Dumplings hitched to the stars

In Hong Kong, at the world's cheapest Michelin Star restaurant, the dumplings come thick, fast and tasty.

Dearest readers, I think I may have found the definition or at least the gateway to happiness. As I sat in at the table at Hong Kong's Tim Ho Wan, the legendary dim sum specialist and the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world, I looked around at my fellow diners who had just been given a warm barbecue pork bun. Mr NQN had devoured his in two bites flat, Luke was chewing his with a profound look of happiness and Miryana just said "wow”.

Tim Ho Wan, meaning "to add good luck” is so popular that queues are guaranteed. The first branch in Mong Kok seats only 19 people so the queues for this delicious and oh so reasonably priced yum cha are understandable. We are dining at the second branch where chef and owner Mak Kwai Pui (known as Pui or brother Pui) dishes out between 1000 and 2000 barbecued pork buns a day in a place that seats 150 people (1900 diners pass through its doors a day).

So with a second location this large surely that means less queues? Nope, there’s still the queue. But a little hint: you can book a VIP table upstairs if you have a minimum spend of $HKD1000 ($A123) total for the whole table and two days notice is required.

The lines that stretch out onto the street are full of eager diners. There is a black Mercedes with an elderly grandmother and grandfather sitting in it. The family brings them cups of water and when their table is ready, they emerge from the car and make their way into the restaurant. Inside the restaurant, it is modest and not flashy at all. The VIP rooms upstairs are simple with large tables and Lazy Susans. A bucket to the side catches drips and the lighting is fluorescent but this deters no one.

As Chef Pui sits down to eat with us, the dumplings come thick and fast. Everything is cooked to order, nothing is pre steamed or pre cooked. Ordering is done with a yellow form in English or a pink form in Chinese. And when you see the prices you may be as shocked as we were (and then we subsequently begged him to open in Sydney). Chef Pui doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Cantonese so it is up to our wonderful guide Rainbow Wong to translate for us…

We each take a bite of the barbecued pork bun and it is a revelation. Unlike any other pork bun the topping is sweet and lightly crunchy and sinking your teeth into the bun each time yields a light, airy bread pocket stuffed full of thick, rich char sui generous with the thick, almost jellied sauce. I stopped after two bites and took much smaller bites not wanting the bun to end. The topping is sweet like a pineapple bun topping and is made with eggs, sugar and butter, the fitting is replete with rich sauce and barbecued pork and the ratio of bread to filling is absolutely spot on which makes them utterly irresistible.

We were curious to see what the chiu chow dumplings were like. We do have a similar version but I must admit I’m not a huge fan of dumplings with peanuts as the peanuts can get soggy but perhaps owing to the fact that these were made only a few hours ago they are crunchy with peanuts, water chestnuts, chives and pork.

The siu mai, below, is bouncy and fresh and packed full of juicy shrimp. I usually don’t order them but these are a definite cut above the rest.

tim ho wan hong kong

The chicken’s feet are soft and gelatinous and coated with a thick, sweet black bean sauce. I’m a huge chicken feet lover but Mr NQN has never tried them (he finds them quite resistable) but we figure now is the time to try one and he likes them! Chef Pui tells us that in another branch, they aren’t allowed to deep fry so he has come up with a way around this by using abalone sauce and cooking them for a long time to achieve the desired result.

The steamed spare rib with black bean sauce is another dish I don’t often order but when I try a morsel of the pork spare ribs with black bean sauce what strikes me again and again is how fresh everything tastes. These practically bounce with juiciness, texture and flavour.

The tender, juicy steamed beef balls, below, were given a special touch by adding in lemongrass and orange rind to lift the flavour (I almost wrote "lift the balls” there!). Chef Pui tells us that it is important that they don’t over chop the meat as that can affect the texture.

tim ho wan hong kong

Mr NQN and I are crazy over har gows prawn dumplings and these are perfection. The generously portioned shrimp are the perfect, fresh and springy texture and the skin is so thin yet there is not a bit of tearing at all...

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