Dim-Sum – The Primate’s guide to our favorite food in Hong Kong

I used to have a recording of a commercial for some ancient dim-sum place in the northeast or somewhere that went something like this:

Dim-sum!

It’s something good!

It’s something good I wanna sticky choppy pupu platter!

About five or six years ago I went for dim sum with friends in Seattle during the Lunar New Year celebrations in their local Chinatown. Of course, at that point I couldn’t even imagine that I’d be sitting in a Michelin starred restaurant in Hong Kong nomming the crap out of some dim sum. Life goes in lots of unexpected directions, I guess, and this one was a happy, wonderful, delicious surprise.

 

Carolyn looking like she's getting away with something in front of Tim Ho Wan's IFC location.

Carolyn looking like she’s getting away with something in front of Tim Ho Wan’s IFC location.

Tim Ho Wan – Hong Kong’s fine dim-sum experience

Tim Ho Wan has gained fame through Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover for American audiences, it’s damn fine dim-sum to the locals of Hong Kong, and it’s incredibly low prices paired with it’s Michelin star. I mean, can you name another restaurant that’s been awarded Michelin stars where two people can eat for just over $10 U.S.? Didn’t think so. Needless to say, it’s wildly popular.

When visiting Tim Ho Wan, plan to wait. I’d say 15-30 minutes for take out, and 0-60 minutes for a table. We were lucky both times we sat in, but planned so that we weren’t eating during normal mealtime hours. Every time we went for dim-sum we saw a line form as we sat at our table. The good news is they turn and burn the tables really fast, so you won’t be standing there forever.

The location we visited was in Hong Kong Station, so although the address says IFC Mall, you should head downstairs into Hong Kong Station. It’s near a 7-11 and a few other shops. You’ll find it easily by the large crowd gathered outside. If there’s a wait, elbow your way up to the hostess stand and wait for someone to hand you a menu card (you order before you sit) and give you a number. If you don’t speak Cantonese, hold your menu card so the hand written number faces the hostess, because they won’t call the numbers out in English. I developed that technique myself. Heh.

What to order, what to order? Well, we ordered one item every time we visited, and a few different items each time we sat in. I’ll give you the English names as they were listed on the menu (as best as I can remember) so that you know which dim-sum we enjoyed. The good news is, if you order it at Tim Ho Wan, it’s going to be amazing, so don’t sweat if you order the wrong thing by accident. Here’s my guide to Hong Kong dim-sum at Tim Ho Wan, aside from the char siu bao it’s in no particular order.

Most char siu bao are steamed, but baking them earns Tim Ho Wan the Primate's Seal of Excellence for their amazing buns.

Most char siu bao are steamed, but baking them earns Tim Ho Wan the Primate’s Seal of Excellence for their amazing buns.

See? BBQ Pork. Told ya.

See? BBQ Pork. Told ya.

Char siu bao – our favorite dim-sum

Typically a steamed bun filled with sweet and savory barbecued pork, Tim Ho Wan puts a spin on it. Instead of steaming the bun, the chef bakes them, and the bun is much sweeter than the standard steamed bao. As far as dim-sum goes, this is my favorite three bites on earth for now. The bun is even topped with granulated sugar, and while it might not seem like much out of the ordinary, it really really sets the whole thing off. There is a reason you see these buns come out of the kitchen twenty at a time. We made a special take-away trip to Tim Ho Wan solely for these buns!

A thin rice paper wrapper breaded and fried holds succulent meat inside.

A thin rice paper wrapper breaded and fried holds succulent meat inside.

Hom sui gok – deep fried meat dumplings

As far as dim-sum goes, this is just about as good as it gets (unless you’re eating char-siu bao.) These little bites of joy are basically a meaty filling wrapped in a thin rice-wrapper and deep fried. They might be a little bit too hot to nom as soon as they get to the table, but fortune favors the patient in this case. Each one of these is about three or four bites of chewy, savory goodness that will make your dim-sum experience a little bit more joyful.

These bone-in spareribs are so savory that it hurts, but you know, in a good way.

These bone-in spareribs are so savory that it hurts, but you know, in a good way.

Zi jup paai gwat – steamed spareribs with fermented black-beans

Unwrapped meat is a joy in dim-sum. Be careful of the bones, though. These steamed spareribs with fermented black beans were amazing. The fatty skin on these satisfies hunger like nothing else, and the flavor is so savory that it puts even the most umami of foods I’ve eaten in Japan into the “really just savory” category. Don’t miss these at your next dim-sum outing.

This glutinous rice dumpling was filled with delicious bbq chicken and steamed in a banana leaf.

This glutinous rice dumpling was filled with delicious bbq chicken and steamed in a lotus leaf.

Lo mai gai – steamed glutinous rice and barbecue chicken in a lotus leaf

I think that lo mai gai is a must at every dim-sum meal. Someone always wants it, or in our case, someone at the next table suggested it. The first time I tried this in Seattle I wasn’t a huge fan, but this time was different. The rice had a bit of a crisp edge on the outside, and inside the sticky rice was a glob of barbecued chicken with a seriously smoky flavor. Tim Ho Wan does all dim-sum right, but they changed my mind about this whole category of steamed delights.

The runny yolk and rice pair perfectly with the stewed beef for a few marvelous bites.

The runny yolk and rice pair perfectly with the stewed beef for a few marvelous bites.

Cantonese name unknown - beef on steamed rice with fried egg

This was one of my favorite surprise dishes we ordered at Tim Ho Wan. The beef on this rice was incredibly tender and savory. The fried egg on top oozed yolk all over the beef and rice and made it into a gloppy mess that was easy to handle with chopsticks. Hello dim-sum heaven. This bowl of goodness had no wrapper, wasn’t dumpling like at all, and had no clear portioning. I really wanted to just stick my face in the bowl as if it was a dog bowl and go to town. That would have been bliss, and frowned upon.

These are the best shumai I've ever eaten, easily.

These are the best siumai I’ve ever eaten, easily.

Siumai – steamed dumplings with pork and shrimp

These are perhaps the world’s standard dim-sum dish. In fact, at lots of restaurants I’ve seen these referred to simply as “dim-sum.” I think that does the whole concept of “dim-sum” a bit of a disservice, but what the hell do I know anyhow? As far as siumai go, these are the best I’ve ever had. The shrimp weren’t overdone, the filling was delicious, the wrappers weren’t overcooked. I imagine it’s a difficult thing to get that whole balance perfect.

These dumplings were filled with green onion, water chestnut, and meat. Delicious.

These dumplings were filled with green onion, water chestnut, and meat. Delicious.

Zing gau – Chiu Chow style dumplings with meat and vegetables

These dumplings had a much thicker wrapper than any other dim-sum I’ve eaten before. They were filled with green onion, water chestnut, peanut, and pork, and boy oh boy were they yummy. Sadly, they were overwhelmed by the deliciousness of everything else on the table and were somewhat less memorable than all of the other dumplings and meats. They were still absolutely good enough to be on anyone’s table anywhere, however.

So, there you have it, another Primate’s Thoroughly Incomplete Guide to something. In this case, dim-sum. Let’s get real, it’s dim-sum at Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong. My most pure suggestions for dim-sum at Tim Ho Wan are these.

  1. Go with someone you love.
  2. Wear your fat pants.
  3. Order everything.
  4. Eat everything.
  5. Repeat.
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