Typically, budget and Michelin-starred dining are two items that don’t go together when traveling…except perhaps in Hong Kong.
While the renowned Michelin Guides do recognize the best in dining, there has been a recent shift in award winners in some guides, and Hong Kong holds the distinction of having several of the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurants in the world.
If you are looking to “splurge” a bit while traveling in Hong Kong, check out Tim Ho Wan. Tim Ho Wan is located on the Kowloon Peninsula in Mongkok and offers some of the best dim sum I’ve had in Hong Kong. The chef came from three Michelin-starred Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong and wanted to start his own restaurant offering quality dim sum without the high prices.
And you definitely can’t beat the prices. Most menu items range from about $1 – $4 US. The restaurant is no secret among locals and I actually went there for the first time after Andrew Zimmern had tweeted about it. He was in Hong Kong just a couple days before and his local host suggested he give it a try. Since I was arriving a few days later and had never been – seemed like a good idea.
While Tim Ho Wan may hold a Michelin star, don’t look for a fancy restaurant with white table linens and intimate private tables. It’s intimate all right, you will be rubbing elbows with whoever might be seated next to you!
Thankfully, we didn’t go into the visit without any research, otherwise I might still be standing in line waiting these months later. On an average weekend, the queue can reach up to three hours if you time your arrival too late and land in the middle of the morning rush.
Helpful tip: arrive at least ½ hour prior to opening to get a decent number.
The shop is not easy to spot, but study the picture below and look for everyone else lined up at what seems to be a tiny storefront. It’s not always easy to get the “hostess’s” attention, but be sure you secure a number right away or you might find yourself behind 20 other parties within five minutes.
Some people have recommended not walking away even with a quoted two-hour wait. We were told it would be close to that but lucked out by having our number called in under 45 minutes thanks to being just a party of two.
We ordered a number of dishes recommended by other food bloggers and were not disappointed with a single menu item. If there is one “not-to-miss” item, it’s Tim Ho Wan’s crispy pork buns ($12 HK, about $1.50 US). With a sweet exterior and a similar consistency to Taiwan’s renowned pineapple cakes, these addicting creations are so popular there is a limit on how many you can order per day! Get one for the table and use the rest of your allotment to do take out. These make an awesome snack wandering around Hong Kong or for later back in your room.
Other recommended menu items include:
- Steamed shrimp dumplings (ha jiao) $18 HK,
- Steamed pork dumpling with shrimp $18 HK,
- Deep fried dumpling with meat $12 HK,
- Rice roll stuffed with pig liver $15HK,
- and steamed dumplings in Chiu Chow style $10 HK.
If you haven’t had Chiu Chow style cuisine, it originates in the north-easternmost part of Guangdong province and it’s known for being more healthy, with delicate and mild flavors.
While we didn’t order the following dishes, these seemed to be the most popular with other diners around us:
- Steamed Beef Ball with Bean Curd Skin ($12 HK),
- Steamed Chicken Feet with Black Bean Sauce ($12 HK),
- Pan-Fried Turnip Cake with Preserved Meat ($10 HK),
- and Chicken and Pork Wrapped with Dry Bean Curd ($16 HK).
If you manage to save room for dessert, they have a few – all of which are $10 HK. We opted for something unique – hot sweet chestnut and pumpkin cream soup. This is definitely something you can split between two people no problem.
Other desserts on the menu that most people were ordering included: Steamed Egg Cake, Tonic Medlar and Petal Cake (basically an Osmanthus Jelly), and the Double Boiled Pear Soup with Snow Fungus.
After grazing for nearly an hour, we ordered more crispy pork buns to go and were out the door for well under $20 US and ours was one of the higher bills we’ve heard of. Many people, especially if you have more people to share with, can easily fill up for $3 – $4 US per person.
There are two locations now in Hong Kong, but I recommend sticking to the original in Mongkok as the new one in Sham Shui Po is not nearly as good.
Tim Ho Wan is open 7 days a week from 10am – 10pm, Shop 8 Kwong Wa Street, Mongkok, Kowloon (+852 2332 2896).