Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lin Heung Tea House - Travel back to old Hong Kong dim sum dining for the everyday man

Street level entrance, proceed upstairs for the tables *

What I love about Hong Kong is that there's dim sum for all budgets and all levels of society. You can find these morsels at a 'dai pai dong' (open air food stall) or a six-star hotel and everything in between.

Large Chicken Bun had to be split into 6 to share
This 80+ year established reminds me of my very first dim sum experience. What a trip back in time! No reservations allowed. Washing dishes at the table because there might still be some bits of food stuck to my chopsticks. Groups of strangers sharing tables and the hustle and bustle of activity as people try to elbow each other to get to the freshest offerings.
Fried Egg pastry (Dan so) with golden syrup

Arriving with a group of 12, it was pretty dismal because at 10 o’clock in the morning, this place was ALREADY jam-packed. The waiters suggested we split up into two or three different tables and share with strangers. This well-intentioned advice was not well-received as my multi-national Cantonese class wanted to stick together.

At last one table was offered to us, what luck! This table (with a red Chinese character sign) is reserved for the wait staff. But they made me promise to return the table by 11. ‘OK, I will try.’ ‘No try, we MUST have it back by 11 to eat our lunch!’ ‘Yes, sir!’

Would you believe, we got INCREDIBLE service after that because they wanted this huge table of 12 to eat our lunch in 45 minutes and pay and leave! We got fresh chopsticks right away when one of the pair decide to escape. We got food fresh from the kitchen before anyone else got theirs. We even ordered 4 more baskets of Char Siu Bau(BBQ Pork Bun) steamed especially for our table. Excellent! This is definitely the way to go!

At this restaurant, one person from each party, armed with their paper ordering form, leave their table and descend upon the middle-aged ladies with the dim sum carts. The ladies show you what they have and you order and they stamp your card. Be quick because items often run out before the cart makes it to your table so it’s perfect acceptable to walk half-way across to restaurant and mob the kitchen door. Our table was special – we even got dishes that I didn’t even order. No harm done, we ate almost everything!
The waiter even advised us to order dessert as it was
approaching the magic hour.
Sticky rice in lotus leaf, the fragrance is intoxicating when you unwrap

Their signature dish is the Large Chicken Bun – it’s huge and filled with all kinds of goodies with un-boned chicken pieces and quail’s egg; the BBQ pork puff pastry got a nod of approval as well; the Shrimp Dumplings were quite large and the shrimp was large and fresh; Savory chicken and sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf was described as a Chinese tamale, very fragrant and the rice was hot and moist; Fried egg pastry was light and crispy but needed more syrup as it could be quite bland when served on its own.

For our table of 12 who ordered and ate non-stop and were full to the brim, the cost per person came to only HKD40! What a deal! (Take your order card and pay at the counter.) My companions said they would definitely come again. The food was standard fare, nothing fancy but fresh and tasty. My only gripe was that the Fried egg-shaped dumpling was cold. Otherwise, come for the history, for the atmosphere and for the good deal.

Lin Heung Tea House
160-164 Wellington Street

*Photo of restaurant courtesy of Allison Matthei

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Best Shanghai Dumplings - Din Tai Fung

Star of the show
I have to say, I am a HUGE fan of Din Tai Fung. With 52 branches all over the world and first class Japanese-style production techniques which maintains the high standards of every dumpling served, you can count on having a wonderful meal at every seating.
My favorite is their signature dish 'Steamed pork dumplings' ($48 for six). What most dim sum restaurants in this city fail to appreciate is that the paper wrapper that lines that bamboo basket is simply inadequate to deal with this 'soup dumpling'. How do paper liners spoil this experience? The dumpling's wrapper sticks to paper, therefore when you try to pick up the dumpling with your chopsticks, your dumpling rips and all the delicate juices are spilled before it is even close to its destination. What Din Tai Fung and restaurants in Shanghai has done is to serve the dumplings on CLOTH liners, thereby eliminating this unfortunate outcome. The focal point of this dish is that you dip the dumpling into the soy sauce/vinegar/ginger sauce and then put the whole thing in your mouth. Then as you bite into it, the dumpling explodes, releasing the 'soup/juices' to fill your palate with a combination of all the flavors. Ahhh, heaven. It is sooo good, it's literally impossible to stop at one.

Our other favorite dumpling dish is the 'Spicy Shrimp and pork wanton' ($45), served in a mild chili oil, it gives the shrimp and pork wantons a bit more heat but not so much that it burns your tongue. It's firmer than the steamed dumplings and is a great accompaniment to the meal.
Just a hint of chili

To cool things down, the 'Tossed sliced cucumber with chili and garlic' ($28) is fresh, crunchy and is the right size for a bite. In fact, all the vegetables are fresh and crispy, the 'Bok choy' ($40) and 'Sauteed Chinese white cabbage' ($40) were both adequate staples and bring balance to the meat-heavy meal.
Mix the noodles well to serve

Here are some more highly recommended dishes:
Egg fried rice with shrimp and shredded pork ($50) - very good flavor, rice not greasy, shrimps are a very good size
Noodle with minced pork and bean sauce ($35) - Mix it well then serve, the noodles tastes homemade - al dente
Boiled glutinous rice dumpling stuffed with pork ($36) - one of the weaker dishes, it's just that everything else is so delicious that this one pales in comparison, it is a dumpling that is similar to a Mexican tamale, it needs to be dipped in soy sauce for more flavor
Almond pudding always ends the meal on a high note

Our party tried out three delicious desserts:
The best dessert voted by my party is the 'Almond pudding with fresh fruit' ($28), served cold it's a gelatin and rice flour based dessert, very light and jelly-like. It is extremely refreshing after all the dumplings we ate. It comes in a medium size ramekins, it could be shared by two. The fruit are two slices of strawberry.
Chilled sago soup with coconut milk and fresh fruit ($28)- the coconut milk flavor is a hit and so are the melon balls but it's a little bland after the fantastic main course.
Boiled glutinous rice dumpling stuffed with red bean paste ($28) - only for those who like sweet red beans. It's standard fare, nothing to write home about.
Chinese people love chilled sweet sago soup

The overall impression is that this is a great place to go. There are two locations in Hong Kong. For a party of five who ate way too much (did we really order five baskets of Shanghai dumplings?), the bill came to $200 per person. Great food, good deal. Prepare for long waits in line!

Din Tai Fung
68 Yee Wo Street (ground floor of Regal Hotel)
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong


Shop 130, 3rd Floor, Silvercord Shopping Centre
30 Canton Road
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong