HONG KONG – I've always been a sucker for packaging. Pair that with a weakness for tiny things and it pretty much explains my adoration for dim sum. On a recent trip to Hong Kong I polled experts, tallied points, and had more than a few steamer baskets of glutinous (and gluttonous) bite-size dumplings.
Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons has three Michelin stars, elaborate floral arrangements, and steamed lobster-scallion dumplings. Yan Toh Heen at the Intercontinental offers a "smart-casual" weekday dim sum with bird nests, frog legs, and pastry dough buns. The Art Deco Luk Yu Tea House is old-school and bustling. I wanted to love it, because the place really strikes a nostalgia chord with locals, but it felt somewhat tired and lackluster to me. I found a much more enjoyable dim sum lunch at the bright and spacious Victoria City Restaurant in the CITIC Tower, where I dove into springy taro puffs, bean curd with winter pea shoots, delicate soup dumplings, and steamed crab with water chestnut. For an immediate food coma, try the baked barbecue pork buns or deep-fried pumpkin dumplings.
CHA CHAN TENG
One morning I accompanied the executive chef of Cafe Gray Deluxe on a trip to the wet market, where stalls of fish, piles of produce, and lots of butchered animals were on display. I picked up a few jars of very spicy chili sauce and stepped into a cha-chaan-teng (tea food hall) for early lunch. You can find tons of these '50s-era casual tea shops near the markets. Focus is on fast service and affordable fare. You'll find things like pineapple buns, egg tarts, milk tea, and wonton noodle soup on the menu. But I became a devotee after sampling Western Toast, a slice of Pullman bread smothered with butter and condensed milk.
Most of the tea diners have chrome exteriors and little formica tables with stools inside. Though menus are not always in English, the point-and-nod method works like a charm. Take a seat at Kam Fung Café in Wanchai right after they pull hand pies out of the oven. Mido Cafe near Temple Market has cute booths and a well-preserved throw-back feel. These little restaurants also come in handy after a late night of drinking. Harsh flourescent lighting is a small price to pay for hot crispy rice rolls and thick noodle soup.
Lung King Heen
Four Seasons Hotel, 8 Finance St., Central
Yan Toh Heen
InterContinental, 18 Salisbury Rd., Kowloon
Luk Yu Tea House
24-26 Stanley St., Central
Victoria City Restaurant
CITIC Tower, 1 Tim Mei Ave., Central
Kam Fung Cafe
No. 41 Spring Garden Lane, Wanchai
63 Temple St., Kowloon