Tim Ho Wan at Olympian 2

One of my regular stops in Hong Kong is dim sum at Tim Ho Wan. The Michelin star recognized restaurant has opened several branches in the past few years and the original hole-in-the-wall Mongkok branch closed last year due to rent increases. On the most recent visit, we dined at the newest Tim Ho Wan branch at the Olympian 2 complex in Kowloon.

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The new location is a bit of a challenge to find, as it is an exterior restaurant and so you enter the interior of the mall from the MTR system and then have to find your way outside and around the building. Not too difficult, though.

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The interior of this branch is larger and brighter than any of the others, which means that the wait (which can be an hour or more at some locations like the Airport Express station at IFC) is much more reasonable. The four of us were seated in about fifteen minutes. The other benefit of the bright lighting is that pictures can much more easily be taken!

Speaking of which…

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On the left are steamed pork spareribs with black bean sauce. On the right are steamed beancurd skin rolls filled with meat and vegetables.

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On the left is steamed rice with chicken and Chinese sausage. On the right are pan-fried daikon radish cakes.

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On the left are the famous baked buns with barbecue pork – these I could eat several orders of. On the right are deep fried glutinous rice dumplings filled with minced meat. Hard to tell from the outside but both were filled with lots of delicious food.

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On the left is an interesting dish: quail eggs in dumpling wrappers! On the right is glutinous rice wrapped in a typical “bao” bread and steamed.

I didn’t take pictures of everything because dim sum just doesn’t photograph all that well. But we found the food to still be of a very high quality both in terms of ingredients and preparation. Dishes arrived quickly and service was efficient, if not particularly friendly.

In the future, this is the location I’ll return to for great dim sum while in Hong Kong.

Food in HK – Another Tim Ho Wan Location

In April 2010, Tawn and I had the opportunity to visit Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin star winning dim sum restaurant in the Yau Ma Tei area of Hong Kong.  When you hear “Michelin star” the normal image is of a big, swanky restaurant.  Tim Ho Wan is quite the opposite, a modest twenty-seater emphasizing their food and little else.  Because of the chef’s success, a second location was opened in Sham Shui Po, the fabric district in Kowloon.  While in Hong Kong earlier this month, we stopped in for a visit.

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Tim Ho Wan Location 2


Tim Ho Wan
(Second Location)
9-11 Fuk Wing Street
Sham Shui Po
Kowloon
Food: Amazing
Service: So-so
Ambience: None
Price: Bargain

Located roughly equidistant between the Sham Shui Po and Prince Edward MTR stations, the second location of Tim Ho Wan is fairly easy to get to.  Recognizing it will be a bit more challenging if you don’t read Chinese – there is no English signage.  However, the street it is on seems to have no other restaurants, and most of the time you will see a queue out front, so that’s your clue that you are in the right place.

There is also a third location now open in a decidedly more upscale and easier to reach spot: the MTR Airport Express Hong Kong station.  Look for store 12A on level one.  This way, you can zip into the city from the airport on a four-hour layover, have time to eat the Michelin star earning dim sum, and then head back to the airport!

We headed to the restaurant about 11:00 am on a weekday, sneaking in between the morning crowd (the restaurant opens at 8:00) and the lunch crowd.  That meant no wait for us, although just thirty minutes later the other tables quickly filled up.  This second location is probably three times larger than the first, so waits are reportedly much shorter than at the first location, where waits longer than an hour are common.

As for the food, it was still very good but I would dare say the quality and care of preparation is lower than we experienced at the original location.  And, in one case, the hygienic standards were lower, too.

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The cheong fun, wide rice noodles filled with pork, steamed, and served with soy sauce, remain a favorite of mine.  Tim Ho Wan prepares them beautifully, with the most delicate and silky noodles I’ve ever had. 

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Close-up view of the cheong fun, called “vermicelli” on the menu.  The dish is just HK$15, about US$2, and even at three times the price, I would classify it as a must-order dish.

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Another dish the restaurant is acclaimed for is its char siu bao, or barbecue pork buns.  These are baked with a crumb crust on top and have a delightfully flaky texture.

