Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong: World’s Cheapest Michelin Starred Restaurant

For our most recent trip to Hong Kong last weekend, we had decided to concentrate on a few Michelin-starred restaurants that had been on our list.  A couple days prior to our departure, Andrew Zimmern tweeted about the best dumplings he’s ever had at Tim Ho Wan in Mongkok.  Ironically, we were staying at our beloved Langham Place in Mongkok again so we were quite interested in adding this one Michelin star restaurant to our list.  After a little shuffling, we decided to check them out on Sunday morning for their dim sum.

A little research online indicated this was not a neighborhood secret – lines form sometimes an hour before the 10am opening and waits can easily reach three+ hours!  We were eating a very late multi-course dinner so we decided to take our chances and go around noon since we wouldn’t be hungry in the morning.  It’s a very short walk from Langham Place and easy to miss if you do not know what you are looking for.  Fortunately, I spotted the line of people outside so we hurried over and got a number to secure our place in line.

Small crowd outside Tim Ho Wan

Tim Ho Wan is not what most people would expect in a Michelin-starred restaurant.  The non-descript tiny storefront is located on the street level of an older apartment building and probably has about 10 tables total — if you have clausterphobia issues, this might not be the place for you.  Tables are pushed together and you will be sitting literally elbow to elbow with strangers, but the food is definitely worth it!

The mastermind behind the restaurant is Chef Mark Pui Gor, who used to be the chef of the Four Season’s Three Michelin Starred restaurant.  He made the decision to open his own restaurant, serving quality dim sum at really affordable prices.

Tim Ho Wan interior - very small restaurant

There are menus in English and Chinese and you must get a number on arrival.  You may have to work to get the attention of the “hostess” who likely doesn’t speak English.  If you do not make your presence known, you may fall back another 10 numbers, which could add an hour to your wait!  Some blogs have noted that you need to remain close or be good at timing numbers because they put you back into the queue if you are not there within 10 or 15 minutes of your call time.  Do not think they always go in sequential order either.  We managed to skip probably an hour or so wait since we were the only party of two present.  Every other group had 3 or more, which was a longer wait.  So, they ended up skipping over 10 numbers when they called us.

Sheet on door where they write numbers

Location in non-descript apartment building

Tim Ho Wan is most known for their crispy pork buns, which are unlike any pork bun you have ever tried.  The dough is not the white spongy dough you often find in bbq pork buns, also known as char siu bao.  The dough in Tim Ho Wan’s crispy pork buns is more like a pineapple cake found in Taiwan — slightly sweet and more dense.  The filling is the best char siu I have ever tried.  The meat is incredibly tender and the honey flavor was quite evident, unlike many others that taste like a mouthful of sugar.  Not surprisingly, these are limited to 4 orders per table, which includes take out orders.  So eat wisely and be sure to get your “daily allotment” to go — they make great snacks later in the day. :-)  The price of these culinary masterpieces?  …..$12 HK (about $1.50 US based on current exchange rates).

Crispy Pork Buns

Another shot of these heavenly buns

Can't get enough of these!

The char siu is so tender and has a subtle honey flavor

We tried to order many of the recommended dishes and ended up leaving quite full.  Here is a look at the other items we tried.  The grand total including our two orders of take out buns was less than $20 US (which also factored in tea, tip, and tax!)  Here is a look at the other dishes we sampled:

Steamed fresh shrimp dumplings (ha jiao) $18 HK

A perfect blend of shrimp and crystal dumpling skin.  The shrimp was definitely fresh and much more flavorful than many other dumplings we’ve tried.  I’ve found many cases where the shrimp overpowers the delicate dumpling or you just cannot taste it at all.  Definitely recommend these!

Steamed Fresh Shrimp Dumplings

Single Fresh Steamed Shrimp Dumpling

Glue Rice Dumpling $20 HK

This is quite similar to what we call jongzi here in Taiwan and are served during the Dragon Boat Festival in June (although you can find them all over the island other times of the year).  It is a very dense and large pat of glutinous rice typically steamed in banana leaves.  Traditional jongzi have a variety of ingredients that are often quite strong for us (sorry, just cannot get used to the strong taste of dried shrimp here) including salted duck yolk, pork, mushrooms, etc.   The one served at Tim Ho Wan is filled with chicken and mushrooms.  The poultry is quite tender and the mushrooms add a perfect amount of earthiness.  (All I kept thinking about was whether I could pair this with a good red wine as the mushrooms imparted such a beautiful earthy quality to the rice and chicken as well).  This is a heavy dish so consider skipping it if there are only two of you — or just don’t finish all the rice as it will fill you up rather quickly.

