Crisp spring rolls (cheun gyun), barbecued pork buns (char siu bao), prawn dumplings (har gau), rice noodle rolls (cheung fun), turnip cakes (lo bak go)... The list of delicious bite-sized delicacies in a dim sum spread is salivatingly long.
Australians refer to the Chinese style meal as 'yum cha', which translates as 'drink tea'. In Hong Kong and Southern China, the Cantonese call it 'dim sum', which roughly translates as 'light snack'.
Both terms have their respective origins along the Silk Road where the tradition of travellers sipping tea at roadside stalls gradually turned into a ritual of eating small dishes cooked in bamboo steamers.
The Cantonese, who today are credited with the world's best dim sum, in turn introduced new ingredients and different cooking techniques, such as deep-frying. The snacks soon became a meal to be shared around the communal table, and the uplifting transliteration – 'to touch your heart', more so than the translation, has survived the centuries.
Hong Kongers have continued the dim sum tradition with the gusto of true gastronomes. While it is commonly a breakfast meal, dim sum can now be found day and night in many guises – colonial era a la carte restaurants, old-school eateries with trolley service and main street cafes with tick-box menus.
More recently, up-scale venues such as hotel restaurants have appealed to their affluent clientele by experimenting with gourmet ingredients, innovative preparation and cooking techniques, and a level of artistry that needs to be tasted to be believed.
Here are 11 Hong Kong dim sum restaurants sure to touch your heart.
Mott 32's signature siu mai with black truffle. Photo: Supplied
1. Mott 32
Located in an old bank vault, this flashy restaurant, mixing industrial surfaces with Chinese iconography – paintings, calligraphy brushes and ornate lamp shades – was one of the first contemporary dim sum venues in the city. The soft quail egg and black truffle siu mai has cult status – the chef's exacting kitchen-to-plate timing has it reaching perfection seconds after it arrives at the table, just before the yolk cooks.
Basement, Standard Charter Building, 4-4A Des Voeux Road, Central, mott32.com
Don't miss the barbecued pork buns at Tim Ho Wan. Photo: Supplied
2. Tim Ho Wan
This no-fuss restaurant became a household name in 2005 when its barbecued pork buns were named the cheapest Michelin-starred dish on the planet. The phenomenon has since gone global, with offshoots in both Sydney and Melbourne, but it's hard to beat home soil for authenticity. This North Point incarnation is plonked in a suburb of high-rise estates. Join the queue for the city's best har gau, chiu chow and cheong fan, but don't go past those famed pork buns.
Various outlets including G/F, 2-8 Wharf Road, Seaview Building, North Point, timhowan.com
Luxurious: Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons hotel. Photo: Supplied
3. Lung King Heen
There's a foodie rumour that says the recipe behind Tim Ho Wan's barbecued pork bun was originally that of Lung King Heen executive chef Chan Yan Tak. Who's to say? This traditional and elegant formal restaurant at the Four Seasons hotel was the world's first Cantonese restaurants to be awarded three Michelin stars. Baked whole abalone puff with diced chicken, and steamed lobster and scallop dumpling are the specialties.
Four Seasons Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central, fourseasons.com
Inside LockCha Tea House. Photo: Supplied
4. LockCha Tea House
Carved teak wall panels, hand-painted screens and tea paraphernalia give this boutique shop and cafe, in a prominent old colonial building in Hong Kong Park, a distinctly genteel atmosphere. It is a well-loved luncheon locale where fastidious staff pour tea with aplomb. Uniquely vegan and authentic dim sum dishes include spinach and garlic chive dumplings and lotus leaf-wrapped sticky rice.
K.S. Lo Gallery, Cotton Tree Drive, Hong Kong Park, Admiralty, lockcha.com
Cuisine Cuisine's glitzy jade green interior. Photo: Supplied
5. Cuisine Cuisine
The green furnishings and dangly light-reflecting chandeliers are slightly gauche to the Western eye, but the well-to-do families that gather here on a weekend know what's cooking. This contemporary Chinese restaurant's deluxe dim sum platter is an exceptional melding of typical Chinese cooking techniques with contemporary ingredients and exceptional presentation. Gold leaf glimmers on top of the dusty pink shrimp dumplings and wild mushroom dumplings are laced with black truffle.
The Mira Hotel, 118 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, themirahotel.com
Dim sum at Duddell's. Photo: Supplied
If Shanghai Tang is Hong Kong's ode to oriental aesthetic, then Duddell's, secreted away above it, is the dining equivalent. Designer furnishings, curated art collections and an upmarket crowd make this one of the most fashionable eateries in town and the dim sum follows suit with modern takes on tried and true favourites such as foie gras dumplings with coriander or crisp barbecued Iberico pork buns.
Levels 3&4, Shanghai Tang Mansion, 1 Duddell Street, Central, duddells.co
Local favourite: Lin Heung Tea House. Photo: Supplied
7. Lin Heung Tea House
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain put Lin Heung Tea House on the must-do tourist circuit years ago. The city's oldest dim sum restaurant still lives up to its reputation as an elbow-to-elbow local joint with marketplace character and a hospitality style that borders, somewhat amusingly, on rude. The menu celebrates how 'offally' good authentic Hong Kong cuisine can be. This is where ladies with trolleys deliver abalone soaked chicken's feet, steamed fish head and similar dishes of indeterminate origin.
160-164 Wellington Street, Central
8. Dim Sum, the Art of Chinese Tit Bits
Known as Yu Man Fang to the locals, Dim Sum is a family-run restaurant on an average main street but step inside for a window on colonial Hong Kong. High ceilings, whirring fans and cosy wooden booths make this place stand out from the crowd, so too the menu where "the art of Chinese tit bits" includes hit dishes such as cheong fan or rice noodle rolls served with sesame and plum dipping sauces, and beef balls with coriander and chestnuts.
63 Sing Woo Road, Happy Valley
9. Luk Yu Tea House
Tucked away on a back street, this restaurant takes up three levels of a colonial wood-fronted terrace adorned with big gold Chinese characters. It retains the nostalgia of bygone days, from the teak furniture and white table cloths to the white-jacketed staff sporting the superior demeanour of career waiters. Ground level is for well-heeled locals but head upstairs for a similar menu featuring authentic golden oldies such as turnip cakes, fish balls, barbecued pork pastries and shrimp siu mai.
24-26 Stanley Street, Central
Like its name, this no-nonsense eatery in busy Wan Chai isn't pretending to be anything it's not. With simple decor, tick-box menus and a crowd that includes wet-market shoppers, students and backpackers, this cheap and cheerful joint serves up some creative cross-cultural concoctions including pan-fried stuffed eggplant with teriyaki sauce and deep-fried dumplings with wasabi filling. It is open late.
7 Lok Lok Lane, Wan Chai, dimdimsum.hk
Fish-shaped steamed groper, prawn and scallop dumplings at Yan Toh Heen. Photo: Supplied
11. Yan Toh Heen
Harbourside views draw a distinguished crowd to this exclusive Cantonese restaurant, as does the vision of executive chef Lau Yiu Fai. His menu features decadent East-meets-West ingredients to impress the Intercontinental Hotel's affluent guests. Dishes include steamed fish maw with shrimp roe dumpling, and lobster and bird's nest dumplings with gold leaf. The cellar is similarly impressive.
18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, intercontinental.com
Yan Toh Heen. Photo: Supplied
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