Having not been to Hong Kong in five years, I was just a teensy tiny bit rusty on what the latest and greatest eats were in the city. Luckily for me, I had lots of family members to ask. And to my surprise, what they recommended wasn't exactly the latest, but it was pretty great!
Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香樓) is one of the oldest dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong. I've seen articles saying that it's been around since 1918, while others say 1926/1928. Either way, it's pretty old! While there are thousands of dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong, and some may serve tastier food or have fancier decor, the experience I had at Lin Heung Tea House was like none other before, and I've been to a lot of dim sum restaurants!
From what I saw, this restaurant is not that foreigner friendly. There was no English anywhere in sight, so no way of knowing what you're eating or ordering. But if you're up for an adventure and want to try out this restaurant, here's a little guide on how to eat here.
Step 1: Hover
When you go to Lin Heung, it will likely be packed. If you want to avoid the crowds, I would suggest that you go really early if you want dim sum (they open at 6 a.m. and dinner dishes, not dim sum, are served in the evenings). We went at around 11 a.m. on a weekday hoping that it would be early enough to avoid lunch crowds but no luck! If you want a seat, you will have to find one yourself. Look around for people who look like they are nearly finished eating and hover around them until they leave. Don't feel bad, this is expected here. And you will likely find someone hovering around you wanting you to leave when you are nearly finished eating too!
If you are going alone or with a small group of people, you will have to share a table with other diners as they don't have smaller tables for small parties. It all adds to the experience!
Step 2: Tea: for drinking and for cleaning
Soon after you find your seat, a waiter will come asking you what kind of tea you want. Once you tell him, he will come with a bigger tea cup that has your tea leaves in it, and that comes with a lid. He'll pour hot water into this cup and then pour out the tea into a dish. Then he'll pour hot water again into the big cup. The tea in the big cup is for you to pour into the smaller tea cup to drink. The tea in the dish is for you to clean your utensils with. Swirl your bowl, smaller tea cup (this is the one you are actually supposed to drink out of, not the bigger one with the lid), ceramic spoon, and chopsticks in the dish to give them a good wash.
The waiter will also slip a strip of paper under the glass on the table for you. This strip of paper is important for when you order food, and when you need to pay!
Step 3: Attack the carts!
Now that you have a seat, your utensils are clean, and you have your tea, you can start looking for food! Ladies will come around with little carts with dim sum goodies in them. You could wait for one to come by your table but you may end up waiting a while. At Lin Heung, you attack the carts as soon as you see it coming out of the kitchen. Don't worry, you definitely won't be the only one doing this! When you get to the cart, the dim sum will be covered up. If you don't understand chinese, you can see what the dim sum looks like when someone else orders because that's when the ladies will take the lid off. You can point at and/or tell the lady what you want. Remember to bring your slip of paper with you so that the cart ladies can make a mark on it denoting what you ate.
Step 4: Enjoy the food
When you're safely back at your table with your food, you can sit back and enjoy it. The dim sum here is really authentic. My mom was really excited to see some of the food she used to enjoy when she was younger and living in Hong Kong, that is hard to find today!
Step 5: Take in your surroundings
While enjoying your food, also enjoy your surroundings! The kind of traditional dim sum experience you find here is hard to come by in modern Hong Kong. I enjoyed people watching while eating and just looking around the restaurant. There were birdcages hanging off the ceiling, and metal bins on the floor. When I asked my mom what they were for, she said back in the day, people would spit their phlegm into them! You don't see those in Hong Kong restaurants anymore! When I went, they were (luckily?) only being used to throw away any excess sauce or tea people had in their bowls.
And, since you're (likely) sharing a table with strangers, try to talk to them! Even if you don't speak Chinese, it's worth a shot to try to talk to them in English. They may even be able to introduce some dishes to you. I saw very few non-Chinese people at the restaurant when I was there, but the ones I did see seemed to be mingling with the locals at their table. There were even some friendly locals who shared their food with tourists at their table!
Step 6: When people hover around you, maybe it's time to go
Like how anxious you were when you were trying to find a seat when you first got to the restaurant, others are hungry and want a seat too! If you're done eating, and there are people waiting for seats, be considerate and give up your seat. Just bring that slip of paper with you to the cashier and they will ring up your bill for you.
An extra step before you leave Lin Heung is to maybe check out the bakery downstairs. Lin Heung is actually also famous for their mooncakes so if you see any for sale at the bakery, maybe you can buy some for dessert!
Want to get here?
Address: 160-164 Wellington Street (between the Central and Sheung Wan MTR stations)
Hours: 6 a.m. - 11 p.m. daily
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