Saturday, April 02, 2011

Hong Kong: Tao Heung in Tsim Sha Tsui

Hitting the Ground Running with Dim Sum
3/F, Carnavon Plaza, 20-20C Carnavon Road, Kowloon
Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood
PH: 852.2367.1328
Open daily 7:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted


Dim sum is the quintessential lunch experience of the Cantonese people, so it's no surprise that my very first meal in Hong Kong was made up of these little delights to replenish a weary traveler.

Because I arrived really early, my hotel room wasn't ready yet so I had to wander the area, which is the touristy Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. Because I didn't want to walk very far, I ended up at Tao Heung, which is a chain of restaurants across the city known primarily for its hot pots.

But Tao Heung also does pretty good dim sum business, known as yum cha (literally translated to mean "drink tea" when referring to the experience of eating dim sum). The trick I quickly learned about looking for restaurants in Hong Kong is to really know what building the restaurant is located in. Many are on upper floors, so just relying on the street address doesn't always help.
Tao Heung is on the third floor of a non-descript white building called Carnarvon Plaza, but it doesn't have an English name on the front. Best to just ask a local. I was able to find the building after walking back and forth on the street, and took the elevator straight up to the restaurant (I included a photo of how the front looks so you'll know what to look for).

Like most yum cha places in the city, you order by checking an order sheet. Even though I speak Cantonese, I don't read so I asked for an English sheet, which was noticeably smaller than the Chinese version. Oh well, it was just me so I didn't plan on ordering a lot. Also, there was a special sheet with photos, so I ordered a couple of dishes off of that too.

My first order was an old standby favorite, the steamed buns with custard filling. This is typically a dessert because it's sweet, but I love these and can eat it anytime, even at the start of a meal.

The custard inside was creamy but seemed a bit thicker than the versions I've had back in San Francisco. In fact, I think maybe I've had better custard in the Bay Area. However, Tao Heung's buns beat the ones back home for the fluffy texture. Holding the buns were like holding clouds because they were so light. So it was easy to eat all three by myself because they didn't weigh me down.

Because I always worry about getting enough vegetables while traveling, I order a plate of yau choi, or vegetables drizzled with oil. I got the lettuce version because the guy sitting across from me (when you're one person you share a table) had the same thing and it looked so brilliant. The bowl of boiled lettuce dressed in sesame oil and watered down soy sauce hit the spot, tasty and healthy.

This was one of the unusual items I saw on the specialty menu. They're baked spring onions (or maybe leeks) dumplings (HK$14.80 or $2). In the photo I thought the wave pattern looked interesting and when my plate arrived they looked just like the photo. I'm still not sure how they create the pattern because I thought they made it by layering the pastry dough, but there weren't any ridges on the dumplings when I ate them. The filling was tasty with a pleasant fresh flavor of spring onions and either bits of shrimp or maybe lard, I'm not really sure. The pastry exterior was nice as well, but the shell was a bit thick so maybe there was too much pastry compared to filling. Still, I enjoyed them.

This was listed on the English menu as pig trotter's with fermented taro curd, and it sounded interesting so I ordered it. I keep forgetting pig trotters are basically the knuckles or feet portions of the pig. The bone pieces were encircled by the fatty skin that was browned by the savory soy-based sauce. I tried to eat a couple but didn't really enjoy the fatty skin. I could see some bone marrow but it was hard to get to and I wasn't about to sit there crunching into the bone, so I barely finished this dish.

This was my last item, the premium siu mai (HK$18.80 or $2.50) with a full shrimp on top. There were also big chunks of shrimp inside blended with the pork filling. These were really tasty too, but the skin, which was thin, kept sticking to my chopsticks for some reason. I think that's because they're made fresh and comes piping hot to the table.

Amazingly, I ate everything I ordered and didn't have any leftovers (well, except the trotters), which is pretty good for one person. And this was a really reasonable dim sum, totaling HK$85.50, or $12. I would have spent way more than that back in the Bay Area.

Tao Heung looks really popular with the locals, and while there are more fancy and popular spots at various hotels, this delivers quality dim sum without eating into your travel budget.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (no-nonsense yum cha)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Diner notes: Just some tips about dining here. There are no paper napkins on the table, so be prepared to bring your own as to not make a mess of yourself while eating. When the servers bring your dish, they mark your table's check so keep it out in the open for them to mark it. When you're done eating and ready to go, simply take your check up to the cashier to pay. (You don't need to leave a tip on the table.)


Anonymous said...

Hey Ben, your trip looks like a lot of fun. Looking forward to keeping up. Have you planned out all your meals or are you just deciding as you go?--David K.

Single Guy Ben said...

Hey David, I have a long list of potential places to eat at that I know I won't be able to visit more than half of them. I'm keeping things flexible, going to places that's convenient to what I'm doing at the time, or going to places that I really want to try. Some days my food desires determine my schedule.

I'm also visiting with relatives, so I'm leaving it to them to decide when we get together. I made only two reservations prior to my trip and the other times are just what happens. Have to confess, I've eaten so much in just three days that I'm kind of sick of eating out already. I want to be back home in my kitchen! LOL

Foodhoe said...

Mmm, those cloudlike buns sound amazing! You did Manage to sample a pretty good assortment for a single diner, what fun meals you're enjoying

Anonymous said...

FYI, it is true that "yau choi" can mean greens with oil literally. However, there is a kind of chinese greens called yau choy, which is known for its tenderness and delicate flavor, a very popular veggie choice for the more discerning diners. I believe they are also called flowering rape greens. The reason you got lettuce might be because they are generally cheaper or else the real yau choy was not availabel that day. Just thought you might wanna know.

Single Guy Ben said...

Hmmm, when I ordered yau choi, the waitress asked me what kind of vegetables and gave me the option of "san choy" which is the lettuce or "gai lan" which is Chinese broccoli. Don't know about the yau choy you're referencing. Either way, I was happy with my choice. :)

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Nobody does steamed buns like the cooks in Hong Kong.

The pattern in the dumplings is made by rolling an oil and a water dough together into a log, cutting the log into discs and then flattening the discs so that it looks like a spiral pattern.

We demo the technique in our Pandan Spiral Mooncake post:

foodnut said...

FYI this restaurant gives a discount on dim sum order before 11:30am on Monday through Saturday. (You must check out by 12:30pm) It is documented on the little table sign.

Price classes are HK$6.80, $9.80, $12.80, and $15.80 per dish.

We ate there a couple weeks ago and found cheap and solid. It is also nice that they open so early.

Single Guy Ben said...

Foodnut, Tao Heung was so reliable that I actually went a second time with my HK relatives and we went for a late afternoon dim sum and they had special pricing then too! (Kind of like a happy hour, my cousin told me.) Not sure exactly when, but we were there around 3:30 p.m. Yeah, it's a solid spot for dim sum.