One legend has it that dim sum was invented as a snack to help tea houses sell more tea; another credits Southern Song dynasty villagers who thanked soldiers for defending their home with food as ‘dim dim sum yee’ – a little gift from the heart. Either way, these small plates have become an undisputed symbol of Hong Kong dining.
In Cantonese, yum cha, which means ‘to drink tea’, describes the act of going to eat dim sum, a popular pastime among locals and visitors alike. From boisterous pushcart palaces to elegant, contemporary restaurants, these are the best places to gather for dim sum in Hong Kong, serving bamboo steamer baskets of har gow (shrimp dumplings) and much more.
Classic Dim Sum
Lin Heung Tea House
Although founded in Guangzhou, Lin Heung has almost a century’s history in Hong Kong, and is still run more or less the same way, serving retro dishes such as pig’s liver siu mai (open-faced dumplings typically filled with ground pork and shrimp). Be prepared to share your table with other diners, rinse your utensils in hot tea before eating, and flock to the pushcarts as soon as they come out of the kitchen, as regulars do, rather than waiting for them to come you, lest you lose out on the freshest baskets. Like Hong Kong itself, Lin Heung can seem a bit hectic but the experience is priceless.
160-164 Wellington Street, Central; +852 2544 4556
City Hall Maxim’s Palace
This giant dim sum hall offers the best of both worlds – nostalgic pushcarts in a relatively modern environment. The range of plates is as vast as the restaurant itself, with anything from turnip cake pan-fried to order in its own special hot-plate cart to vegetarian steamed rice paper rolls and dainty egg tarts. The restaurant is incredibly popular, so try to arrive early for lunch to beat the rush, or you could find yourself in a queue.
2/F, Low Block, City Hall, Central; +852 2521 1303
Luk Yu Tea House
If walls could talk, the antique wainscotting here could start a podcast about Hong Kong’s who’s who. This 1930s tea house – filled with ornate furniture and staff in mandarin-collared shirts – has been a favourite among the city’s bigwigs for decades. Join them for breakfast early in the morning; lunchtime dim sum is for tourists. If you do end up here for lunch, order from the main menu, on which one highlight is the sweet and sour pork, made the traditional way with hawthorn juice rather than ketchup.
24-26 Stanley Street, Central; +852 2523 5464
Opened by the seventh son of a renowned restaurant family, Seventh Son is known for Cantonese dishes – from dim sum to banquet dishes like roast suckling pig – done the traditional way. In fact, many local gourmands consider the restaurant to be the standard bearer of Hong Kong Cantonese cuisine as we know it today. The dim sum menu here excels at the classics: the har gow, siu mai and lor mai gai (glutinous rice steamed in lotus leaf) are some of the best versions of these dishes you’ll find in Hong Kong.
3/F, The Wharney Guangdong Hotel, 57-73 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai; +852 2892 2888
Contemporary Dim Sum
While simply named, Yum Cha isn’t your standard Chinese restaurant. The interior looks like a hip bistro, with its sleek, marble-topped tables and banquettes, and attracts a crowd to match. You can bet that most diners are posting photos of their emoji steamed custard buns on Instagram (#letsyumcha) or taking a break from their pig-faced barbecued pork buns and rainbow-hued dumplings to check how many likes they’ve got for their Boomerang looping mini video. But it’s not just gimmicks; the dim sum at Yum Cha’s two locations in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui taste as good as they look.
2/F, Nan Fung Place, 173 Des Voeux Road Central, Central; +852 3708 8081
This elegant, Ilse Crawford-designed, bi-level space is full of green tones and Art Deco details set against marble, copper and a rotating art display. The dim sum is equally refined. Soup dumplings are filled with fish maw (swim bladder) and cordyceps fungi – a combination that would meet the approval of a gracefully coiffed Chinese grandmother – and barbecued pork buns feature Ibérico pork. The one-Michelin-starred restaurant also does a popular weekend dim sum brunch with free-flow Champagne. In balmy weather, book a table out on the terrace, a little oasis of tropical style in the middle of the pulsating metropolis.
3/F, 1 Duddell Street, Central; +852 2525 9191
Casual Dim Sum
Tim Ho Wan
Famously the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, Tim Ho Wan is perfect if you’re after dim sum that’s made with precision and served in a flash. The baked barbecued-pork bun – crunchy on the outside, with a moreish melange of sweet and savoury barbecued pork within – is often imitated but rarely equalled, especially not at this price. There are several branches of Tim Ho Wan around town, including a handy one above Hong Kong Station, which is on the Airport Express line, but the Sham Shui Po branch is the oldest.
9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po; +852 2788 1226
Dim Sum Square
At larger Cantonese restaurants, dim sum is usually served only at breakfast or lunch, but in the past decade or so small, independent dim sum-only eateries like Dim Sum Square have emerged, serving these small plates for dinner too. Each dish is made to order, so you can be sure they’re fresh. One of the most popular is rice paper rolls, filled with either prawns, beef or barbecued pork. If you’re in the mood for something more substantial, Dim Sum Square also serves steamed rice bowls with various toppings, such as spare ribs with black bean sauce.
G/F, Fu Fai Commercial Centre, 27 Hillier Street, Sheung Wan; +852 2851 8088
Craving dim sum after a night out on the tiles, or jetlagged and hungry? Look no further than Sun Hing, a down-home neighbourhood spot that’s open 3am to 4pm daily. It’s completely self-service, so help yourself to a pot of tea and have some fun navigating the mountain of baskets on the steam table until you find your favourites, whether it’s a classic like pork and shrimp siu mai, curried honeycomb tripe or desserts such as steamed custard bun or ma lai go (brown sugar cake).
8 Smithfield Road, Kennedy Town; +852 2816 0616
This story was originally published in March 2020 and updated in August 2020