Pork buns are a divisive dish. It’s nigh impossible to be luke warm on them. Those who crave their presence on a a dim sum/yum cha lazy susan are drawn to the fluffiness of the dough- a blooming white cloud of squish and how it splinters to reveal a sticky sweet pork centre.

Those who cast them aside them will bleat about their deceptive heft, curious melding of savoury meat and a sugar spiked sauce and their lack of textural contrast.

To which I say; if you don’t love a pork bun, you’ve never been to Tim Ho Wan, in Hong Kong.

Tim Ho Wan made its mark a few years ago now as the ‘world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant’. The original outpost was a hole in the wall in MongKok- where the waits were legendary. Up to three or four hours for a table was the word on the street. And why? Because of the grand quality and scant prices. Tim Ho Wan has high origins, it began when Mak Pui Gor, a dim sum chef at the three starred Michelin  Lung King Heen ( at the Four Seasons Hotel ) decided to open his own accessible outpost for dumplings and other delights to have with tea.

At HK 24 for a plate of har gau (less than 2 pounds) and HK 3 for tea, it’s entirely possible to stuff yourself silly for less than a tenner.

The original outpost has now closed. But never fear- there is are easy, accessible replacements, where if you time it right, you won’t have to wait at all.

Perhaps the easiest outpost is one floor above the express train to the airport, in the IFC mall on Hong Kong Central. It’s a little garish and shiny- airconditioned and clean- if  authenticity to you means eating lunch with sweat beading on your brow on sticky tables and next to battered walls, this might not tick all the boxes.

At 5 pm, the place is 4/5ths full. The lunch rush has long subsided and this is a lull before the after work crowds descend. The other bonus about Tim Ho Wan’s 12 and a half hour opening window (from 9 am -9.30 pm) means that if a dim sum urge hits you at dinner, you can happily indulge.

Tea is serve yourself on the table. The menus are also printed in English, so you just tick off what you want to eat and smile at a server. Within five minutes your table will be groaning with steamer baskets.

Har Gau (prawn dumplings) come four in a serve; there’s a pleasing bite to the whole prawns in the centre and the dumpling wrappers still hold their own (some specimens will disappointingly dissolve into rumpled skins, like tissue paper that’s been soaked by a hose).

Steamed pork dumplings with shrimp come studded with spring onion- a nice perk.

 

Turnip cakes are golden scorched in patches on the crust and a sturdy filler- they benefit greatly from a slurry of soy, chilli and vinegar that’s available on each table.

And the steamed egg cake is a glorious fluffy sweet/savoury sponge- light as a cloud and with a caramel note that lingers.

But the real hero are the pork buns. Because at Tim Ho Wan, they are baked, not steamed. It means you still get the mysteriously dark centre of sweet and sticky pork and a fluffy blanket of dough- but what you also get, is some crackle.

It’s the brittle casing that forms on the crust of the dough that elevates this potential piece of hangover-stodge-food to a new level. They’re sublime. And they’re 6 HK dollars each.

Eat as many as you can. Then finish the meal with a serving of Osmanthus Jelly, mildly sweet amber cubes of capturing Osmanthus flowers and wolfberries like segments of stained glass. Pay up at the counter near the entrance. And then take your suitcase downstairs and check into your flight out of Hong Kong at the train station – leaving you to head to the airport without the worry of your bags. You can then head to the airport  content in the knowledge that you probably just ate the world’s best pork bun.


Tim Ho Wan
Shop 12A, Hong Kong Station Podium Level 1, IFC Mall , Central, Hong Kong, China (Central)
(Nb, there is no English signage for the restaurant- look for the characters in turquoise lights).

Other Hong Kong hints and tips

We stayed in the Langham, Kowloon and found it to be spectacular. Great service, terrific pool on the roof (excellent if you’re on a stopover from London-Sydney and you want to stretch out a sore pregnant back), free wifi and a modern gym that’s open 24 hours – also excellent if your body clock is completely wired.

The Star Ferry across from Kowloon to Central is both efficient and a delightful way to see the harbour. It’s an easy straight walk up over the walkways from the ferry terminal in Central to the IFC mall.

If you have anything precious in your hand luggage or in a soft covered bag, best keep it in the back of a local taxi with you. A hard drive of ours only just survived repeated fairly boot slamming care of a driver who was a touch delusional about how much he could squash into the boot of the taxi.