It's been twenty years since I last set foot in Hong Kong and I was excited to hear about some of the city's huge changes, including its new airport. The last time I flew into the city, I remember seeing people hanging up their laundry as the plane cruised by the high rises into Kai Tak Airport. When we lived in Bangkok, we often stopped by Hong Kong on the way to Japan, mainly to eat and shop.
I was on my way back from Perth, Australia, and hadn't really thought much about what to eat and explore except that I wanted to eat some wonton noodle soup and try the Michelin-starred, hole in the wall dim sum place, Tim Ho Wan.
Chef Mak Kwai Pui opened his first restaurant in 2009 and it has grown into an empire of four heaving restaurants offering exceptional food at friendly prices. Even after being awarded his Michelin star, Mak has steadfastly refused to implement a reservation system at Tim Ho Wan and kept things as they were for the locals. That made me even more curious.
As soon as I touched down in Hong Kong and shed my luggage, I took a taxi to Tim Ho Wan with my two university friends - S who is from Hong Kong but prefers non-Chinese food, and Y on her first visit to Hong Kong from Japan with her trusty Japanese travel guide, Chikyu no Arukikata. The original restaurant in Mongkok has moved to Olympian City, but we didn't want new and went for the 2nd oldest branch in Sham Shui Po.
We were lucky that there wasn't such a long queue as it was around 10:30am so we were seated within 10 minutes. They had menus in Chinese and English. It was quite a small and cozy interior and sharing tables is a given. The clientele was decidedly local - we only spotted a couple of other foreigners apart from ourselves. Everyone was concentrating on what they were eating and there were many people there on their own.
Chopsticks, plastic bowls and cups were plonked down in front of us with a big pot of tea and a big empty bowl with instructions to wash our utensils using the tea and bowl. Even my Chinese friend wasn't sure what to do but we did it anyway.
According to my friend and her trusty Chikyu no Arukikata, in cheap dim sum places, that's what you do. But it's a tradition that is slowly dying out. Wash before you eat!
We ordered a selection of treats starting with har gau (steamed prawn dumplings), which were plump and juicy, the sticky wrapper, soft and moist.
Sticky rice parcel in lotus leaf.
The rice was chewy and the filling stuffed with meat, vegetables and cooked egg yolk.
It was bursting with flavour and a little went a long way.
One of my favourites, ham sui gok (crispy glutinous rice filled with pork).
It's chewy, a little sweet and intense.
We also tried some dishes I don't normally order at dim sum, like deep fried lotus root and minced meat.
This had more meat that lotus root and tasted a bit like a burger. Very rich.
And deep fried aubergine in batter which had a hint of cumin. Reminded me a little of the Indian pakora.
This was a little too oily and I struggled to finish it.
But the last dish was what Tim Ho Wan is famous for: baked roast pork buns.
This was warm, light and covered with a crispy sweet topping which reminded us of the Japanese melon bun (melon pan) or Chinese pineapple bun.
And when you opened it, you can see that the bun is thin and delicate. This was way beyond our expectations. The bun itself is different from the usual char siu bao (steamed roast pork bun) that we normally get in dim sum joints. The bread is different and similar to a milk or butter roll. The filling wasn't too sweet with juicy pieces of proper pork.
I would go back just to eat this baked roast pork bun - so soft and bouncy like little fluffy pillows. A perfect parcel of flavor.
And we were greeted with another surprise when the bill came.
HK$120 for three and we ate well. That's about £10 or $16 in total, unbelievable! I pay more than that myself whenever I have dim sum in London. It's a steal and more than worth it.
TIM HO WAN 添好運
Sham Shui Po Branch
G/F, 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon
Nearest MTR station: Tsuen Wan Line, Sham Shui Po, Exit B2
Tel 2788 1226
Opening hours: 8am-9.30pm daily
Olympian City branch
Shop 72, G/F, Olympian City 2, 18 Hoi Ting Road, Tai Kok Tsui
Tel 2332 2896
Nearest MTR station: Olympic, Exit D3
Opening hours: 10am-10pm daily
Shop 12A, Hong Kong Station (Podium Level 1, IFC Mall), Central
Nearest MTR station: Tung Chung Line, Hong Kong, Exit A1
Tel 2332 3078
Opening hours: 9am-9pm daily
North Point branch
G/F, 2-8 Wharf Road, Seaview Building, North Point
Nearest MTR stations: Island Line, Fortress Hill, Exit B or North Point, Exit A1
Tel 2979 5608
Opening hours: 10am-9.30pm daily