known to make grown men weak at the knees. The baked abalone and goose pockets are nothing to snub either.
If you’ve ever wanted to be led by a local expert, then we urge you to ignore the menu and simply let your waiter bring you the house specialties. If you’re going to do that anywhere, let it be here.
The food is outstanding, the views dizzying and the service impeccable. Yes, you’ll pay top-dollar for all three, but it may well end up being the best meal of your trip.
Best For First Timers: Maxim’s Palace (City Hall, Central)
Signature Dish: no groundbreakers here, just consistently good staples
Cons: not nearly as experimental as other restaurants, but this is what makes it a brilliant Dim Sum initiation
If the mere thought of looking at an impossibly long list of nibblies, and using your LP Chinese-English food dictionary to order lunch is enough to induce a migraine, take heart. There are still a few places left in Hong Kong where Dim Sum is served the old fashioned way.
Maxim’s Palace is one of the most revered restaurants in town, and still delivers delectable Dim Sum on wheels when every other place has given up. Just like ‘the good old days’, waiters here do the rounds of the floor, pushing trolleys brimming with yummy goodies, so all you need to do is point, dunk, slurp and savour.
Maxim delivers a very classical dining experience, minus all the bells and whistles of more upmarket venues. Dim Sum may have gone all bling-bling in Hong Kong, but what started as a poor-man’s hearty meal has remained that way at Maxim’s. Head here if you’re visiting Hong Kong for the first time, and you want to get a feel for what Dim Sum is (or was) all about.
RobertBahn @ Flickr
Dim Sum @ Marina Mandarin