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Hong Kong's best dim sum restaurants – Baskets of steaming dim sum. Fragrant tea. These conjure our favorite images of Hong Kong. Fook Lam Moon (pictured) is one of HK's best dim sum restaurants.
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Best for dim sum virgins: Yan Toh Heen – If you're looking for a first dim sum experience, few rival InterContinental Hong Kong's Yan Toh Heen. This is its signature dumpling trio.
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Exquisite tableware – Jade tableware is a star at Yan Toh Heen, which also offers a 270-degree Victoria Harbour view.
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Best value: Tim Ho Wan – Helmed by former Lung King Heen chef Mak Kwai Pui, the line outside Tim Ho Wan got big long before it was awarded a Michelin star.
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Most imitated dim sum – Tim Ho Wan's baked char siu (barbecued pork) bun is widely imitated but never matched.
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Best VIP treatment: Fook Lam Moon – It's called the "canteen of the wealthy," but anyone can eat at Fook Lam Moon. The service is five-star-hotel-perfect without being robotic.
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Dim sum in style: Mott 32 – This loft-style space looks nothing like a proper dim sum restaurant -- but we were sold as soon as the barbecued pork arrived.
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Chili sauces – There are three styles of chili sauces at Mott 32. Yu kwen yick, an orange chili paste with a unique sour finish, is a Hong Kong favorite condiment.
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Best vegetarian option: Pure Veggie House – Meat isn't missed at Pure Veggie House. The siu mai -- a refreshing blend of sticky rice and spinach -- is addictive.
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Best after hours: San Hing – Located in Kennedy Town, San Hing technically opens at 3 a.m., but customers arrive earlier to secure seats. Its celeb-worthy lau sa bao (pictured) is a favorite.
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Best cinematic backdrop: Luk Yu Teahouse – Luk Yu's service may be intimidating and its dim sum mediocre, but it should be tried at least once for its rare old school Hong Kong glamor.
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Best way to get fat: Tai Wing Wah – Apart from dim sum classics such as har gau, or a bright yellow and Malay sponge cake, Tai Wing Wah serves a delicious rustic white rice mixed with lard and soy sauce.
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Best sense of community: Lam Kee – Located in the Tai Po Hui Market's food court, Lam Kee is a great place to eavesdrop on your neighbors.
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Unpretentiously posh: Lei Garden – Offering superbly executed Cantonese dim sum, Lei Garden stands out for its warm service.
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Best rural experience: Choi Lung Restaurant – Choi Lung Restaurant is a three-story family-run teahouse partway up Hong Kong's highest peak, Tai Mo Shan.
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Rustic dim sum – Choi Lung's bean curd sheet wraps are filled with chicken, taro and fish maw. The taro is lightly cooked with a crunchy outer layer, leaving the chicken tender and the fish maw perfectly juicy.
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Hong Kong (CNN)Once upon a time, Hong Kong dim sum sessions were about tea appreciation -- that's why dim sum meals are commonly known in Cantonese as yum cha (or "drink tea").
The baskets of delicate dumplings were a foil for the fragrant drink and considered snacks rather than a full meal.
These days, dim sum itself is a main player on the culinary stage.
The diversity and sheer number of Hong Kong dim sum restaurants is stunning.
Noisy Cantonese joints where people eat with such determination there's a slight madness in the air; gilded, hushed dining rooms where waiters anticipate your every move; tranquil oases hidden on a mountaintop ... it's all available in Hong Kong.
We've picked our favorite Hong Kong dim sum restaurants to make it easy for the food-in-steam-basket fanatics.
When former Lung King Heen chef Mak Kwai-pui (affectionately known as Pui Gor, or "Brother Pui") opened a hole-in-the-wall in Mong Kok, crowds flocked here for top-quality Hong Kong dim sum at rock-bottom prices.
Then came a Michelin star.
And the masses descended.
A two-hour wait became a daily phenomenon.
And that's considered short.
For purists looking for the original experience, Tim Ho Wan's shoebox-sized Mong Kok store has unfortunately closed down.
The good news is Mak's opened six larger locations around Hong Kong -- and many more franchises overseas.
Despite changes, Tim Ho Wan is still worth it, wait and all.
Saying the quality is high and ingredients are fresh is an understatement.
Simply, this is what dim sum is meant to taste like.
The beef balls are firm but tender, with plenty of coriander.
The pig liver cheung fun is earthy.
The siu mai is packed with fat shrimp and succulent mushrooms.