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Inside view of the barbecue pork bun.  As I understand it, the origin of these bao is that restaurants would use the leftover pork from the previous evening’s banquets as the filling.  Of course, that is probably not the case at most restaurants these days.  Tim Ho Wan’s are made of very high quality pork and I could eat a few servings of these buns and call it a day.

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Another winning dish is what the menu calls the “glue rice dumpling”, or glutinous rice dumpling.  Filled with sausage and other goodies then wrapped in a lotus leaf and steamed, this is the most generously-sized item on the menu – about the size of my hand with fingers open wide.  The quality of the ingredients is very high and the rice is very aromatic.

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The pan fried turnip cakes, another dish that is usually a favorite of mine, disappointed.  On our visit to the original Tim Ho Wan location, these cakes were fantastic, with a nicely browned crust and a flavor that comes from only the most seasoned of griddles.  In fact, at the original location, this was my favorite dish.  Unfortunately, the version at location number two was undercooked and uninspiring.

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We made a wrong turn with the steamed beef balls in bean curd (tofu) skin.  Commonly nicknamed “Chinese hamburgers”, these meatballs were cooked very rare.  While I enjoy rare beef (steak tartare is wonderful), the texture didn’t work well in this dish.  Additionally, one of our dining companions found a hair stuck in one of the balls.  We brought this to the attention of a server, who replaced the dish but did not offer any compensation.  While I know that Hong Kong doesn’t have a reputation for good customer service, the least I would expect at a Michelin starred restaurant (at any decent restaurant, for that matter) is that we not be charged for the dish that had to be replaced. 

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We headed back on track with the siu mai, steamed pork dumplings with shrimps.  These mainstays of dim sum were tasty, although there was nothing particularly impressive about them compared to siu mai I’ve had at a dozen other dim sum restaurants.

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Dining companions Tehlin with her daughter.  When I ordered, I ordered for four hungry adults, forgetting that a child isn’t going to eat nearly as much.  Oh, well, more for the rest of us!

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Chris, Tawn, and Chinese aunty.

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For dessert, we ordered two types of warm, sweet soup.  One was the corn and purple glutinous rice and the other was green peas with sea lavender (a type of fragrant seaweed).  Both were tasty but didn’t photograph very well.  The third dessert, described as “tonic medlar & petal cake”, was tasty and beautiful.  It is a gelatine of dried flowers, probably Chrysanthemum, that was beautifully golden and wonderfully aromatic.  This is the type of dessert that is at once very simple – Jell-O! – but also very dramatic.

All told, we had twelve dishes and tea for four, and the bill came out to UK$177, about US$24 for three and a half people.  While we did have the hair in the meatball incident and three dishes that were only average, the remaining dishes (especially the cheong fun and char siu bao) were fantastic and well worth the effort to find the restaurant.

 

Two Days in Hong Kong

The final leg of our Hawai’i trip was a two-day stop in Hong Kong.  A former residence of mine, it is one of my favorite cities in the world and a place I always enjoy returning to.  Thankfully, we still have many friends there are were hosted by a former university classmate and her husband.

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This couple has three adorable children and two days wasn’t enough time to properly visit with them.  The older two were keen on showing off for the camera, seeing what funny faces and poses they could make!  Next time we’ll be sure to leave extra time so we can do some exploring of the city with them.

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One of our stops was breakfast at Lan Fong Yuen along the Central Escalator.  I wrote about this place almost exactly a year ago.  The full entry (with loads of food porn) is here.

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It was mighty crowded and we were placed at a table shared with two other couples in the back corner of the restaurant.  Ordering is always a bit of a challenge because the level of English spoken isn’t as much as it used to be, and our Cantonese is basically nonexistent.  Nonetheless we were able to work it out and were rewarded with some comfort food.

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Drawing on the memories of so many school children throughout East Asia: instant noodles and broth with chicken on top.

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And toasted buns with sweetened condensed milk on top, to accompany the milk tea that is just at the edge of the frame.  Nothing fancy here but certainly a tasty way to start your day.

