Dim sum – classic Hong Kong cuisine

Dim sum is classic Cantonese cuisine at its best, and it’s a bit of an institution here. Traditionally, it’s eaten at lunchtimes but I think a lot of dim sum restaurants will offer it all day now, so you can indulge any time you like! My husband is a particular fan, and if for whatever reason he’s feeling a bit down, going for dim sum usually perks him up again :)

And did I mention that it’s really cheap too?!

For those who are as clueless about dim sum as I was before we moved to Hong Kong, it’s basically a meal made up of small pieces of food. If you’ve ever had tapas then it’s the same concept but with Chinese food! So when you go into a dim sum restaurant, you order a range of plates of food and each will have usually 2-4 identical items on for you to share.

Traditionally, dim sum restaurants used to have ladies with a trolley each who would walk around the restaurant. Each trolley has a few different dishes on, and when you see one coming that has something on that you want, you call the lady over and she will give you some food! There aren’t many restaurants which are like this now, but Maxim’s Palace in City Hall does (address: 3/F, City Hall, 5-7 Edinburgh Place, Central/中環愛丁堡廣場5-7號大會堂低座3樓). This where we usually take visitors to Hong Kong as it’s such a fun experience, set in a large ballroom. It gets pretty busy so be prepared to wait up to an hour for a table.

Alternatively, for a normal restaurant experience but better, cheaper food I’d recommend Tim Ho Wan. I think the Mongkok branch of this restaurant has a Michelin star! We usually go to the North Point branch (address: Shop B, C, & D, G/F, 2-8 Wharf Road, Seaview Building, North Point/北角和富道2-8號嘉洋大廈地下B,C及D鋪) instead as it’s much less busy and both times we’ve been we haven’t had to queue at all.

Anyway, onto the good stuff now – what to order when you get there! Here are some of our favourites:


There are several types of dumplings on most dim sum menus. Hargow (or ha-gaau) have prawns (shrimp) inside:


Siu-mai (which I don’t have a picture of) usually have pork inside with a crown of shrimp on top, I also like these :) Some dim sum restaurants will also offer xiao long bao, which have pork and soup in (as I mentioned here), although these are Shanghainese and not traditionally part of dim sum.

xiao long bao

BBQ pork buns

These are known locally as char siu bao and comprise a fluffy white sweet bun with Hong Kong style BBQ pork in (very different from BBQ sauce!). Very yummy :)

BBQ pork buns

Glutinous rice dumplings

These are essentially a large ball of sticky rice with other things mixed in such as chicken, prawns, egg and mushrooms. This will be delivered to your table wrapped in a banana leaf, which is what they steam the whole thing in. It tastes much better than it looks here, honest!

glutinous rice dumpling

Stuffed peppers

These are usually halves of long thin non-spicy peppers (although I have had a spicy one once!) which have been filled with pork. I guess they are then grilled or fried before serving. These ones are upside down so you can’t see the pork which is underneath!

stuffed peppers

Rice rolls

These are long rolls containing meat or seafood wrapped in an outer layer made from rice. The outer layer is a bit like a pasta sheet but has a slightly different taste and texture. Our favourite type is BBQ pork rice rolls.

BBQ pork rice roll

Egg tarts

Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of this but egg tarts make a great end to a dim sum feast. They actually originate from Macau but you can find them all over Hong Kong. They look like jam tarts but with egg instead of jam! They also have a caramelised topping which makes the egg sweet.

Egg cake

This is another sweet dish, and is actually just a large cube of sponge cake (I think it’s called egg cake as a literal translation of the Cantonese for cake – daan-gaau). It’s usually pretty moist and fluffy.

So, if you come to Hong Kong you must try some dim sum! Let me know if you have any favourites that I have missed. I have to admit that I have excluded some of the local favourites, such as chicken feet and turnip cake as we’ve tried them and didn’t really like them, so this is very much a Westerner’s opinion on dim sum!

