Our first trip to Hong Kong in 2009 was somewhat memorable - the better half (Gianna :) ) had chipped a molar tooth and leaving a nerve exposed. From first hand accounts this was excruciating to say the least. The inability to eat was replaced by excessive shopping and sightseeing, of course. We have been back in Sydney for at least a week and looking back - it has been the total opposite of our somewhat foodless first trip to Hong Kong. After a quick early morning nap (our flight landed at 5am - and if anything was open we would have headed there..) our first mission in HK was to have a meal at the famed Michelin Star Dim-Sum restaurant - Tim Ho Wan.
Unfortunately for us, the beds at our Hotel were far too comfortable and we overslept - starting the day just before lunchtime.. There was panic in both our faces. "We are going to hit the lunchtime rush". We both wanted Tim Ho Wan to be our first meal stop in Hong Kong to kick off the holiday, so although we were warned about the long wait for a seat - we headed to our destination. We found the small, unassuming restaurant easier than expected - after all the crowds were already gathered en masse outside. Our tummies already grumbling at this stage, we tried to curb our hunger pains with some canned coffee from the 7-11 across the road. It was going to be a long morning....
So this is how the waiting game goes - First, you have to hustle your way through the anxiously waiting crowd and get assigned a number by the host, or as we like to call her - our new friend the dragon lady. Although she doesn't seem very friendly at all - she is very efficient in getting the crowd moving and yelling at people who are blocking the neighbouring businesses. Dragon Lady hands us the english dimsum menu and writes the number '91' on our copy. We guard this piece of paper with our lives, as we stood outside until we were game enough to speak to Dragon Lady. "What number are you up to?" She points to her sheet of paper - "25" A friendly fellow hungry patron translates what was being said to us : "Come back in 2 hours". As expected from the world's most affordable Michelin star restaurant right?
Upon our return we waited another 20 or so minutes. Patience is a virtue, even when food is involved. When number 91 was called it was like Christmas all over again. As we entered we could really see why the wait was so long - the place is tiny! But enough about surroundings - there was food to be had! Our number ticket also held our dim sum selections for the meal - you tick your selections and add the quanity and once you are ready you hand it over to one of the lovely ladies. Overseas visitors do not fret, as mentioned before - there is an english menu!
Tim Ho Wan has been a sucess since it opened in 2009 and the crowds are never afar. We bring in some beers that we bought from the 7-11, and man was it good after that long wait! Once our orders were in - our food pretty much started arriving simultaneously. Now on to the important matters at hand, what we waited nearly 4 hours for...the food! Nothing like the feeling of "earning" a meal!
Having poured over the menu while we were outside we had already made our selection so there wasn't much to worry, just kicking back with some Tsingtao waiting for the food to come. First cab off the rank was the Baked Buns with BBQ Pork $14 HKD. Thank the food gods we ordered 2 serves. These buns were so tasty and hands down one of the nicest things that we have ever eaten. It was love after first bite. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we had been waiting for 4 hours or the 5 cans of canned coffee we had. Or it could be the the excitement that of our first meal of the trip - but that first bite was enough to bring all the planets in alignment with the sun. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, pork filling in a sweet sauce....so so good.
Soon after, the rest of the food began its journey to our little table. It was such a lovely experience eating in a place like this. Small, noisy, bustling with people talking in a language we could not understand but i'm sure everyone would be talking about the same thing we we were - how good the food was. The Vermicelli Roll stuffed with BBQ pork $15 was the next dish. One of those dishes that need to be eaten while hot otherwise it becomes to gelatinous and rubbery. It was very soft and packed full of flavour. Swished around in soy sauce gave it that kick that made this dish a winner for us as well.Clearing some room now in what was quickly becoming a confined space allowed for the steamed fresh Shrimp Dumplings (ha jiao) $19 and Spinach & Garlic Dumplings $12 to arrive. Served in the same universal manner in their bamboo steamer came these little bundles of goodness.
Punching a little hole in the parcel and letting the juice out with some soy sauce and then gobbling it all up is just one of those little things in life that would be ever so difficult not to enjoy. These shrimp dumplings were good. It was a war trying to score the last one. Spying that shrimp stuffing from the soft translucent outer layer, it was easy to just let your thoughts wander away, but you snooze you loose - that's how the story goes.