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Most of the two days was spent wandering around, with Tawn doing some shopping and me chilling out in cafes, reading magazines.  Above is a small street in Lan Kwai Fong with some pretty flowers.  We passed by on our way to dim sum with a friend I had not seen since the day Tawn and I met in January 2000.  By coincidence, I ran into this friend and her mother in Hong Kong Airport that same day, as they were on their way to India and I was on my way to a fateful meeting with destiny.

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Lots of galleries in the Hollywood Road area.  This work is called Imperial Pig and it is by Chinese artist Huang Cheng.  It shows a pig receiving a traditional Chinese medicinal treatment known as fire cupping.  When I lived here, I actually had my own not so good experience being on the receiving end of one of these treatments, which left me bruised for months after!

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One of the coffee shops where I spent some time: Holly Brown Coffee, located on Stanley Street.  Fantastic coffee and ambience.  Their gelato is supposed to be pretty good, too.  I like the graphics on their cup.

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Walking around Central, I noticed this store.  I think the metal screens on the facade of Harvey Nichols are beautiful.  There is so much interesting architecture and design in Hong Kong.

We also had the opportunity to meet up with some Xangans.  By sheer coincidence, Jason and his husband Daniel, exiled from Tokyo for the moment, were in town for the weekend.  While they had visited Bangkok just a few months ago, we were excited for the chance to spend some time with them again.

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Photos borrowed from Jason’s facebook page (without permission – yikes!).  On the left, Tawn, Jason, and Daniel.  On the right, me, Jason, and Tawn.  You should check out Jason’s blog.  He isn’t posting as often these days but has some of the spectacular music he has written and performed.

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Following a tip from Gary’s blog, the four of us sought out this retro Starbucks.  Located on Duddell Street, which dead-ends off Queen’s Road in Central, it is designed as an old bing sutt, literally an “ice house”.  The exterior doesn’t give anything away…

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But once you’re inside, you feel you have been magically transported back to the 1950s and 60s.  A bing sutt was the coffeehouse of the old days, where people could take a bread, enjoy a beverage or trendy Western treats such as soda pop and ice cream.  The design was a fusion of East and West even back in those days.  It feels even more fusion seeing a recreation in the context of the modern day.

This particular project was a collaboration between Starbucks and the Hong Kong brand G.O.D. (Goods of Desire) and the location was chosen because it is very close to the city’s arts community.

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While we were there, some photographers started a fashion shoot.  My lighting isn’t that good but the model’s cheongsam fits the interior of the bing sutt perfectly.  Feels very much like the Wong Kar Wai film, In the Mood for Love.

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New shopping area at the tip of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon called 1881 Heritage.  The developers took the former Marine Police Headquarters (which closed in 1996) and restored it, creating an interesting mixture of history and commerce.  Worth a visit, more for the sights rather than the shops.

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A ride on the Star Ferry remains one of my favorite ways to see the city, and one of the least expensive, too.

The other Xangan we met with was Angel.  He splits his time between Hong Kong and Vancouver, so we’ve been able to meet before.  Didn’t get a picture as we met in a crowded coffee shop.  You should stop by his blog, too, as he recently wrote about a stay at the new W Hotel in Taipei, which is beautiful.

We did a lot more with our two days, but those were the highlights.  On Sunday evening we headed to the airport and flew back to Bangkok, arriving just before midnight.  Of course, all this happened two and a half weeks ago.  I’m so far behind in my blogging!  So now I’ll get back on course and catch you up with what’s happening here in Bangkok.

 

Food in Hong Kong: Modern China Restaurant

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In response to my early posts about this recent trip to Hong Kong, some commenters expressed concern that I wasn’t eating at any Chinese restaurants.  Rest assured, I did eat a good amount of Chinese food while there.  One of the best meals was my final dinner, enjoyed at a Shanghainese restaurant called Modern China.

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Located in the Olympian City Mall in West Kowloon, right above the Olympic MTR station, Modern China blends in among all the other glass-fronted restaurant in a mall that, frankly, could be any other mall in Hong Kong.

