I knew my trip to Hong Kong wouldn't be complete without at least one dim sum meal. But how do you choose where to go in a city with hundreds of dim sum choices? Maybe narrow it down to Michelin-starred restaurants. Maybe super narrow it down to the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world: Tim Ho Wan.
In 2009, chef Mak Kwai-pui (also commonly referred to his nickname of Pui Gor, "Brother Pui"), previously the chef of three-Michelin-starred restaurant Lung King Heen, opened the original Tim Ho Wan in Mongkok. It had notoriously long lines even before earning its first Michelin star in the 2010 Hong Kong and Macau guide—a star some say was a reaction to complaints about the lack of local, cheap eats in the 2009 guide. After the win, waits stretched up to three hours (or in the case of at least one unlucky blogger, five hours). It was time for Tim Ho Wan to expand beyond its meager 30-seat space in Mongkok.
And expand, it did, quite steadily since 2010. Here's a little timeline of events:
- 2010: Sham Shui Po location opens and earns a Michelin star in the 2011 guide.
- 2011: IFC Mall location opens.
- 2012: North Point location opens.
- 2013: Mongkok location closes due to a rent increase but moves to a new location in Olympian City. First international location opens in Singapore.
With the Mongkok location closed, the Sham Shui Po location—which is where I went—is currently your only choice for a certified Michelin starred meal. Of course, that doesn't mean the other locations are scraping the bottom of the dim sum barrel; OpenRice reviews are mostly positive. (If Serious Eats had an office in Hong Kong, we'd probably compare all the locations to each other. If only. Sigh.)
Most dishes cost between HK$10 and HK$24 (about US$1.30 to US$3), with one outlier being the double boiled bird's nest dessert (HK$48). It's damn cheap, Michelin meal or not. The entire menu as of February 2013 totals up to HK$569 (about $73). You could easily plow through the whole menu with a group of like-minded people. Alas, I just had one eating companion—my excellent guide, Michael—but we did a good (and by good I mean excessive) job sharing eight dishes between the two of us.
How does Tim Ho Wan hold up to the hype? It was easily the best dim sum I've ever had. Everything tasted fresher than any other dim sum I've eaten—more tender, more crisp, more flavorful, less greasy—and the quality-to-dollar ratio is unbeatable. Admittedly, I say this as someone who mostly eats dim sum at cart-style restaurants in New York City—that is, dim sum that isn't made to order nor from a city known for superior dim sum like Tim Ho Wan. I'm a dim sum lover, but I'm far from a dim sum expert.
If I lived in Hong Kong I'd want to explore the wealth of other recommended dim sum joints before heading back to Tim Ho Wan, but I'd recommend first time visitors put Tim Ho Wan on their "to eat" lists.
Check out all the dishes I ate in the slideshow. For more dish recommendations, I defer you to my friend and Hong Kong food writer Susan Jung's Tim Ho Wan review.