Best of Hong Kong: Dim Sum Three Ways
Dim Sum at The Place, Cordis Hotel Hong Kong
Talk about tasty travels! We’re seeing (Michelin) stars in Hong Kong. Here, our list of Dim Sum three ways.
Hong Kong is known for many things: its British-colonial past, its Chinese present and its attitude to the future, among them. A forward-leaning culture, its reach-for-the-sky-scraping view embraces people from around the world. It’s a magnet for explorers, adventurers, cultural enthusiasts and culinary fans. I’m one of those fans; the food drew me to it.
I’ve returned to Hong Kong often and I’ve discovered there’s more to it than just Dim Sum. It’s part of a greater foodie collective. “Cantonese cuisine is a culinary art originated from the Guangdong (Canton) province [that borders Hong Kong],” says Ip Way Hung, the executive sous chef at the city’s two-Michelin-starred Ming Court at The Cordis hotel. “It focuses much on the natural flavour and freshness of food ingredients and uses less seasonings compared to other Chinese cuisine.” Natural, fresh, less seasoning. This may be why intrepid food culture hunter, the chef Anthony Bourdain pf CNN’s Parts Unknown, considers Hong Kong “a great place to experience China in a relatively accessible way.” He is absolutely right.
If you go: October and November are particularly hot foodie-fan months to visit; during this time you’ll find everything from the German Bierfest and the Argentina Festival Hong Kong to the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival (26 – 29 October, 2017; http://www.discoverhongkong.com/ca/see-do/events-festivals/highlight-events/wine-dine-festival.jsp) and the Hong Kong Great November Feast, a month-long foodie event happening all over the city. http://www.discoverhongkong.com/ca/see-do/events-festivals/highlight-events/great-november-feast.jsp
One Star: Tim Ho Wan, a tiny, bustling dim sum house with multiple locations. Don’t be surprised if there’s a line up of hungry, mostly locals, out the door waiting to snag one of the 20 seats inside. Michelin must feel the same way, awarding it a star in 2010, just a year after opening, and possibly making it the cheapest place on the planet to experience that level of recognition (Most guidebooks enter a single dollar sign after its listing). The founding chefs – a pair of locals who had worked in some of the city’s top spots, including the three-Michelin starred Four Seasons Hotel – take the standard steamed BBQ pork bun and give it a signature twist: they bake it, almost caramelizing the crusty top, mirroring the look of another local and beloved favourite, the teahouse pineapple bun. The pork filling is abundant and at once sweet and savoury, the meaty stew a textural counterpart to the crumbly exterior. www.timhowan.com
Two Stars: On Kowloon, the mainland side of Hong Kong, is where I start my Dim Sum pilgrimage. The Cordis hotel is a contemporary hybrid of Chinese art gallery and multiple dining options in the busy Mong Kok neighbourhood where locals and tourists flock to visit the Ladies Market, the Flower Market, the Bird Market and the Goldfish Market. But we’re in the market for Dim Sum. Let’s begin with Ming Court, awarded two Michelin stars; and here that means yes, stars for dumplings, but also for keeping the classics authentic – and then elevating the dishes via presentation and flavour (a glass of Champagne as a pairing doesn’t hurt either). Pan-fried dumplings are so pretty, shaped like a teardrop and imprinted with a delicate fern-like pattern, I hesitate to take the first bite. But bite I do, the golden-seared crust giving way to an explosion of earthy mushroom goodness. Vegetarian never tasted, or looked, so good – and it definitely didn’t taste like this on Baldwin Street back in the day. Wait, maybe better, the layered silk tofu, topped with a shimmering blanket of gold leaf, muddles on the tongue like, well, silk. www.cordishotels.com/en/hong-kong/restaurants-and-bars/ming-court/
Three Stars: On Hong Kong Island, names like Victoria, Aberdeen and Stanley stand alongside Shek O, Tai Tam and Wan Chai – where I first spot the demon chef or, the Master Chef Canada star’s lair, at least. Bo Innovations, Scarborough, Ont.-raised Alvin Leung’s restaurant for his brand of “X-treme Chinese cuisine,” is surprisingly Zen. The interior is light-filled; sunshine bounces off the massive, brass-coloured sculpture that criss-crosses the ceiling like a network of pipes, the square spare chairs almost as dark as the wood floors on which they rest. But, if you, like me, eat with your eyes, prepare to be satiated. “X-treme” is Leung’s almost extreme paring down of what Chinese food can be, yet still with a deep nod to tradition. Take, for example, that the meal is eaten off antique Chinoiserie-patterned china, no two plates alike. Each is numbered, and on the back you see its pattern name, such as Canton Rose or Blue Arabesque, and the year in which it was crafted. A feast of Chinese ceramic history, and we haven’t even started eating yet. www.boinnovation.com/html/
And, then, there are the teahouses. Alongside the food stalls and the markets is the tea restaurant, or cha chaan teng. Think of our old-school coffee shops, with metal chairs and shared tables. Afternoon tea is a quintessential must-do in HK. Of course, you could book the Langham or the Peninsula for the sandwiches-with-the-crust-cut-off, British-inspired version, or you can hit the street and slide in next to a local at a cha chaan teng. This is not Starbucks, mind you. There’s no lollygagging or checking your emails here. This place has a purpose, to fuel you up with your caffeine hit for the rest of the day – and then go. Open all hours, the cafes are full 24/7. Scrambled eggs and pineapple buns are also on the menu, but it’s the spectacle of just how the house special, milk tea, is prepared. Also known as silk stockings tea, it is poured over and over again through a cone-shaped sieve, finely meshed like a silk stocking. After the tea master deems it filtered enough, the strong black tea goes into the pot and is sweetened with condensed milk. It’s not for the faint of heart.
So the city is full of stars. But sometimes, one also has to get back down to earth. Returning to the Cordis, the thought of a beer at a place called the Garage Bar strikes me as a good, old-fashioned Canadian way to end a day. Turns out, it’s outdoors, on a terrace that’s just high up enough above the street, but not above the sky-scraping rooftops so indigenous to Hong Kong. It also turns out that Garage Bar’s not just beer (40 craft beers, to be exact), but also vintage Citroën vans repurposed as food trucks. The sounds of the Mong Kok neighbourhood below float up rather than assault my senses. Cuban tacos and Hawaiian poke mix and mingle with Southern-fried chicken and Northern-fried poutine. Canada meets Hong Kong, eh?