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The waiting queue is very modern, with numbers posted on an LED monitor along with a map of tables and their status.  On a busy Sunday evening, Big Michael and I only waited ten minutes for a table.

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The interior of the restaurant is clean and spacious, although tables are packed pretty close together.  The wait staff was professional and attentive, although in typical Hong Kong style were not overly friendly.  The menu is accessible, offering lots of pictures and clear English descriptions.

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A small dish of sweet dried shrimp were served as a complimentary appetizer.  Very flavorful, although when I lived here it took a while to get used to eating shrimp with the shell still on.

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On the autumn special menu was an intriguing sounding dish: braised seafood in pumpkin.

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Sure enough, a beautiful orange pumpkin arrived on our table and upon removing the lid, we discovered a medley of fresh seafood in a rich pumpkin broth.  We also scraped the sides of the pumpkin to dislodge some of the cooked, but still firm flesh.  Very tasty.

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Can’t go to a Shanghainese restaurant without some Xiao Long Bao!  Very tasty, too, with delicate wrappers.  Really, though, will I ever like any XLB better than those at Din Tai Fung?  On the menu, these are rather cutely described as “Mouthful Small Steamed Meat Buns”.

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Braised noodles are always a favorite, especially these fried noodles with twice-cooked pork.

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Our final dish were these fried pastries filled with chopped beef and preserved vegetables.  They were kind of like turnovers, with a very flaky crust and a savory filling.

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There was a lot of juice inside and trying to cut them open neatly proved to be a chore.  But this will give you an idea, at least.

Overall, I give Modern China good marks for tasty, reasonably priced Shanghai style food served in a convenient location.  Good enough to be added to my Google Map of Hong Kong.  If you are looking for a break from the Cantonese food while in Hong Kong, head over to Olympian Mall.

 

Food in HK – Tea at the Intercontinental Hotel

As our trip to Hong Kong came to its conclusion, Tawn and I went to the Intercontinental Hotel on the Kowloon waterfront for afternoon tea.  With its panoramic view of the harbor, the Intercon offers a relaxing and refined way to spend your afternoon.  You end up feeling mighty sophisticated just because of the setting.

Located right along the Avenue of the Stars, a pedestrian walkway along the East Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront dedicated to the stars of Hong Kong cinema, the Intercon is a short walk from the MTR and Kowloon Railway stations.

In the background to the left is the venerable Peninsula Hotel and, next to it, the Sheraton.  The Peninsula is famed for its afternoon tea but, I’ve been told, is both pricey and filled with tourists.  The Intercon offers both the option of either a simple tea service or an extravagant one while offering a view the Peninsula doesn’t.  And maybe slightly fewer tourists, although I can’t tell for certain.

The view from just outside the Intercon, showing the Avenue of the Stars walkway.  This being a reasonably clear day, you can see Victoria Peak back behind the IFC Tower.

The lobby of the Intercon is spacious and bright although the carpet could use a refresh.  Service is very attentive and friendly, though, and I felt very at home.

There was a full tea service that offered sandwiches, pastries, and other snacks.  Since we had eaten only a few hours before and had a large dinner planned, we went for the simple scone and tea option.  The teas are from Mariage Frères, a venerable Parisian company that has been producing fine teas for over 150 years.  It is also the “house tea” at our Bangkok condo.  (Yeah, I know that sounds horribly pretentious!)  In fact, it is the brand of tea Tawn served when he had the opportunity to meet Martha Stewart a few months ago at a friend’s shop.

The silver tea service is heavy and functional, not at all dainty and elegant.  The scones are tasty and the clotted cream and jelly are generously served.  An extra pot of hot water sits on the table and the server stops by every so often to top off your cup.

Certainly a very relaxing and refined way to spend an hour in the afternoon and a nice way to complete our trip to Hong Kong.  I think I should take tea in hotels more often.  And isn’t Tawn adorable in this picture?  As we say in Thai, na-rak jang leuy!

