Yum Cha

Last week we finally made the long-anticipated trip to Hong Kong. Primarily a visa run for me (which was successful, HURRAH!) we added a couple of extra days on to the necessary admin time to give us plenty of time to explore the city.

Hong Kong is a fantastic city. It’s cramped and crazily busy but the atmosphere is one of excitement and where people work hard but maximise their time off. The architecture is itself a tourist attraction – we actually made a trip specifically to look at the HSBC offices – and cafes, bars and generally great places to chill out are everywhere – mainland China, take note!

The downside – it’s really, really expensive!! Surviving a week of London-esque prices on an ESL teacher’s wage meant that we had to seek out the cheapest places to eat throughout our stay. Far from being a bad thing, this was actually a huge positive! Finding the best bargains meant seeking out where the locals ate and led to us eating the most delicious, authentic food available. I would go as far to say that I ate much better than I would have, had I splashed out on one of the many double Michelin star restaurants littered around the city! For just a few pounds I ate huge prawn wontons stuffed full with whole shrimp, amazing roast goose at a tiny noodle joint that comes Michelin recommended and best of all, enough dim sum to feed a small army.

Being in the land of yum cha, the name given to the Chinese equivalent of afternoon tea – tea and dim sum, obviously seeking out the best dim sum was top of our culinary list. And led to us having the most hilarious restaurant experience of my life….more on that later!

On our first night in Hong Kong we headed to Tim Ho Wan, a dim sum joint famous in Hong Kong for having a Michelin star tucked nicely in to it’s BBQ pork buns, dumplings and chicken feet. It’s officially the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world and with the promise of being able to eat our fill for around £10 each we had to go. Having eventually located it in HK Central train station we joined the very long queue and obtained a menu card from one of the comically rude waitresses. With only a small number of dishes to choose from we basically went for one of everything that didn’t involve chicken feet and/or offal. Once we were ushered into our seats, sitting elbow-to-elbow- with our fellow diners, a procession of incredible dumplings, rolls and buns were slammed down in front of us. All absolutely delicious and an excellent kick-start to my dim sum addiction for the rest of our trip.

It was the next day that we found what I have labelled ‘dim sum Mecca’. On our friends’ recommendation, we headed to Lin Heung Kui, a completely authentic teahouse which was like no other restaurant I have ever eaten in. Having been warned it would be busy, we hopped in the lift up to the restaurant where the doors slid open to reveal a deafening crowd of diners crammed around circular tables. We found two seats next to a very friendly local who excitedly told our fellow table mates we were English teachers from the mainland several times, and dispensed very useful advice to me about the ritual of washing out our teacups before drinking as the waiter had tried and failed to explain it to me in Cantonese. Handed an order card, we were then on our own to find our dim sum. At Lin Heung Kui, it’s not table service. Instead little, old (primarily grumpy) ladies in tunics push round trolleys piled high with steamers. As they emerge fresh from the kitchen to begin a new circuit around the restaurant the race begins to get to the trolley and start whipping off lids to find the dim sum treats you want. Once you’ve found something you grab it quick to beat the masses and get your card stamped before returning to your table with your ‘winnings’. Manic, competitive and bloody brilliant!

As new trolleys come round it’s impossible to resist nipping over for a nosy and as such, we ate to the point of bursting. Everything was incredible. The dim sum I have eaten in the UK, whilst usually delicious, has the slightly off-putting quality of being an unidentifiable mush of ingredients that’s had a trip through a high-speed blender. Here, whilst some parts were a little mysterious, the dumplings were stuffed full of whole shrimps, chunks of pork and generous slices of vegetables.   All packed into dumplings about twice the size of the helpings I’ve had in London.

So great was this meal, we headed to Lin Heung Kui’s sister restaurant on our final day. Having been in business since 1926, this is the original teahouse in the chain and has been crammed full pretty much everyday since opening. Our trip here was even more busy and chaotic and the dim sum on offer took a lot more sifting through as fish heads and chicken feet featured far more frequently – a good thing as it forced us to pace ourselves and not inhale everything that was wheeled past this time! Lin Heung Kui also proved itself to be a practice run as obtaining the dim sum here was even more of a competitive mission. The trolley ladies were hardly ever willing to stop so it was a case of elbows out as we joined the crowds chasing them around the restaurant to grab the top choices. Just as fun and just as delicious, I can’t stress enough that if you ever plan to come to Hong Kong, you absolutely have to join in on the madness and pay these restaurants a visit!



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