Above: Steamed spinach & garlic dumplings
Well into chowing down now we look around for our friend the Dragon Lady. Every time you would catch a glimpse you could just see the intensity and concentration in her face as she manoeuvred through the narrow confines of the restaurant. Word of advice - don't mess with her. She makes the boogeyman check his closet at night in fear of being turned into the meat stuffing of the dumplings. The fried noodle with soya sauce $12 came out somewhere in the midst of all the other food. A very nice dish that wen't down an absolute treat, and the great part was that it was not as oily as its Sydney yum cha counterparts. How dare we even compare the two!Steamed spareribs with black bean sauce $12 (above left) made an appearance only to disappear in a pile of little bones after 5 minutes. Soft & tender meat and served with chilli for that nice little kick. On another related note the garlic & spinach dumplings (above right) were also quite tasty but I think the shrimp dumplings we tried earlier were the clear winner.
What type of meal wouldn't be complete without anything deep fried eh? None. So we ordered some deep fried dumplings filled with meat $12 and spring rolls filled with shrimp $18. These glutinous dumplings were phenomenal, the meat as mentined in the description is this saucy bbq pork filling with a sweetness that goes well with the chewy dumpling. It was a nice thin layer of crispy fried goodness with soft inner membrane followed by that hit of meat. That's a good dumpling we say, and thats why we ordered 2 serves.The spring rolls stuffed with shrimp were a definite favourite. Crispy and full of flavour. The centre was full of fresh flavours and had that nice little touch of coriander. Oops. Someone couldn't have any! 1-0 to the victor go the spoils as the saying goes.
"Yeah...Go on...Try take another shrimp dumpling...I dare ya...."
When you slowly begin to run out of room. Rule no. 1 - Hurry up and eat more faster. Rule no. 2 - There are no other rules. Hurry up and eat more faster.After pacing through the majority of our food we thought that we should get something sweet to finish with. Not having any inkling whatsoever as to what we were getting ourselves into we circled the Tonic Medlar & Petal Cake $10. This little red plate came out with jelly cubes with tiny elderflowers suspended through it. It was so pretty - with a beautiful orange hue. It wasn't overly sweet and biting into it was fun because of the differing textures. One of those things that you should at least try once and well worth the little elderflowers stuck in between your teeth!
So finished up now and seeing the queues of people outside, we settle the bill and have our leftover food packed into takeaway containers for later. Nothing goes to waste when it's this good. With full stomachs and our container in tow we bid Dragon Lady adieu and venture out ready to begin our second bongkers in hongkers adventure.
Wandering around the streets of Mong Kok there are many markets selling different things. From produce to meats and poultry to wet markets selling live fish swimming around in tanks. Seeing pigs hanging from hooks on the sides of stores in back alleys and fish surgically bisected with egg sacs in tow - truly an eye opener. Walking around the wet markets is fun especially when you see the shop keepers working away at the fish. If you are squeamish best stay away.
This time around we ventured further up from the Ladies Markets in Tung Choi Street and discovered the Goldfish markets. Shop after shop on both sides of the street had all sorts of fish fare hanging in plastic bags on display. Many different species of tropical fish, turtles and tortoises were available.If patience is in you - Tim Ho Wan is well worth the wait. We would recommend the experience to anyone that is visiting Hong Kong.
For for The Empty Fridge scorecard:
- The Peak - Having ticked off dining at a Michelin Star restaurant for a bargain price!
- The Pitt - You really have to be patient and organised when you come here. The time you wait will be a testament to your love for food. Arrive early (9am) to get in with the first round of seating or off peak (4pm)
- Empty Fridge Dish of the Day - Hands down the Baked BBQ Pork Bun. It is a "must try" and we can honestly foresee sweet poetry being written about this dish... By us.. until we go to Hong Kong again!
Tim Ho Wan 2-20 Kwong Wa Street Mong Kok, Kowloon. Hours 10am-10pm
* There is a second Tim Ho Wan branch located in 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po. Although we think part of the experience is dining at the Original venue in Kowloon. This branch is also listed and has received one star in the Michelin Guide. Although it is in more of a residential area - it is said to accommodate more patrons.
We will continue to blog about our food adventures in Hong Kong and Manila in the next few weeks, and will throw in some Sydney restaurants in the mix too - so check back soon!