That evening, we had dinner at Aqua, the Japanese Italian fusion restaurant that overlooks the Hong Kong harbor from the top floor of One Peking Road.  I didn’t provide a write-up on the restaurant for two reasons: first, it was a little too dark for food pictures even with my camera; second, our hosts were the brother and brother-in-law of the owner.  We received some special considerations so I’m not sure I could objectively evaluate the restaurant.  I will say that the view is spectacular and the food is very good so if you’re looking for a high end destination restaurant, it is worth considering.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the series on the Hong Kong eats.  In the next few days I’ll put them all on a Google map and share that with you, in case you want to reference them on a future visit to Hong Kong.  Thanks for all your comments and feedback on the entries.

Food in HK – Shang Shang

Our friend Big Michael is a yoga instructor for Pure Yoga, a Hong Kong based chain.  He’s been teaching for several years, primarily at the Langham Place location in Mongkok, Kowloon.  As Tawn is an active yoga practitioner and has even considered becoming an instructor, he wanted to attend numerous classes during our vacation.  Michael arranged for Tawn to have a guest pass and so Langham Place became a frequent destination during our trip.

Shang Shang Map

Mongkok used to be the heart of the dark underbelly (mixed biological metaphors) of Hong Kong, home to the red light district, gambling dens, and the base of the Triads’ operations.  In Hong Kong popular culture, movies such as Portland Street Blues immortalized the nefarious underworld of Mongkok, where the allegiance of gang members and police officers was always suspect and subject to double- and triple-switches.

These days, however, Mongkok is much cleaned up.  The building of Langham Place, a large office, mall, and hotel complex, has transformed the neighborhood into a seemingly respectable district with bright lights, clean sidewalks, and plenty of legitimate business.  Of course, “cleaned up” is as much a cosmetic matter as a systemic one.  Walking back to Langham Place from Yau Ma Tei just before dinnertime one evening, Michael and I were accosted by a number of touts trying to sell us women from a range of nationalities: Thai, Filipina, Indonesian, Chinese…  I will say, though, that these activities were much more subtle than, say, Soi Cowboy in Bangkok, even if we were just a block away from the mall.

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After Tawn completed yoga one evening, Big Michael suggested we try Shang Shang, a Shanghai Cuisine located on the fourth floor of Langham Place.  There is actually a very decent food court there, both with sit-down restaurants as well as the typical food court take-away places.  Shang Shang is a bright and modern restaurant with attentive waiters and a reasonable price.  Oh, and tasty food, too!

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Fried prawns with spicy sauce.  Delicious and not as spicy as you might expect.

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Braised string beans with minced pork – always a favorite of mine!

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Fried rice

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“La Mian” noodle in spicy and sour soup.

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Sauteed chicken in spicy sauce with cashew nuts.

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Shanghai style steamed pork dumplings – the Xiao Long Bau that we enjoyed so much in Taipei.

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Wontons in hot chili sauce.  Again, similar to a dish we had at Din Tai Fung in Taipei while there with Andy and Sugi last November.

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For dessert, a feather-light bun filled with black bean paste.  Almost felt like meringue, the dough was so light.

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A gelatine dessert made from an aromatic flower similar to chrysanthemum.  I didn’t catch the name.  This is made with rock sugar and agar agar (which is made from seaweed).

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Above, Michael serves the noodles to Tawn.  All in all, this was a really tasty restaurant.  Total price for three persons was HK$400 – about US$51.  Worth a visit.

We’re concluding our holiday today, taking the ferry back to Macau and connecting to our flight back to Krungthep.  I’ll continue posting HK meals over the next few days as there are at least four more I need to cover.  I’ll also get these listed on a Google Map so you can reference them in the future if you so desire.  Remember, these suggestions primarily came from Gary, a foodie who really should blog more frequently.  (Hint, hint…)

 

Food in HK – Tim Ho Wan

Most of my eating in Hong Kong this trip could best be described as the Curry Puffy Cuisine Crawl, since most of the recommendations came from Gary’s suggestions based mostly on his December trip back to Hong Kong.  Each time I return to Hong Kong, eating good food is a central objective.  This time was no exception.

