Tim Ho Wan is often billboarded as the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant. Its chef-owner, Mak Kwai Pui, is a former head chef of a famous Hong Kong hotel. In 2010, he established the first Tim Ho Wan in Mong Kok, which has since grown into a venerable restaurant chain, with 5 branches in Hong Kong (the most well-known of which is in Sham Shui Po), not to mention other Asian cities, like Singapore and Manila.
Tim Ho Wan (添好運), whose name literally means “adding good luck,” is known, first and foremost, for its dim sum, a Cantonese specialty, which are always paired with freshly brewed tea. The restaurant serves only pu-erh tea.
In Chinese, “dim sum” literally means “a light touch on the heart”, which is an ideal way to describe the small, delicious sweet or savoury dishes. “Yum cha” means “drink tea” and the two expressions are used interchangeably. The most well-known dim sum is Guangdong’s, although dim sum is common across China, often using different ingredients from each region. [link]
Without any prior reservations, we decided to test out the branch in Tai Kok Tsui, near Alvin’s place. Luckily we were immediately seated, since we arrived before 10 am, when the dim sum crowds hit the street. As soon as we were seated, I could see a hungry crowd swarming outside, waiting for seats.
The restaurant itself is quite spacious, with high vaulted ceilings and large bright windows. A full service kitchen, steamers and all, operates in full view of the diners. The ordering process is relatively simple: fill out a short bilingual paper form (divided into 6 sections: steamed, deep fried, steamed rice, congee, vermicelli and dessert) and prepare to be served. We selected mainly steamed dim sum dishes.
Of course we ordered some shrimp dumplings, the beautifully translucent (also in the Chinese name) rice flour skin revealing the light pink contents of each dumpling. However, the dumplings weren’t made with the precision of higher end dim sum restaurants.
The Teochew constitute Hong Kong’s second largest group of Chinese, so it’s no surprise that the Teochew have had a profound influence on Hong Kong’s culinary landscape. Teochew steamed dumplings are one of the most common of the dim sum dishes. The ones at Tim Ho Wan were a bit strange looking, as they looked quite stout in comparison to the more typically elongated brethren. The wheat flour skin was tactfully chewy.
Note: Tim Ho Wan’s menu misleadingly calls its selection of rice noodle rolls “vermicelli” in English.
Now I love eating rice noodle rolls, whether they’re Chinese ceong fan or the Vietnamese banh cuon. They have a nice mouthfeel, the silky rolls, and the chewy innards, combined with the depth of flavor imparted by the soy sauce. The skin on this particular ceong fan was well-executed.
We also ordered the steamed rice with Chinese sausage and diced chicken. 2 tiny pieces of sausage, a few bits of chicken, and a whole lot of lard-greased rice. Tim Ho Wan’s take on classic steamed pot rice, which is paired with a protein (e.g., pork spare ribs, eggs and minced beef, etc.) but nothing memorable.
Now onto my favorite dish of this meal. Tim Ho Wan is famed for its baked roast pork buns, which are skinned with the same flaky crust (a buttery sweet crust) found atop baked pineapple buns. The contrast between sweet and savory, just plain delicious.
We also got an order of steamed glutinous rice rolls, a specialty of the Chaoshan region, increasingly a rare find at dim sum restaurants these days. The outer layer is made of corn flour and gluten-free flour, while the inside is filled with sweetened sticky rice. I honestly didn’t care for the thick flour skin. Underwhelming.
The steamed shrimp dumplings (燒賣) were the last to arrive. The visual contrast between the pearly pink shrimp and a bright red jujube atop each dumpling was interesting, but the overall craftsmanship was lacking (unevenly folded wraps, inadequately sized shrimps). But nonetheless tasty.
Mala gou (馬拉糕) is the Cantonese interpretation of a traditional steamed Malay sponge cake. It was delicately saccharine, sweetened with brown sugar. Tim Ho Wan’s version was pretty delectable, aromatic and spongy.
For 9 dishes plus a tea set ($3 HKD per person), the bill came out to $169 HKD (about $22 USD), which was than reasonably priced.
Tim Ho Wan 添好運