Outer leaf of the Glutinous Rice Dumpling

Actual Glutinous Rice Dumpling

Steamed Dumpling in Chiu Chow Style $10 HK

These are crystal skinned dumplings filled with vegetables and a nice amount of crunch.  Chiu Chow style cuisine originates in the north-easternmost area of the Guangdong province and is known for its use of seafood and vegetable dishes, both of which are regarded as being healthy.  The flavors tend to be more mild and delicate.  This was filled with spinach, mushrooms, and garlic.

This was probably my least favorite item, but Brett loved them.  The mix of vegetables and crunch were perfect for him and he loved the delicate taste.

Crystal Dumplings

Steamed Pork Dumpling with Shrimp $18 HK

These are the basic shu mai (spelled a variety of other ways) you find in Cantonese dim sum.  Many places serve them with crab roe on top that Brett finds he is not a fan of, but these lacked the typical “orange dot” in the center.  These delights were overflowing with bits of shrimp and pork that were evenly balanced.  Definitely one dish not to miss.

Steamed Pork Dumplings with Shrimp

Deep Fried Dumpling Filled with Meat $12 HK

The next item to arrive was the deep fried dumplings filled with meat.  These are typically one of my least favorite things in dim sum as the gooey texture of the glutinous rice dumpling inside always makes me think it is undercooked and I will get sick (I’ve had several terrible bouts with food poisoning and I’m allergic to the medicines used to treat it, so perhaps I am a wee bit paranoid at times!)  I decided to give these a go and they were much better than others I have tried.  The dumpling still had the glutinous texture inside, but it was not a mouthful of goo.  The meat inside was fairly sweet, similar to the char siu.  Surprisingly, this ended up being one of my favorite dishes!

Deep Fried Dumplings Filled with Meat

Inside of the Deep Fried Dumplings

Rice Roll Stuffed with Pig Liver $15 HK

Tim Ho Wan offers four different varieties of rice rolls — bbq pork, shrimp, beef, and the good ol’ pig liver.  Now, I am not a liver fan, but give me anything with foie gras or a pate and I am in heaven.  I’ve even survived several rounds with monkfish liver pate, but something about liver itself makes me gag.  I tried it and well, it was exactly what I was expecting.  Much too strong of a flavor for me, but this is one of the highly recommended dishes so give it at shot and make up your mind.  For less than $2 US, there is not much risk!

Rice Roll Stuffed with Pig Liver

Sadly, we had already arrived at the end of our dim sum dishes.  We saw a number of tables ordering other dishes that seemed to be quite popular, but we were pretty full.  Other popular items included the Steamed BeefBall with Bean Curd Skin ($12 HK), Steamed Chicken Feet with Black Bean Sauce ($12 HK), Pan-Fried Turnip Cake with Pan-Fried Turnip ($10 HK), and Chicken and Pork Wrapped with Dry Bean Curd ($16 HK).

We did order dessert which notes on the menu can take 20 minutes so be prepared.  All desserts were $10K each.  We tried the hot Sweet Chestnut and Pumpkin Cream which was amazing!  There were chunks of chestnuts and the pumpkin had a slight natural sweetness.  I love Chinese desserts as they are not sweet like American ones often are so I feel less guilty about ordering them.  This was a pretty large portion so definitely wise to split one between two people if you can.  While I definitely enjoyed the Chestnut and Pumpkin Cream, it seemed the most popular item ordered was the Steamed Egg Cake that was not on the dessert menu.  Another option was Tonic Medlar and Petal Cake, which is Osmanthus Jelly.  There was also one last option for dessert — the Double Boiled Pear Soup with Snow Fungus.  These probably would’ve been excellent choices as well, but we need to save something to try on our next visit! :-)

Pumpkin and Chestnut Cream Dessert

Tim Ho Wan Address:

Shop 8, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mongkok

Telephone: 852 2332 2896

Open 10am – 10pm

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