Tag Archives: Dim sum

Yum Cha Wishes and Dim Sum Dreams

I arrived in Hong Kong late Monday evening, my limbs aching from the 16 hour flight and my vision blurry from my in-flight Oscar nominations marathon. My mom had sprung an impromptu trip at the end of my sister’s visit to Japan and I simply refused to be left out. I expected some major jet lag with the 12 time difference, but upon touch down I was too excited to care. It was my first time in what is often hailed as one of the best cities in the world, and with one of the best food scenes at that! I may or may have not flown across the world just for the food… my mouth was watering before I even got on the airport shuttle.  For those of you that may not know, Hong Kong is a “special administrative region” of China, which means that its not part of the mainland China but it still falls under its sovereignty (it was under British control under about the mid ’90s.) So it has its own currency — the colorful Hong Kong dollars — and also a lot of Western influence. The other special administrative region is Macau, which we’ll get to later.

Hong Kong indeed is pretty impressive. I was surprised at the sheer number of skyscrapers, both commercial and residential, that were packed into such a small section of land. Perhaps I’m too used to NYC’s skyscrapers to notice them anymore, but HK seemed much more dense at first glance. And of course, let’s not forget about all the millions of people out and about, which may explain why the culture includes walking fast and cutting others off when necessary. Ahh, I feel more at home already. Oh, can I just comment on the absurd number of shopping malls everywhere? At least it helps me better understand where China gets its obsession with luxury goods. Too bad the prices are far more expensive than back home. ::sigh::

While I’m super excited to get to the local cuisine, I will hold off (briefly) to point out some awesome sights to check out if you find yourself in HK for a few days. While we stayed in one of the more touristy parts of town on the Kowloon side, we managed to cover quite a bit of ground all over:

The Big Buddha on Lantau Island: This was probably my favorite non-foodie part of the trip. It includes a cable car (spring for the glass bottom one) that takes you up into the hills. The big tourist attraction there is the Big Buddha, but there are tons of hiking trails and you can also take buses to Tai O, Hong Kong’s oldest fishing village (see below for one of its storefronts.) The view from the cable car is pretty cool, too. Tip: If you decide to go, purchase cable car tickets online in advance. We were able to cut the line with ours, which probably saved us a good two hours of waiting.

The Markets: If you are a street vendor type of person (I’m talking to you, Noelle!) you would find paradise within Hong Kong’s many markets. There’s the Ladies Market, the Fa Yuen Street Market, the Goldfish Market, the Flower Market… let’s just say you have options. Some of these markets have pop up booths while others are actual stores, and I personally found that the Goldfish Market or Flower Market to be more interesting than others.

Victoria’s Peak: Victoria’s Peak is on the Hong Kong island side and is reachable by bus, gondola or good ‘ol fashioned taxi. We actually went for the hiking, although we soon found that the actual “trail” was more of a flat path. That being said, the walk provided some amazing views of Hong Kong from above as well as some exotic trees and plants on the walk for all you nature lovers. The area up top also has some stores (shocker) and a few look out points closer to where the buses drop you off.

Sky bar at the Ritz Carlton: Perfect for ending a day of sightseeing with a cocktail and a view. I hear the Four Seasons also has a great view from its dim sum restaurant. Tip: Stay on the bottom floor at the Ritz if you want to catch a great view of the sunset as the view from the rooftop is blocked.

Other mentionables worth checking out: Chi Lin Nunnery (Buddhist temple), Avenue of the Stars boardwalk, the Star Ferry and Dragon’s Back hiking trail. I’m sure I am missing so many other nuggets, which will have to wait for next time!

 

 

Ok, now for the other part of Hong Kong’s amazing culture: The Food! It was definitely a dim sum party for the Mony’s during our week there, but we also made time for other delectables like soup dumplings, peking duck, and even some tea time. My tummy was the happiest it’s ever been — here’s the low down on where to go:

Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan: The most talked about and arguably best dim sum in Hong Kong, this Michelin-star restaurant chain doles out the most amazing pork buns I’ve ever had in my life. You would never realize its high rating though at first glance; not only is it a no-frills type of place but each plate of dim sum is about $2 each. The secret is definitely out though since many of its locations come with an hour (or two) wait, but we went to the Sham Shui Po location which is in a less touristy area and got seated right away. Note: I should also mention that there was some discrepancy as to if all the locations had Michelin stars or only some, but this one definitely does (if anyone knows this btw, please share!) That being said, if you want a fix before hopping on a flight out of HK (or maybe first thing upon arrival) there’s a restaurant right next to the airport shuttle at the IFC mall in Central.

Soup Dumplings at Crystal Jade: My sister and I are big fans of xiaolongbao, aka soup dumplings, and so we did our research to find this place. The soup dumplings and the rest of our meal (including this phenomenal chili oil dumpling dish!) was absolutely delicious.

More Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung: Couldn’t resist adding this one, another affordable michelin-star restaurant with awesome food. Tip: If you have room to spare at the end of the meal, definitely get the sesame and red bean buns for dessert. Delicious!