Thanks for reading!


Chinese food you may not have heard of

In the UK (and, I’m sure, around the world) there are many Chinese takeaways serving dishes that we’ve become familiar with, such as chow mein and sweet and sour pork. Most of these dishes are actually Cantonese (i.e. Southern Chinese) and don’t represent much of what is eaten around China. However, even the Cantonese cuisine in Hong Kong can be very different from the “Chinese” food that we’re used to. I thought I’d identify a few favourites that you may not be aware of!

Noodle soup

Noodle soup is a staple here, and very cheap. A large bowl can be purchased for HK$20-30 (£1.60-2.50). It basically comprises a large amount of thin noodles in a clear thin soup, sort of like a weak chicken stock. Usually you have something else in your noodles – such as shrimp wontons, which are like dumplings (see below). The picture below shows noodle soup with beef balls, which are basically processed beef in a ball shape! I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of noodle soup, as it’s quite bland. But it does fill you up if you want something cheap for lunch!

Noodle soup with beef balls

I read somewhere that Japanese ramen is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. This is a good thing! I’ve only come across it here, but it’s similar to noodle soup only with a lot more flavour and more interesting things in with the noodles. Also, I prefer to have udon noodles instead of ramen, which are thicker.


Chinese dumplings are very different to British dumplings! The Chinese variety comprises minced meat, shrimp and/or vegetables wrapped in a soft thin pasta-like package. They may be steamed, fried or boiled. There are loads of different types, from all over China. One of our favourites are xiaolongbao (pictured below) from Shanghai, which have a little soup inside as well as the meat. This makes them very difficult to eat without dropping the soup everywhere!

Chinese dumplings

Pork chop curry

I don’t believe that this originates in China but you can get it in many of the little cafés here. It is one of Tom’s favourites! It comprises a breaded pork chop cutlet in a thick spicy curry sauce, and is often served with potatoes and rice. Definitely not what I expected local Chinese food to be!

Curry pork chop

Sichuan hotpot

A hotpot is a bit like an oil fondue, where you dip your food into the bowl to cook it. However, in the bowl is a spicy broth with lots of chillis, Sichuan peppercorns and black beans along with a whole host of other things to add to the flavour. When we have this in a restaurant we have to ask them to make it a little less spicy otherwise it’s too hot to eat! There are loads of things that are great to cook in your hotpot. In the picture below you can see corn on the cob and dumplings. We also like to have beef, beef balls, broccoli, cauliflower, noodles, mushrooms and Chinese cabbage in ours, but the list is pretty endless!

Sichuan hotpot

Sichuan cuisine comes from the Sichuan province in south-west China, and is legendarily spicy. Tom loves it but I can only tolerate it in small doses! In fact, most Cantonese people struggle with how spicy it is as Cantonese food is generally not at all spicy.

There is one Sichuan dish that has made it to UK takeaways – Kung Po chicken – but it is nothing like the original! The UK version comprises chicken and vegetables in a slightly sweet thick pink sauce. When you order it here, you are given a plate of diced chicken, chillis and peanuts (and maybe some other veg) with a very small amount of brown sauce. It’s really nice, but very spicy!

Dim sum

I couldn’t leave without mentioning dim sum, perhaps our favourite Cantonese cuisine. I know you can get it in the UK, but I hadn’t had it very often until we came here. Dim sum is essentially a meal of small dishes which you select from a large menu. Some of our favourite dim sum dishes include BBQ pork buns (pork cooked in a sweet sauce inside a sweet breaded white bun), dumplings of many different varieties, stuffed peppers (the stuffing is often minced pork) and glutinous rice dumplings (a large ball of sticky rice with other ingredients mixed in, such as chicken, prawns, egg and mushrooms). Depending on where you go, dim sum can be pretty cheap too, and we’ve had meals where we’ve left completely stuffed and the bill has come to HK$120 (£10) for the two of us.

Thanks for reading!