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Tim Ho Wan Hong Kong – A Guide to the World’s Cheapest Michelin Star Restaurant

Tim Ho Wan - Hong Kong Dim Sum

Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong. World’s cheapest Michelin Star restaurant. My fingers are quivering with the withdrawal symptoms. I’m finding it difficult to type. My name is Nate, and I’m a Dim-sum-aholic. At least once a week, for years now, I have to get my fix. I’m addicted, and committed. I waited FIVE HOUR’s to be seated at Tim Ho Wan, located in the district of Mongkok, on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. Generally, I don’t do lines. As a hand-model, I’m used to getting the VIP treatment. But at this Michelin starred restaurant, there are no VIP’s. But the thing is, after sampling Tim Ho Wan, it’s going to be rough going back to any of the other non-Michelin starred Dim Sum restaurants in my regular Yum Cha rotation.

Tim Ho Wan shop front

Outside Tim Ho Wan. You will become very intimate with this view.

 

At Tim Ho Wan, the Dim Sum Mastery is Clear.

I’ve been told that I’m an “egg”. White on the outside, yellow on the inside. Despite coming from pure Anglo-Saxon stock, in my opinion the greatest breakfast of all is Hong Kong style Dim Sum. The traditional full English fry-up takes a close second. A big difference between the two – I can cook a high quality full English breakfast at home. However, the skill and experience requried to delicately and expertly prepare the range of Chinese Dim Sum dishes, takes years to master.

A quick primer for the uninitiated: Dim Sum is a Chinese style of food, where small bite sized portions are served on small plates, or in steamer baskets made of bamboo or stainless steel. Consider it a Chinese version of Spanish Tapas. In Cantonese, eating at Dim Sum restaurant is normally referred to as “Yum Cha” – literally, drinking Tea. Always served at Dim Sum, Tea is an essential part of the experience.

Tim Ho Wan Mongkok

For people waiting for Tim Ho Wan Dim Sum, Mongkok Hotels are available to rent by-the-hour.

 

Tim Ho Wan, and The History of the Michelin Guide

Andre Michelin published the first Michelin Guide in 1900, as a way for motorists to locate mechanics, auto-repairers, fine lodgings and good eats, whilst touring the French countryside. By the mid 1920′s, restaurants of outstanding quality had a star added next to their name, and the Michelin star rating system was born. Cut to the 21st century, and the guide is now considered somewhat of an “Academy Awards” for restaurants.

Really, there is no higher praise in the restaurant guide-book world than being awarded a coveted Michelin star. The very best restaurants, representing many different cuisines the world over, have one thing in common – the Michelin star. Of course, given the power and status of a star, the Michelin guide is not without controversy. However, some of the worlds most renowned chefs have the opinion that Michelin is the only guide that counts.

Running to Tim Ho Wan, Mongkok

A Hong Kong local runs back Tim Ho Wan in Mongkok, before his number is called.

 
Opening in 2008, Tim Ho Wan is the baby of Mak Pui Gor, a Hong Kong chef formerly of the prestigious four seasons hotel in Hong Kong. Now, Mak dishes up Michelin star meals, for less than 2$ USD. Yes. Two bucks. It’s ridiculous. Inside Tim Ho Wan there is no pretension. Unlike other normally boisterous Dim Sum restaurants, Tim Ho Wan is relatively peaceful. Staff wearing old, faded, lime green polo shirts move around the cramped tables delivering small baskets and plates. The camaraderie amongst the twenty or so other diners that have made it inside is palpable. Eating the finest Dim Sum dishes available, for spare change, creates an unspoken bonding between strangers.

The view outside Tim Ho Wan.

Outside Tim Ho Wan, Mongkok Caution: this view will be burned into your mind forever.

 

Getting a Seat at Tim Ho Wan is Easy. Just Be Patient. 

