No visit to Southern China without “touching the heart,” as Dim Sum (dian xin, 点心) is sometimes rendered into English.
The small steamed delicacies are quite the tradition – and in the two Hong Kong institutions I visited, they are found in very different forms. Or rather, similar form but different context.
1) Tim Ho Wan
Number 1, Tim Ho Wan, is another one of the Hong Kong eateries that is Michelin-starred. (Or rather, some of its branches are, others are not.)
It is an interesting mix, for the food is good but still, seen in its cultural context, close to street/fast food, and the ambiance is similarly close to that of a utilitarian eatery, not that of a restaurant worth a Michelin star in the European context.
It is all the more interesting because people (read, foreign visitors) often complain about the service being less than stellar, even as it is simply efficient. The food, meanwhile, gets everything from rave reviews to mediocre ratings – and it’s worth a visit whatever you think.
The one I went to was the branch near North Point (like the market street
My choice, this time around:
The essential Char Siu Bao, “baked bun with BBQ pork” which Tim Ho Wan makes like none other, with a crisp crust on the soft and sweet buns over melting-tender pork in ‘barbecue’ (Char Siu) sauce. I find them on the too-sweet side, but they are tasty anyways, in the combination of flavors and mouth feels they themselves provide and combined with other dishes.
That is true especially when one of these others are ‘pan-fried green pepper(s) filled with mixed fish and pork’, giving another contrast of mild-tasting meats and just-perfectly peppery green chilli.
The third dish, finally, were ‘steamed dumplings in chiu chow style’, steamed dumplings with a filling of (one or the other of) peanuts, garlic chives, ground pork, dried shrimp, dried radish and shiitake mushrooms.
2) Lin Heung
Number 2, Lin Heung, turned out just too attractively repealing to miss.
For one, it is also on Wellington Street, like Tsim Chai Kee and Mak’s Noodles.
And, anyone who is unhappy with Tim Ho Wan’s service should pay a visit to this dim sum eatery upholding the traditions of the same: a seat-yourself (if you can find a spot) policy, carts bringing the dim sum that just got done out around the tables, and a necessity to simply get up (quickly enough) and check what it is that’s just being carted out if you want to have a chance at getting it.
So, you get in, at the bakery section downstairs, go up the stairs into the eatery, get pointed into the hall to just find a spot. You sit down, wait for the tea guy to get you some tea and utensils (the tea, not least for washing the bowls and chopsticks) and, not the least importantly, the ticket with which it is marked what sort of dishes you picked. Then, you just wait for a cart to come around – or more there yourself – check what is in those baskets (or listen for what is called out as being in them), and get what you want and the requisite stamp on the ticket. Back to your place if you left it for the pick-up, and on to the eating…
For the comparison, I went for char siu bao here, too. Interesting contrast, for it is tasty here, too, but considerably more like baozi, with a thick, fluffy baozi dough and a filling that is still, if thicker, char siu sauce and (fattier, stringier, but still quite alright) pork.
Other choices were crispy fried spring rolls and the as-usually slurp-worthy (or disintegrating) filled rice noodles, also with a filling of barbecue-sauce meat (or something like it). Here, you get what you pick, making it more difficult to know what’s inside but also more of an adventure.
Obviously, most of the customers were locals and many apparently regulars; the greetings and chats with them made that abundantly clear. To the visitor, it is a different experience, if not an immersion into a bit of a different world, indeed.
Enter at your own risk :-p