When in Hong Kong, do like the locals and eat dim sum. Don’t worry. You won’t tire of it. Most dim sum restaurants prepare between 15 and 100 varieties on any given day. These can be buns, crêpes, cakes, pastries, or rice; they can be filled with beef, shrimp, pork or vegetables; and they can be bamboo-steamed, pan-fried, baked, or deep-fried.
A few rules of thumb: Although dim sum comes in small portions, it’s intended for sharing between three or four people. A group can expect to try about 10 or 12 dishes in one visit, but don’t order more than one of any single item. Always ask the waiter about daily specials that might not appear on the translated menus, as these are often some of the tastiest options.
Here are our favorite dim sum picks in Hong Kong.
Yung Kee. This massive eatery has served Cantonese food amid riotous décor and writhing gold dragons since 1950. Yung Kee specializes in roast goose with beautifully crisp skin. More adventurous diners must check out the meltingly tender thousand-year-old eggs with ginger. Among the good seafood offerings are sautéed fillet of pomfret with chili and black-bean sauce, or braised garoupa. 32-40 Wellington St., Central, 2522-1624. HK$22-HK$200.
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Zen. Part of a group of chic London restaurants of the same name, this upscale nouvelle Cantonese eatery excels at dim sum. Recommended small dishes include deep-fried boneless chicken wings stuffed with glutinous rice, and deep-fried shrimp with chili and garlic. More familiar Cantonese dishes are delicately prepared and presented. Service is flawless. Lower Level, The Mall, Pacific Place 1, 88 Queensway, 2845-4555. HK$150-HK$300.
Che’s Cantonese Restaurant. Savvy, smartly dressed locals head for this casually elegant dim sum specialist, concealed on the fourth floor of an office building. It’s hard to find a single better dim sum dish than Che’s crispy pork buns. Other dim sum to try include pan-fried turnip cake; rich, tender braised duck web (foot) in abalone sauce; and a refreshing dessert of cold pomelo and sago with mango juice. 4/F, The Broadway, 54-62 Lockhart Rd., 2528-1123. HK$80-HK$140.
Dim Sum. This elegant jewel breaks with tradition and serves dim sum all day and night. The original menu goes beyond common Cantonese morsels like har gai (steamed shrimp dumplings), embracing dishes more popular in the north, including chili prawn dumplings, Beijing onion cakes, and steamed buns. Lobster bisque and abalone dumplings are also popular. Lunch reservations are not taken on weekends, so there’s always a long line. Arrive early, or admire the antique telephones and old Chinese posters while you wait. 63 Sing Woo Rd., Happy Valley, 2834-8893. HK$65-HK$200.
Xiao Nan Guo. It’s part of a chain restaurant, but in this case it’s not a bad thing, since it’s part of a Shanghai chain, and you want your Shanghainese food to be authentic. In the years since it came to Hong Kong, Xiao Nan Guo has developed a serious following for dim sum. The feeling is casual and unpretentious, with a bright and bustling dining room lined with round tables. The focus is really on the food. Soup dumplings are excellent, as you’d expect, but don’t forget about the fatty “Lion’s Head” meatballs or the pork belly. Shop 1201, 12/F Times Square, 1 Matheson Rd., 2506-0009. HK$40-HK$80.
Photo credit: (top) ©Istockphoto/ Pai Wei