If you have 24 hours in Hong Kong, the city has much to offer: shopping, stunning views from Victoria Harbor, and many museums, for starters. I recently had a day-long layover in Hong Kong and I had but one mission: dim sum.
I asked at my cheap hotel if they could recommend any good dim sum in the neighborhood, and the woman behind the counter said, “just walk down the street – it’s lined with Chinese restaurants.” Uh, okay. That’s not exactly a recommendation for dim sum, but okay. I found two Chinese restaurants and neither of them had dim sum.
Lesson No. 1: If you have 24 hours in Hong Kong, be sure to spend your only night in a happening location, not a quiet, residential neighborhood.
I decided to commute for my dim sum. I trudged to the nearest MTR station and took the subway to the Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood (public transport in Hong Kong is fantastic). I emerged from the subterranean world into a flurry of activity: street vendors, traffic, tourists. Things were starting to look up.
I wandered the streets desperately in search of a bustling little tea house – the kind where Anthony Bourdain ate dim sum on the Hong Kong episode of his travel show. I saw a sign that read ‘TEA HOUSE’ but alas, it was a tiny shop that sold only packaged tea. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. My flight was in a mere two hours. I found an awning for a Chinese restaurant and ran in.
“Do you have dim sum?”
I was ushered to a corner next to a bathroom which smelled like cleaning fluids and given a menu opened to the last page with a paltry selection of dumplings. It didn’t feel right. But I was desperate. I should just eat here and go to the airport. I inhaled the cleaning-fluid air. I looked at the sad menu. I dashed for the door.
Lesson No. 2: If you have 24 hours in Hong Kong, plan ahead so you get your dim sum.
Back on the streets, I wondered if dim sum in Hong Kong was a pipe dream. Finally I saw a sign for dim sum in what looked like a giant mall. I took the elevator upstairs, and sure enough – a dim sum restaurant. It wasn’t the crowded tea house I had in mind – this place looked like any dim sum restaurant in San Francisco, but I didn’t care. I had half an hour and I was going to spend it eating dim sum.
I ordered shrimp dumplings, Chiu Chow style dumplings, pork ribs, and sticky rice. For a long time, I stared at ‘roast goose’ on the menu, but it was more expensive, which suggested a bigger portion. I reasoned that it was too much food since I was by myself. The table next to me got the roast goose. It looked crispy and juicy.
Lesson No. 3: If you have 24 hours in Hong Kong, order the roast goose even if you’re by yourself.
Goose or no, my food was terrific. The dumplings were like the dumplings I know from San Francisco restaurants (my favorite being Ton Kiang) except better. The dumpling wrappers were stickier (in a good way) and the fillings were fresher, more nuanced, more delicate. The Chiu Chow style dumplings (which I’d never had before) had a combination of shrimp and pork and nuts inside. Yes!
The sticky rice arrived wrapped in taro leaves. Unwrap the rolls and you are rewarded with the most comforting mush of rice, mushrooms, and Chinese sausage.
The ribs were steamed, fatty, and flavorful.
It was time to catch my flight. I had managed to eat dim sum in Hong Kong and I had no regrets.
Photos: Samya Sattar