Thirty minutes after opening time (10.30am), we arrived. Our reward was a hand-written number – 118. The current number being called was 12. Ten minutes later – no more numbers would be given out today. Interpreting the Cantonese and broken English from Tim Ho Wan’s gate-keeping-number-caller, and observing how slowly the numbers were climbing, suggested at least a three-hour wait.

After exploring the densely packed district of Mongkok for a couple of hours, my fellow dim sum junkies and I returned. The Gatekeeper informed me, “oh, many people today, come back 3 o’crock”. “Three o’clock, or 3 hours?” I enquired. “Yes. 3 hours. 3 o’crock”. Uh huh. It was now about 1.30pm, so we decided to return at about 3pm. Of course, when we returned, our number had already been called.

This isn't Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong Dim Sum

Phillipa eating Dim Sum at a non-Michelin-starred-restaurant in Singapore. Fancy surroundings, but no Tim Ho Wan.

 
I stood with the constant throng of eighty or so people hovering around the front door, leering through the windows, taking photos, and trying to get the smallest glimpse, or whiff, of the hallowed ground within. Tim Ho Wan’s gatekeeper reappeared, after dipping inside for a bit. I squeezed through to the front of the pack, holding my hand-written number 118 high. “Oh, no. You miss out today”. My heart sank. We had missed our chance. Scratched off the sheet. It was devastating, I had the shakes, and I felt itchy all over. And, I could feel an uncontrollable facial tick developing.

Showing my best imitation of puppy dog eyes, I pleaded with the gatekeeper. “Many hours. I wait many, many hours. Prease to let me in! Prease!”. He turned, opened the door just a bit, and said “OK. You come in now.” It was close to five hours, from the time we arrived at Tim Ho Wan, to the time we were sitting down.

What About the Food at Tim Ho Wan?

Hey, Tim Ho Wan received a Michelin star, two years running, 2010, and 2011. I won’t wax lyrical, I’ll just give you a quick run down, and some pointers:

  • Order as much as you can possibly eat. The two of us ate for about $13 USD in total. Absolutely, positively, hurt it.
  • Get the baked pork buns (Char siu bao). Dear sweet lord, for the love of all that is good in the world, order the pork buns. Never, ever, has there been such a perfect combination of sweet, savory, crispy, crumbly. Mere words cannot do this morsel justice.
  • Lo Bak Go – fried radish cake. Normally, I find this dish tastes like, well, nothing. Not at Tim Ho Wan. Perfectly light, full of flavour, non-oily.
  • Go for the Dim Sum standards – the Har Gow (Shrimp dumplings), the Siu Mai (pork and shrimp dumplings) and the Pork spare ribs. These are amongst my favourite dishes at any Dim Sum, but it was great to sample what could be done to perfect these simple dishes.
  • How to avoid the long wait ? Who knows? Maybe get there before opening, I think without luck on your side, you’re in for a bit of a wait no matter when you arrive. Tim Ho Wan is only a very small restaurant, and insanely popular. Bookings are not taken at Tim Ho Wan.
Tim Ho Wan fan

A Hong Kong girl, distraught at being served non-Michelin-starred Dim Sum.

Tim Ho Wan is a place I could just curl up in a ball under the table, and never leave.

Not only that, In my opinion, Tim Ho Wan is Hong Kong’s number one tourist attraction. Don’t miss it.

Nate.

PS – the lack of photos of the dishes at Tim Ho Wan? I don’t want to ruin the surprise, you’ll just have to visit!

INFO:

Tim Ho Wan Masterful Dim Sum Expert
Address : Shop 8, Tsui Yuen Mansion,
2-20, Kwong Wa Street,
Mong Kok, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Tel No : 2332 2896

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21 Responses to Tim Ho Wan Hong Kong – A Guide to the World’s Cheapest Michelin Star Restaurant

  1. Adrian Mar 12, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    Love love love, this post … I’m a dim-sum-a-holic as well, and have eaten my way around HK quite a fair bit, but never heard of this joint. It will certainly be on my list on my next visit!