The radish cake actually tastes like the white radish it's made from.
And of course there are the char siu (barbecued pork) baked buns, now widely imitated but never matched.
The Sham Shui Po branch, the second Tim Ho Wan after the Mong Kok store, is still said to house the best chefs.
Tim Ho Wan Sham Shui Po, G/F, 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Hong Kong China;
Best after-hours: San Hing
This is the place to go for a dim sum fix at dawn.
The tables are shared by a mix of elderly folk, celebrities and drinkers on a last stop before home.
Located in Kennedy Town, San Hing technically opens at 3 a.m., though customers arrive earlier to secure seats.
In the small hours the shop is a madhouse, especially on weekends.
Staff frantically churn out a wide selection of dim sum, stacked into giant bamboo towers.
Customers perpetually hover around the food arrival counter, while an unending stream of new customers mill about looking to snatch seats.
Photographs on the wall show Canto-pop star Eason Chan giving props to San Hing's lau sa bao -- signature yellow custard "quicksand buns."
Other San Hing specialties include quail's egg siu mai, deep-fried milk and various seasonal dishes often not listed on the menu, such as osmanthus jelly during the summer.
The prices are a bargain, with dim sum dishes ranging from HK$12 to $17 ($1.5-2).
San Hing, 10 Hau Wo St., Kennedy Town, Hong Kong China;
Best for dim sum virgins: Yan Toh Heen
If you're looking for a first and only dim sum experience, there aren't a lot of places that can rival Yan Toh Heen.
It was recently upped from one Michelin star to two.
But local dim sum fans have been worshiping it since the 1980s, before the InterContinental hotel took over the space from The Regent in 2001.
Yan Toh Heen Superior Dumplings is the most popular combo -- it includes a dumpling with steamed scallop, black truffles and vegetables, a steamed lobster and bird's nest dumpling and a steamed dumpling with king crab leg and vegetables.
The crispy shrimp with avocado dumplings and mango mayonnaise is fresh and crunchy.
The crispy fried taro net topped with an abalone may be the best deep-fried taro mash in town.
The restaurant also offers a 270-degree Victoria Harbour view.
Food is eaten with exquisite jade tableware.
Yan Toh Heen, InterContinental Hong Kong, No.18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong China;
Best dim sum in style: Mott 32
These siu mai pockets are filled with deliciously runny quail's egg.
The dark and spacious loft-style space underneath a bank building in Hong Kong is nothing like a proper dim sum restaurant -- even the service is kind and attentive.
But we're sold once the barbecued pork arrives.
Mott 32's char siu uses Iberico pork and is glazed with Yellow Mountain honey.
It's perfectly barbecued to give it a mildly charred surface and juicy insides.
The siu mai is made of Kurobuta pork wrapped around a soft-boiled quail's egg.
Sliced garoupa and black truffle are paired in slippery rice rolls.
The xiaolongbao and shrimp dumplings, however, are bland in comparison.
Mott 32, Basement, Standard Chartered Bank Building, No.4-4A Des Voeux Road Central, Central, Hong Kong China;
Best VIP treatment: Fook Lam Moon
The first thing we encountered at Fook Lam Moon was a Rolls-Royce Phantom pulling up at the main entrance, dropping off a weary looking man and his two hungry offspring, who bounced noisily to the door of the Hong Kong dim sum restaurant as though they were visiting grandma's house.
It isn't called the "canteen of the wealthy" for nothing.
Even though the place is frequented by the rich and famous, anyone can rock up to Fook Lam Moon and feel like a billionaire.
"People would drive all the way here from Sai Wan for a bowl of black bean ribs with rice," waitress Shek Wai Ling told us a few years ago when we first wrote about the place.
We recommend the bean curd sheet wraps filled with chicken, taro and fish maw.
The taro is cooked lightly with a crunchy outer layer, the chicken is tender and the fish maw is juicy.
A vegetable stall outside Choi Lung's front door is well known for selling locally grown produce.
In November, the restaurant serves fresh watercress purchased directly from the farms nearby, which Shek said are "very sweet and rarely found."
It's best to visit Choi Lung on the weekend as some dim sum are not served on weekdays, such as the black sesame rolls.
Choi Lung Restaurant, 2 Chuen Lung Estate, Route Twisk, Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong; +852 2415 5041. To get there, take a taxi from Tsuen Wan station for around HK$60 or take minibus 80 at Chuen Lung Street near Tsuen Wan wet market.
