Like a fine wine, the dim sum in my life has gotten progressively better and better over time. Admittedly, my dim sum experiences started from rather mediocre beginnings. I grew up outside Kansas City — not exactly a hotbed for Chinese food — yet my parents would drive us for what seemed like FOREVER (though actuality only 45 minutes) every weekend into the city to get the best (and probably only) dim sum in the area at Bo Lings. Later we moved to Atlanta, a step up from Kansas City in terms of access to Chinese food to be sure, but a place with just a handful of dim sum options including Canton House on Buford Highway. It wasn’t until more recently in California where at places like China Garden in Irvine where I finally was able to get “real” dim sum, but I had no idea at the time that a whole new level of dim sum awesomeness existed in the universe.
Two years ago, I traveled to the dim sum mecca for the first time. The birth place and holy grail of dim sum: Hong Kong. We checked out Maxim’s City Hall in Central Hong Kong and it blew my mind. The dim sum was delicious! I loved that they still used the traditional carts at this location. It’s a great place for ambiance and traditional Cantonese style dining. Two weeks ago, I had a layover in Hong Kong before hopping on a flight the next morning. If there is one thing to do in Hong Kong, it’s eating. It was about 3pm after we got settled in, and we figured afternoon tea and dim sum would be the perfect snack.
Tim Ho Wan is where you want to be for dim sum. Little pieces of dim sum around the world grow up wishing to one day be like the ones served at Tim Ho Wan. This place is supposedly the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant and it’s well deserved. Its original restaurant is located in Mong Kok but since we were there on a tight schedule, we decided to try one closer to the city center at the recently opened IFC location.
When we arrived, the place was still packed but no line so we were seated immediately. Score!
This place has the classics. The place-setting shows the most popular dishes. Order as much as you can eat and fill your purse and pockets.
This here is the glutinous rice dumpling wrapped in lotus leaf (糯米雞; HK$25). It arrives like a present.
Unwrap it and you get this perfectly steamed, perfectly sticky rice with perfectly-slow-cooked-fall-apart-juicy pieces of hidden pork in the center. Basically, a present inside of a present.
Then we had one of my usual favorites at dim sum restaurants, the pan-fried turnip cake (蘿蔔糕, HK$14), made from shredded daikon radish and pork. It’s first steamed and then pan-fried. It’s amazingly well made, and you can see and taste the fresh daikon as opposed to the congealed texture you might find at other places.
Ok, normally I’m not a big fan of the spare-rib dim sum dish because it’s usually really fatty, has a lot of bones, is hard to eat and doesn’t often have a lot of meat. I was hesitant to order it but Tim Ho Wan’s spareribs ended up being the best I’ve ever had. They were juicy and flavorful. Not fatty or boney. These are steamed spareribs with black bean sauce (排骨; HK$14) topped with sliced chili.
Of course you have to get the dim sum classics like steamed pork dumplings with shrimp (shaomai 燒賣; HK$23) and steamed fresh shrimp dumplings (蝦餃; HK$23).
Next up was an order of cheung fan 腸粉. This steamed rice roll was stuffed with barbecued pork (HK$20) and topped off with some soy sauce. It’s amazing.
Last but not least: the baked bun with BBQ pork (cha shao bao, 叉燒包; HK$18). These were melt-in-your-mouth, slap-me-silly good. It was the perfect combination of sweet and savory, was surprisingly light and had a perfect crunch from a sugar glaze that I had never seen before on cha shao bao.
Here’s a close-up for Scratch ‘n Sniff.
This whole meal….under USD$18. Tim Ho Wan is worth the wait. It’s worth the hype. It’s where dreams come true. It’s the dim sum promise land. They might not have fancy carts being pushed around to your table but it’s the best dim sum on planet Earth.
Tim Ho Wan | original location, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mong Kok | +852 2332 2896
Tim Ho Wan | Sham Shui Po, 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po | +852 2788 1226
Tim Ho Wan | Shop 12A, Hong Kong Station (Podium Level 1, IFC Mall) , Central Hong Kong | +852 2332 3078