Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Lin Heung Tea House, HK
This was quite a cool experience. Dim sum is of course common in HK, but this was the real deal. Set in a very traditional setting (160-164 Wellington Street, 2544-2556), not far down the street from my favorite noodle shop, this place is a bit chaotic, yet full of character. Forget maitre d's. No one will really bring you to your table; instead, you hover around the already-occupied tables like vultures and snag whatever seats open up, even if that means sitting at a table already partially occupied by strangers. Once you sit down, the tea ritual begins, where you select your tea (the cup is loaded full of tea leaves for an extra potent brew). But the first few pours of hot water are not meant for drinking yet; instead, use the scalding hot tea to sterilize all the cups, spoons, and bowls that you will be using to eat (and yes, there could be some caked-on food). After that (assuming you are able to pick up the hot porcelain, which I wasn't able to do myself), pour your tea.
Next, you start picking out your dim sum from wheeled carts, which are apparently old school here in Hong Kong compared to most of the majestically modern dim sum places around. The preparation is very traditional too: classics like shumai feature rather crude cuts of meat, apparently due to the fact that they were largely prepared by hand rather than fine modern methods (it tasted good). One popular dish is some kind of a chicken wrapped in tofu, featuring a fish bladder or something, which was much better than it sounds. I had some sort of a steamed pork belly too, which was interestingly edible, if a bit fatty. One thing that this place apparently specializes in is some sort of big steamed bun, although they were out of it today. Well, of course we got the usual dim sum classics like sticky rice and cheong fun, which were relatively transparent in color, apparently a side effect of the high amount of pork lard used in creating the dish.
Don't even think about ambience here - there is tea overflowing from your cups onto the table all over the place and making quite a mess. People bring newspapers here to read. There are even some spit buckets lying around (cue Monty Python's Meaning of Life: "Bring me another bucket!"), which apparently were common back in the old days. While I didn't see anyone using them today, they nonetheless were around in case you needed to make a deposit (ugh!). The heavy pork-lard-laden food wasn't exactly the healthiest either, but it was definitely very unique (and was decently good, even if I can't eat this heavy stuff every day). More importantly, this was a good example of real local food, the experience of which makes it all worthwhile. (And it was cheap too; just HK$77 or US$10 for two of us.)
Afterwards, try climbing up the hill one block to hit the Tai Cheong Bakery, a well-known Chinese bakery with lines forming outside at 35 Lyndhurst Terrace (2544-3475). Grab some pastries like egg tarts (lots of pork lard in the crust for extra flakiness and flavor) or "old wife cakes" for a nice sweet closure to your very local meal.
Digested at 1:36 PM
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