Best vegetarian option: Pure Veggie House
A hand-painted Buddhist Heart Sutra hangs on the wall.
Proving that great vegetarian dim sum isn't an oxymoron, you won't even notice the lack of meat when eating at Pure Veggie House.
Unlike most vegetarian Chinese restaurants, Pure Veggie House doesn't offer imitation meat made with bean curd and mushrooms.
Pure Veggie House prides itself on its lack of artificial coloring and MSG.
The addictive, bite-sized siu mai is our favorite -- it consists of sticky rice and spinach.
Mushroom dumplings are pocketed with fragrant truffles.
You can also opt for brown rice instead of the usual white variety to make it extra healthy.
The ownership group also manages an eco-farm, which supplies some of the restaurant's vegetables.
Pure Veggie House, 3/F, Coda Plaza, 51 Garden Road, Mid-Levels, Hong Kong China;
Best sense of community: Lam Kee
There's something about the tile floors, high ceilings and boisterous atmosphere of a wet market food hall that makes a meal even more fun.
Located in the Tai Po Hui Market's food court, Lam Kee is a casual neighborhood Hong Kong dim sum spot with simple, delicious fare.
The portions are small but inexpensive -- most cost less than HK$10 (US$1.30), which allows for plenty of experimentation.
Particularly memorable are the bean curd wraps, which contain an assortment of ingredients that work together remarkably well, like baby corn, taro, chicken and spam.
The black bean spareribs are fantastic and so are the tiny har gau.
But the best part of any meal is the company.
At the Tai Po Hui food court, patrons sit in a communal dining area.
Neighbors bump into each other as they head to the food stalls for a break during a grocery run.
If it's early morning, older women fuel up for an afternoon of mahjong by chatting over pots of tea.
Lam Kee, shop 8-9, 2/F, Tai Po Hui Market Cooked Food Centre, Tai Po
Best power lunch: Lung King Heen
Individual steam baskets -- now that's how you respect dim sum.
As one of Hong Kong's few Michelin three-starred restaurants and a Four Seasons Hotel signature, Lung King Heen enjoys an elevated status.
It's the perfect setting for special occasions: harbor views, central location, crease-free white tablecloths.
This is dim sum as fine dining.
The menu is full of classics that have been given novel twists.
Lobster and scallop in a thin wrapper resemble decadent siu mai.
Cheung fun is filled with garoupa.
Dumplings are stuffed with duck liver.
The hotel atmosphere can't be dismissed.
The service is a little mechanical and halfway through the meal we start craving the controlled chaos of a typical Cantonese restaurant.
But Lung King Heen isn't a typical Cantonese restaurant.
Lung King Heen, 8 Finance Street, Four Seasons Hotel, Hong Kong China;
Best way to get fat: Tai Wing Wah
Don't bother counting calories at Tai Wing Wah.
Sure, we live in a world obsessed with staying slim.
But in Yuen Long, Tai Wing Wah is making a killing from hearty "walled village cuisine" made with lard.
Punti and Hakka villages, settled in Hong Kong during the Ming and Qing dynasties, were protected by high village walls.
The food originating from these walled villages is the focus of Tai Wing Wah's menu.
Hugo "To To" Leung is the culinary brains behind the restaurant and he's adamant about maintaining authenticity.
That means, apart from Hong Kong dim sum classics, such as excellent har gau, or a bright yellow and delicious Malay sponge cake, Tai Wing Wah also serves a rustic white rice mixed with lard and soy sauce that'll leave you wanting more.
If you get a table and order before 11 a.m., most of the dim sum costs HK$12.
Tai Wing Wah Restaurant, 2/F Koon Wong Mansion, 2-6 On Ning Road, Yuen Long, Hong Kong nil China;
Best unpretentiously posh: Lei Garden
It's Michelin-starred and a haunt for celebrity families, but the atmosphere at this Hong Kong dim sum restaurant is relaxed and unpretentious.
Offering superbly executed Cantonese dishes and extremely popular for its dim sum, Lei Garden also stands out for warm service.
It's rumored the wait staff are trained more vigorously and compensated more handsomely than at any other Cantonese restaurant chain in town.
The plain cheung fun are al dente at first bite and perfectly tender inside; the siu mei is moist and meaty, with a nice crisp snap to the skin of the siu yuk and roasted duck.
Lei Garden's har gau are stuffed with fat shrimp and expertly wrapped.
Essentially, it's a procession of Hong Kong dim sum hits, with only a few slight misses, like the underwhelming xiaolongbao.