What legitimate travel blogger, and international eater, doesn’t have their go to, local place to eat dim sum in Hong Kong? Well, we certainly do. We found it during our first trip in 2009, and have been back every trip to Hong Kong since then (and sometimes more than once).
Although, in interest of full disclosure, we do have another dim sum place we like in Hong Kong, but when we only had a short layover, and knew we only had time to got to once place to eat dim sum in Hong Kong, we knew we wanted old school, we wanted traditional. A place where they not only still wheel carts of dumplings around, but also a place that leaves you questioning the sanitary standards of everything around you. For us, that is Lin Heung Tea House.
And, when you choose one of the more traditional dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong, it is imperative to understand the rules and regulations of how to successfully eat dim sum in Hong Kong.
1. Find a Seat
We climbed the stairs up to the dining area of Lin Heung Tea House into the madness of a typical morning dim sum crowd. We have never seen a single table open and waiting for eaters at this place. Instead, you wander around trying to find enough spots open, and you share a table with others. We have hovered over people, pushed into a corner, and I once asked half of the people at a table to shift around to place two tiny open stools next to each other. Amazing thing, everyone obliged. This is not a time to be polite. Just push in and get a seat.
2. Wash Your Dishes
Chances are when you sit down, your dining area will be loaded with the last diners’ dirty plates. They get cleaned quickly and the server will throw down a bowl, chopsticks, a spoon, and a tea cup along with a large cup of hot water. The water is used to wash all of your dishes yourself. Don’t ask.
3. Order Tea
I am sure there are multiple kinds of tea that can be ordered, but we usually just point at someone else’s pot, smile, and ask for a steaming hot tea pot to be placed in front of us. Be careful not to pour it right away, it must steep and simmer for a few minutes, so be patient. Ignore all of the spilt tea and water that mucks up the entire table, in Hong Kong this is called ambience.
4. Chase Down a Cart
Although patience is a virtue while waiting for tea to steep, one place where patience does not work for you when you try to eat dim sum in Hong Kong: getting your food. At Lin Heung, although they still have carts pushed around, the best stuff never makes it too far out of the kitchen door. It is important to constantly get up, walk around, peek at carts, and follow the crowds. It is almost an aerobic exercise for Eric considering the number of times he gets up to search through the crowded room for the perfect dumplings and buns.
5. Refill Tea
This was something Eric had to learn the hard way, along with a young guy from Taiwan. Eric mistakenly lifted the top off of our tea pot and placed it gently on the edge of the pot to get a refill of hot water. So did the Taiwanese guy. After waiting for awhile, the tea server came over and explained that if we want a refill, we need to turn the top up to face the ceiling and that is how he knows we want more water. So:
This is the WRONG way:
This is the RIGHT way:
6. Read the Paper
Apparently, it is common to sit back and read the paper while sipping tea. I find this interesting as the dim sum room at Lin Heung is so crowded and so loud I can’t imagine being able to concentrate on a single paragraph, but it is the thing to do when eating dim sum in Hong Kong.
When you first sit down you are given a sheet of paper with lots of boxes on it – it almost looks like a BINGO card. Each time you receive a plate of deliciousness, the dim sum lady will mark it off in a box. Your bill comes from adding up each of your individual dishes. Two important things to remember: 1) when you are up wandering around the restaurant trying to push in to grab a dish of something steaming, bring your check with you to get marked off; and 2) a place like Lin Heung is pretty cheap. If you stick to the basics, don’t worry about ordering 7 or 8 or more dishes for two people. Chances are, your bill will be about 20 bucks, and well worth it!
How to Eat Dim Sum in Hong Kong
Let’s run through that again: push in to get a seat, wash your own plates, wait patiently for tea, push through to get dim sum, get your tea refilled properly, pay your bill. And, that my friends, is how to eat dim sum in Hong Kong.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.