Thursday, May 13, 2010
Dim Sum in Hong Kong
The first thing that you will notice about Hong Kong dim sum restaurants is that most are located inside buildings that are shopping centers or office buildings. Almost none are on the ground floor. I spent a great deal of time in Hong Kong, looking up at signs to see if I was missing anything interesting. Secondly, when you are seated at a dim sum restaurant, you will be given a paper menu listing all the dim sum and a pencil. You would check off or indicate the number of dishes of each dim sum you want. Most restaurants have an English version of the checklist menu, however, I noticed that the Chinese versions tend to be longer. Also, I went to restaurants located in the TST area, which is a tourist area, so the availability of English language menus may be more predominant. After handing over your paper menu, you are given an electronic ticket listing everything you ordered. As each dish comes out, the waiter checks off the item until you're done.
The next thing I noticed about Hong Kong dim sum restaurants is that these establishments tend to be very well appointed. I think because of the SARS scare back in 2003 had caused many restaurants to offer hand sanitizing gel, toilet cleanser, and anything that will improve the hygiene in the restaurants. Restaurants also tend to feel much more clean and luxurious than New York dim sum restaurants.
However, this comes at a cost and the biggest surprise is that the prices for dim sum in Hong Kong is the same, if not higher than those in New York. On the low end, you can find dim sum for $14HKD ($1.80 USD). However, I found most dim sum ranged from $18 to $35 HKD, $2.30 to $4.50, not exactly a cheap meal if you are looking for variety. In New York City, you can find places that sell dim sum at a $2 flat rate.
Now about the dim sum, I found what I suspected to be true, which was that dim sum in Hong Kong, is really, really good. I did not find a single bad dish. The best thing about enjoying dim sum in Hong Kong is the presentation. Most dim sum are well presented, with thin skins, perfectly brown frying, and fillings that are not overbearing and in reasonable amounts. Without going into any specific dish, let's say that everything was good. I did notice one innovation at a dim sum restaurant in Mongkok. We went to one that served dim sum on traditional trolleys. The innovation was that in front of each cart was a small flat screen tv showing what was on the steaming trolley. This served to prevent the trolley ladies from using up time to open up each steamer dish. A nice touch, but what actually helped more were the bilingual signs in front of the cart.
In another part of this post, I would like to talk a bit about specialization of dim sum. In Hong Kong, since dim sum is so diverse, you will find stores that specialize in one type of dim sum. I found stores that sold only baked buns, egg tarts, congee and fried crullers, and chive dumplings. There were so many more, and I learned that a common practice in Hong Kong is for workers to stop by these stalls in the morning and get a foam dish serving one dim sum item. Popular ones seem to be har gow (shrimp dumplings) and siu mai (pork dumplings). As you can see, dim sum is not only a brunch or lunch item but can be enjoyed throughout the day. That is something that is lacking in New York as breakfast items in Chinatown tend to gravitate towards baked goods.
In conclusion, I would like to add one beef that I had with these stalls and that is the prevalence of chewy, rubbery fish siu mai. I had ordered these on two occasions, thinking that they were pork. Once they were served on a dish and the other time on a skewer. Both times, I had a few and then threw the rest out. I don't know why people order these things, which real pork siu mai is available, but maybe someone can enlighten me on that. I would love to hear everyone else's experience with Hong Kong dim sum or dim sum in general.