    • Nate Mar 12, 2012 at 9:03 am #

      Cheers Adrian. Are you based in Singapore (thought I read that somewhere on your blog)..if so, there are some pretty good options there as well! Any tips, throw them my way!

  2. Adrian Mar 12, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    For Singapore: My personal favourites are Royal China at Raffles Hotel, and Asia Grand at Odeon Towers across the road.

    All this talk about food has made me hungry! I love Tai Ping Koon in HK, yum yum…

    • Nate Mar 12, 2012 at 9:40 am #

      The photo of Phillipa was taken in Singapore at “Crystal Jade” at Vivo City…Dim Sum there was seriously good, the Crispy Pork Belly was world class.

  3. Justin Mar 12, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    World’s cheapest Michelin Star. Smart idea for an article.

    What a find this place is!

    However, my favorite line is:

    “Generally, I don’t do lines.” It must be quite the experience to see how the other half lives. :)

    Great article Nate!

    • Nate Mar 12, 2012 at 11:55 am #

      Haha thanks Justin. Smart idea for an article, and a smart idea for my stomach! ;)

  4. Emme Rogers Mar 15, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    That takes serious commitment waiting 5 hours for a table.

    • Nate Mar 15, 2012 at 1:34 am #

      Oh yeah. There very, very, few things in life I would wait five hours for.

  5. Andrea Mar 17, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    I ADORE dim sum but John isn’t a big fan so I never have it anymore. Used to be a favourite for me when I lived in San Francisco.

    • Nate Mar 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

      …I bet you miss it Andrea! San Francisco must have some great dim sum options…

  6. Kieu ~ GQ trippin Apr 6, 2012 at 2:54 am #

    OMG! I would’ve cried if I waited for 5 hours only to miss my number. Love your Chinese accent btw. ;) Ah man, I can’t wait to line up for some dim sum!

    • Nate Apr 6, 2012 at 5:09 am #

      Kieu, I almost cried ;) ..and thanks, I’ve been working hard on the accent haha. Good luck with getting a shorter wait than I had!

  7. Jonathan (@retrotraveller) May 1, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    Hmmm… dumplings!

    One of my favourite things to eat in China too…

    • Nene May 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

      72 hrs in Hong Kong did Tim Ho Wan’s 2 days in a row – oh the joy!!! Lined up the 1st day 1/2 hr before opening- got number 14- was in the door by 10:50. Seats 30 inside- I counted. BEST DIM SUM EVER. 2nd day – MOTHERS DAY – I announced after the previous visit all I wanted for mothers day was dim sum at Tim Ho Wan’s. My wish was granted- lined up 40 minutes before opening – got number 14. Got in at 11:45 – numbers were up to 94 before we entered. Fabulous food is an understatement. A buzz of excited anticipation hovers in the air along the bedraggled line of devotees and the uninitiated. A strange bond forms as we wait longing for our number to be called. We talk to a family from Singapore, 2 Canadian boys on a post study gap year and a girl named Mickey from Thailand with a diamond in her eye tooth. We nod and wave to each other as one by one our groups are seated inside. We farewell each other as we roll out the door. Memorable holidays are defined by our taste buds- a true highlight of our Hong Kong visit.

      • Nate May 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

        Good one Nene… I couldn’t have said it better myself. Your Tim Ho Wan experience mirrors the one I had. And, I’m glad you got your mothers day wish!

  8. Marc May 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    Thank you Nate for this great review, I’m visiting HK in June for the first time, and this article has be salivating! Can’t wait to go. If I can wait a month, I’ll be able to wait the hours needed on the actual day!

    • Nate May 29, 2012 at 6:29 am #

      Hey Marc – you’re making me jealous! I’m sure you can wait it out, good luck!

    • jon agapito Jul 15, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

      how can i find tim ho wan, , where can i exit in mongkok station … pls reply asap

      thanks.

      • Nate Jul 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

        Hey! Look on the map dude! It’s only a few minutes walk from Mongkok Station, you’ll find it easily, just look for the crowd of drooling people!

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