Dim Sum in Hong Kong is a magical experience. Dim sum is best enjoyed with a big group of friends and an even bigger appetite…
Dim Sum in Hong Kong: a practical guide
In my last article, I promised a post all about dim sum in Hong Kong. So here it is…
One of my favourite things about travelling is checking out and enjoying the local food and culinary practices. From the moment I booked the flights for my most recent trip to Hong Kong, I began to salivate over the prospect of dim sum. Dim sum in Hong Kong is a culinary experience that everybody should try once in their lives (and then over and over again because it is so damn good). Dim sum consists of a selection of small plates, which are best enjoyed with a big group of friends and an even bigger appetite. I have always enjoyed catching up with friends over food, so dim sum is right up my street. It is a very social experience: crowded tables of friends and family enjoying quality time and food together. So its no wonder it has become a weekly tradition for many Chinese families.
The practice of dim sum originated from the tea houses in Canton, China. These were small, roadside establishments which sold tea (and dumplings) to weary travellers and merchants on the silk road. Over the years, dim sum has grown from a small snack to something of a family dining ritual, particularly in Southern China and Hong Kong.
The rules of dim sum
Tea: dim sum begins with tea. In fact, drinking tea (yum cha) is as important as the food itself. On arriving at the tea house / restaurant and finding a table, the waiter will offer tea. Jasmine, green, oolong, black – usually there will be a selection of teas on offer. I generally just let them surprise me (or opt for the house tea). Dim sum and tea are a match made in heaven. Finished the pot? Either turn the lid upside down or leave it ajar to get a refill. Don’t forget your manners – remember it is good etiquette to always offer to fill up other people’s cups before your own. If somebody fills your cup, tapping your index and middle finger on the table twice is the equivalent of saying thank you.
Ordering: depending on the specific tea house, ordering will either be a la carte or via trolley. With a la carte dining, you’ll receive a checklist – simply check off what you want and pass it to the waiter. In other tea houses, servers will walk round with trolleys full of dishes. Simply point at what you want and get your card stamped.
Share: like its Spanish brethren, tapas, dim sum is a sharing experience. More people and a wider selection of dishes make for a better experience. So make sure you don’t hog one dish for yourself.
Less is more: don’t over order. Selecting a few different dishes at a time is best practice. That way, each dish will still be hot when eaten. Continue to order a few dishes at a time until you are full.
Be adventurous: whilst dumplings and buns are the staples of dim sum, don’t let some of the more exositc dishes on offer put you off. After all, you’ll never know whether you might like turnip cake or chicken feet unless you try them…
Remember your chopstick etiquette: don’t leave your chopsticks sticking out of your food when you aren’t using them. Instead, when taking a break from eating, place the sticks to the side of your bowl or plate. To indicate to the waiter that you’ve finished, simply place your chopsticks horizontally across the top of your plate. It’s perfectly fine to life your bowl to mouth level and use your chopsticks to manoeuvre rice straight into your mouth. If there are no serving utensils you can use your chopsticks instead, but make sure you serve with the ends that haven’t been in your mouth.
My friend Lucy heads for the trolley in the Lin Heung Tea House
The best dim sum in Hong Kong
There is no shortage of places to try dim sum in Hong Kong. In fact, the sheer choice of tea houses and restaurants can be overwhelming. As a rule of thumb, look for somewhere favoured by the the locals (especially older people who are wise in the ways of dim sum). To help you get started, a few of my personal recommendations for dim sum in Hong Kong are:
- With a number of restaurants around Hong Kong, Tim Ho Wan offers a super-affordable, Michelin Star dim sum. Their char siu bao is legendary).
- If you are in Kowloon be sure to check out One Dim Sum, a small dim sum restaurant located near to the Prince Edward MTR. The food is cheap and tasty and the service friendly. They had to roll me out out after eating so much. My server looked both impressed and disgusted with the number of dishes I consumed.
- For a more chaotic and traditional Chinese experience, check out the legendary Lin Heung Tea House.
- For the fine diners amongst you (or those with Hong Kong dollars to burn), look no further than Yan Toh Heen, located in the Intercontinental Hotel.