By Gail Cameron
Hong Kong's magnificent skyline
TST is the bustling shopping district on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour. I’d been in Hong Kong for a week and was just learning my way around the busy, bright, noisy city. It was time to try dim sum, Hong Kong’s famous delicacy – small, bite-sized steamed or fried savoury dumplings containing various fillings.
A Cantonese-speaking friend guided me from the subway through the busy streets of Kowloon and up to the third floor of a rather nondescript building, which opened up into a cavernous, elaborately decorated building (gold trim and all): Tao Heung (sadly now closed).
Experiencing some difficulty understanding the menu
Menus arrived at the table, with not a word of English in sight. Lisa took charge and, with a pencil in hand, ticked numerous items on the menu, which the waitress whisked away. In no time at all, steaming bamboo baskets arrived at the table filled with pockets of prawn, steamed BBQ pork dumplings, pork wrapped siu mai and even chicken’s feet!
My journey to try all of the best dim sum restaurants had begun. This was no mean feat, as these restaurants can be found in most buildings, shopping malls and streets. After 18 months in Hong Kong, I tried over 30. Here are my top five, best of the best, dim sum restaurant recommendations:
In the heart of Central, in the Hong Kong City Hall, is Maxim’s Palace. It’s one of the oldest dim sum restaurants in the city and still maintains the tradition of trolley service. Waitresses wheel their trolleys around, and ordering is as simple as pointing at the dish you fancy or asking the waitresses for help (most of them can speak English).
The famous serving trolleys at Maxim's Palace. Photo by TomEats
Recommended dishes include har gaw (delicate rice flour wrapping with a prawn filling), siu mai (pork and mushroom dumpling) and char siu pastries (BBQ pork in a crispy, baked puff pastry casing). Trolley service allows patrons to try unusual options, too – just ask the waitresses for advice. Maxim’s Palace is an institution. Grab a table close to the window, and gaze over the harbour and the Kowloon skyline. www.maximschinese.com.hk
Kwun Woo Fried Dumplings King
Take a day trip out to Shau Kei Wan. It’s a suburb on Hong Kong Island and easily accessible from the MTR. There are numerous sites to see, including a fort that is now the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence. See a walking guide here
Soft sweet dough filled with a juicy beef meatball.
Along the route, it’s essential to try a pan-fried beef or pork dumpling from Kwun Woo Fried Dumplings King. These doughy dumplings are filled with a juicy, delicious meaty filling that will ensure you have more than one. Look out for the big pan full of dumplings for takeaway at 59-99 Shau Kei Wan Main Street E.
Tim Ho Wan
Customers will queue for hours to try the famous dim sum. Photo by Chika Watanabe
If you didn’t know that Tim Ho Wan was there, you’d probably walk straight past it without knowing that this tiny dim sum restaurant has a Michelin star and is listed in the internationally acclaimed Michelin guide. What you will notice, however, is the outrageous queue of people waiting in the road outside. They queue because they know that this dim sum is possibly some of the best in Hong Kong. Do not miss out on Chef Mak’s steamed BBQ pork buns. The filling is both sweet and savoury, generously encased in soft, airy, more-ish white dough. Find the original Tim Ho Wan in Mong Kok at 2-20 Kwong Wa Street. www.timhowan.com
Din Tai Fung
The pork buns get demolished first.
Steaming bamboo baskets of delicate xiao long bao
The dumplings get dipped into a delicious soy and ginger sauce.
Din Tai Fung specialises in xiao long bao, delicate, beautiful little dumplings filled with a pork meatball and soup. Din Tai Fung originated in Taiwan, and the Hong Kong branch became an absolute favourite of mine. The dumplings arrive in steaming baskets with a ginger and soy dipping sauce. Take your time to savour each dumpling; you’ll be sad when your basket is empty. Be sure to arrive early to avoid the queues, but do spend some time watching the numerous kitchen staff preparing the dumplings through the glass windows at the entrance. www.dintaifung.com.hk
Cooks in the kitchen at Din Tai Fung - this is an art.
On the higher-end of the dim sum scale is Crystal Jade. Situated in the glitzy IFC mall in Central, this beautifully decorated restaurant offers a vast menu of Chinese and Cantonese dishes for all tastes. Make yourself comfortable in one of the booth-like tables, and pore over the numerous options. Crystal Jade is not cheap, so be selective. The traditional har gaw and siu mai are excellent, and be sure to try the xiao long bao and dessert dim sum – scrumptious custard-filled sesame buns. www.crystaljade.com
Transparent prawn dumplings - perfect har gaw at Crystal Jade. Photo by Simon A