Tim Ho Wan is the least expensive, and perhaps the unlikeliest, Michelin-starred restaurant in the world.  Its one star shows that Michelin can overlook dismal locations and lack of pretty presentation and focus its attention on the food.

Tim Ho Wan Map

Located several blocks from the Yau Ma Tei MTR station, this restaurant was opened by the former dim sum chef at Hong Kong’s Four Seasons Hotel.  It is fair to say that the only things missing are the fine china and refined ambience.  The quality of food is exactly what you would expect from the highest calibre restaurant, especially when it comes to dim sum.

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I think most of you know that dim sum (yum cha in Cantonese – “drink tea”) is the original “small plates” dining experience, a breakfast/brunch type meal that features small dishes with dumplings, noodles, buns, and other tasty morsels.  Eaten with a group, it is an excellent way to enjoy many flavors and textures while socializing.  Good dim sum is light and refreshing, made with high-quality ingredients.  Bad dim sum is heavy and made with whatever scraps were leftover from the previous night’s banquets.

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Even at 10:00 on a weekday morning, there was an hour wait for this twenty-seat restaurant.  Instead of a queue, customers took their number and wandered off, coming back closer to their estimated seating time.  While waiting, a few other gweilo (foreigners) arrived, including a couple from San Francisco, foodies with whom we struck up a conversation.  Non-Chinese speakers need to pay attention or learn how to count in Cantonese, otherwise they might be passed by!  Even with a local friend waiting with us we still managed to miss our number.

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With an hour to kill, Tawn entertained me with his many expressions.  Lest you think an hour is a ridiculous amount of time to wait, let me assure you that this was one dim sum place worth waiting for.

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The restaurant itself is nothing fancy.  This was about half of it.  I wanted to go take a picture of the kitchen but knew if I didn’t get yelled at, I’d get run over by the workers.  This is a no-nonsense place attentive to just one thing: turning out good dim sum.

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The highlight of the meal was the barbecued pork buns.  Unlike the usual steamed buns, these were lightly fried, so were flaky and crispy at the same time.  The pork filling was made of good quality, sizeable pieces of pork rather than the ground-up remnants of yesterday’s pork that you so often find in these buns.  These are cooked several dozen at a time so the waitress will bring out nearly all the tables’ orders at once, causing much ooh-ing and ah-ing around the room as diners taste these succulent treats.  We placed a second order (plus two additional orders for our friend Michael to take home) after we tried this first basketful.

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Har gow, steamed shrimp dumplings, were very nice, too.  A good measure of dim sum quality is how thin and translucent the wrappers are.  Thick, heavy wrappers are coarse and filling.  These wrappers were almost transparent, very pliable, and light on the tongue.

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We ordered another typical dim sum dish: glutinous rice stuffed with meat and other goodies and steamed in a lotus leaf.

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Again, instead of the usual barely identifiable contents, there were large slices of good quality pork loin and vegetables inside.  Very tasty!

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Siu mai, steamed pork dumplings with shrimp, were also very tasty, again with a light skin and good quality ingredients.

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One of my favorite dim sum dishes is the rice noodles stuffed with shrimp or pork, served with a soy sauce.  We had pork in ours and found it to be a really lovely dish.  The theme kept repeating: light, delicate wrappers with generous, high-quality fillings.

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My favorite dish, second only to the barbecue pork buns, was the fried daikon radish cakes.  These are made of shredded daikon, seasoned with bits of pork, and then pan fried until crispy.  The perfect cake is delicate and creamy inside with a crisp exterior that isn’t too oily.  These were ideal.

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Tables were shared and so the three of us dined with an old granny, who informed us that she was having her usual lunch of deer tendons and a bowl of noodles.  She explained that the collagen from the tendons kept her looking so young.  I have to say, she did look youthful, so we ordered a dish.  The texture is a lot like eating pig knuckles, the cartilage is soft and flavorful with a sweet soy sauce.

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The total before we ordered the deer tendons and three extra orders of barbecue pork buns was only HK$94 – about US$12.  At a price like that it and with quality like that, it was well worth an hour wait.