Peking Duck at Spring Deer: Diner beware, only come here if you are ready to stuff yourself silly. This restaurant is a favorite among locals and a reservation is best, so if you do manage to get a seat you better be prepared to eat your fill. The duck here is brought to you whole and sliced up before your eyes at your table. I know we ordered other dishes but I was so happy with the duck (in all its fatty glory) that I don’t even remember anything else. Sure, its probably not healthy to have duck all the time but if there’s a time to break the diet it has to be when you’re here.

Afternoon Tea at The Peninsula: While this wasn’t exactly something I expected to do while in Hong Kong, having tea and fancy little finger sandwiches at The Peninsula was pretty great. Granted, it was pricey for what it was, but the ambiance was so nice and it was a great way to relax with my mom and sis after a long day. Being a tourist, tough life.

As its pretty obvious, the food was my favorite part of the experience. I also really liked how many expats live here – probably a good number working at the big financial companies. As for the bad, I was pretty sad to see how much smog was in the air but I guess thats to be expected with the number of people crammed in. Lower your carbon footprint already, HK!

 

Next up, an overnighter in Macau…

 

Books read:
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood for Education and Was Shot By The Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

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The Dynamics of Dim Sum

“Sixty-one! Sixty-one! SIXTY-ONE!”

A group of four wide-eyed people come darting to the hostess table waving their numbered ticket. “This place is terrifying,” I hear one of the girls exclaim as they take the stairs to the second floor.

“Sixty-four!!! Sixty-four!”

Three more individuals make their way through the crowd. “What is going on!?” a guy with a big, confused grin on his face asks his friend.

What is going on is just another typical, slightly-stressful Sunday brunch hour at the Golden Unicorn, one of the more popular dim sum spots in Chinatown. On 1pm on a Sunday you can prepare for at least a half hour wait, so I’m sitting back with my ticket and enjoying the eavesdropping as I wait for my girlfriends. Dim sum is one of the best brunch deals you can get in the city: affordable, delicious, quick (once you sit down) – how could you go wrong? But if this is your first time trying dim sum, here are a few things to remember so you can ensure a pleasant experience.

Expect to share tables
Depending on where you go, unless you have a group of 6-8 people there’s a good chance that you’ll be sitting with strangers during your meal. Most restaurants have the typical large round table set up, which can be good or bad depending on who you get stuck next to. Another thing to remember is that with the close proximity, your new friends will probably hear every detail of your wild Saturday night or reasons you hate your job. At one recent lunch my girlfriends and I were in a detailed conversation about Whitney Houston’s drug addiction before we looked across the table and noticed a 10 year old girl staring at us absorbing every word. Woops.

Screw the menus
“Can we just get a menu and order? Because this is annoying.”

WRONG attitude. This was overheard from two unhappy lunchers who were sitting at our table and got overwhelmed by the hectic atmosphere. The beauty of dim sum is that you don’t need a menu – the food is brought to you in carts so you can see the real deal up close and personal and decide. Sure, it can be a little crazy with lots of different carts going by quickly and often times the people not speaking English, but that’s all part of the experience. Which leads me to my next point…

Be quick, and pardon all interruptions
“So I couldn’t believe what he said next. He insisted that we…”
“Holy crap, turnip cake! Stop that cart!”

Ok, so it may not exactly be the most polite thing to do, but if a fresh tray of turnip cake or pork steam buns or whatever is your dim sum weakness comes out, throw manners to the wind and grab that sucker! If you’re not quick enough some other lucky table will nab it before you do and you’ll be forced to wait another miserable 5 minutes before the next cart comes around. Let’s be honest here, in any other situation I would be a little annoyed if someone stopped me mid-sentence when I was just about to get to the juicy part of my story. However, during dim sum its perfectly acceptable behavior to interrupt conversations for the sake of food (although, you may want to make sure that everyone in your party is on the same page here or your brunch may not be so pleasant.)

Order what you want and as much as you want
Unlike other restaurants where you check with your friends and make sure to order things that everyone likes, with dim sum you have free reign to go wild and order what you want. With the portions being tapas-style and the price of each tray being so cheap, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you’re the only one in the group that has a thing for shrimp shuumai. That being said, you also should be prepared to share everything you grab since dim sum is family style and it would just be bad form to hog it all for yourself. Also, don’t feel bad if you feel yourself ordering too many trays – chances are everyone else wants it too and is just waiting for someone else to speak up. You’d be surprised at just how quickly you do fill up with dim sum anyway – you’ll most likely leave stuffed and happy that you didn’t break the bank on Sunday brunch for once. I chowed down big-time during yesterday’s meal and it only cost me $15. Win!

 

My top three favorite NYC dim sum spots:
1) Golden Unicorn – 18 East Broadway
2) Ping’s Seafood – 22 Mott Street
3) Chatham Square – 6 Chatham Square

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