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Dim Sum 101

We give you the lowdown on some of Hong Kong’s favourite dumplings and where to find them.

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong

Whether you're a yum cha nut or a dumpling uninitiated, Time Out Hong Kong’s dim sum 101 gives you the lowdown on Hong Kong's favourite dumplings and the best spots to chow down on them.

Dim Sum 101

Beef balls

Quite literally a ball of beef with scallions, beef balls usually sit atop a layer of thin bean curd. Served with soy sauce, the recipe for beef balls originates from Guangzhou’s Muslim population and eventually spread to Hong Kong’s yum cha culture. Head over to Dim Sum Library and try the beef balls here, stuffed with deliciously rich beef gravy.

Cha siu bao

Perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner, these fluffy buns are packed full of barbecued pork. The bread-like casing is made from yeast and baking powder, encasing a mix of barbecued pork with oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, roasted sesame seed oil, rice vinegar, Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, soy sauce, sugar and cornstarch. It seems like a cliche, but Tim Ho Wan does some of the best char siu bao in town, thanks to the crispier pineapple bun, topped with crunchy sugar for the perfect sweet and savoury snack.


Chicken feet

Also known as phoenix claws, chicken feet can be divisive. Served as a cold dish, in a soup or main dish, this chewy treat is usually deep-fried, then steamed first and finally stewed it in sauce, commonly black bean. They’re popular all over the world but we recommend putting your chopstick skills to the test and head to Lin Heung Tea House and check out the fab phoenix claws there.

Crystal dumplings

This glutinous delight packs ingredients such as pork, black ear fungus and chives in a transparent skin, earning it the moniker crystal dumpling. With over 1,800 years of history, these dumplings were first crafted and steamed by the Han Chinese originating from Northern China. To get your crystal dumpling fix, we recommend Yue.


Custard bun

This deliciously dessert-like bun is filled with sweet yellow custard made of butter and egg. Satisfyingly oozy, the molten custard erupts when you bite into it. Fluffy and rich, custard buns are the dim sum of choice for anyone with a sweet tooth. Some top custard buns can be found at Sun Hing Restaurant, where the custard is particularly indulgent.

Har gow

Har gow dumplings are stuffed with juicy prawns sealed inside a crystal-like casing lovingly folded into pleats. The outer layer is made with a combination of wheat starch and tapioca flour giving the dumpling its signature translucent look and chewy texture. Har gow originated in a teahouse in the village of Wucu, Guangzhou, where fresh prawns were caught in abundance and immediately sealed into the casing and steamed. As the dumpling became more popular, Silk-Road travellers often stopped by to enjoy these dumplings with their tea. We recommend Tin Lung Heen for a rather decadent version.


Spring rolls

You can't really go wrong with spring rolls, especially as they please even the fussiest of palates. Served with dark vinegar for dipping, there is no shortage of spots to sample this deep-fried treat. Usually filled with pork, shredded carrots and bean sprouts, spring rolls are munched all year round but famously eaten during Chinese New Year or during spring (the clue’s in the name). Be sure to check out Ding Dim 1968 for the best of the best.

Siu mai

This dumpling is wrapped in a layer of yellow lye water dough containing a delicious mix of ground pork, prawn, Chinese black mushrooms, scallions, ginger and seasonings such as rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil and chicken stock. Siu mai literally translates as ‘to cook and to sell’ and can be traced way back to the Song Dynasty, when it was sold as a staple item in tea houses where Silk-road travellers would rest. It still remains a dim sum staple so we recommend you travel the road to Jade Garden, grab some siu mai and rest up.


Turnip cake

Also known as radish cake, this dim sum is especially popular during the Chinese New Year. Legend has it that the turnip cake originated over 2000 years ago in the Spring and Autumn Warring State Period in which Zhou royal authority began to decline and it’s remained one of the most popular dim sum items ever since. Made with turnips and flour, dried flavourings such as prawn, Chinese sausage, shiitake and Jinhua ham are mixed together and pan-fried for a super savoury treat. Our faves can be found steamed at Lin Heung Tea House.


These tasty soup dumplings are not for the inundated as you need to make sure you read the instructions first. If you bite into the dumpling without caution, you’ll end with a scalded chin, as xiaolongbao are filled with pork and soup. Instead, carefully plop the dumpling into your spoon and either bite a hole or stab with your chopstick, releasing and cooling the deliciously savoury soup for sipping. To try some of the most well-known xiaolongbaos in town, head to Din Tai Fung.

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