Happy Year of the Dragon! In honor of Chinese New Year last week I thought it was a good time to share some highlights from a recent trip to Hong Kong. While it was a very brief visit, I came away with a great sense of the spirit of this wildly diverse and entertaining city. The most striking thing for me was the extremities of waterways, mountains and high rises and how they all collide and yet it feels small when you are actually in it. The other very pleasant discovery was how kind and helpful the locals are (unless you are taking photos of them at the wet market but that will come in a future post).
Hong Kong is a world class city with some of the best dining in the world. I typically plan my days around my meals when in a new city for the first time so I was overwhelmed by the possibilities. One thing I knew I had to have on this trip was a proper dim sum experience. After a day of walking around and shopping we asked for recommendations and ended up in a mall (this is perfectly normal there) on the central side at a place called Lei Garden. Elegant, modern, quiet and clean...I knew I was in for a treat considering the only dim sum I've had has been in the loud crowded cafeteria style places with fluorescent lights and speedy servers who never seem to have the items I want on their carts (which seem to have always been emptied by the other diners, making me wonder if I really should give in and try the chicken feet). Up until this trip, Ton Kiang in San Francisco was my favorite dim sum. LEI Garden was already proving to be a departure from that experience as we were seated in a beautiful white booth with slated wood partitions and soft light streaming in. The server brought us a delicious pot of tea along with a perfectly sharpened pencil and a handsome menu to select from. It was warm and calm and quiet and it felt like a big hug. I think I read somewhere the dim sum means "to warm the heart" and this place was doing just that...and I hadn't even sunken my teeth into the bau yet.
As we had arrived on the later side in the afternoon they were out of many things however we did manage to get a nice range of the best dim sum I've ever had. It went something like this...
Chicken Dumpling: Steamed dumpling of chicken and perfectly blanched vegetables that gave off an impossible green glow through the very delicate translucent rice flour wrapper. I was impressed with the crispness of the veggies in this perfect little bite and despite how delicate the wrapper was it held together without completely falling apart once bitten into.
Har Gow: A staple on the dim sum circuit (and why I fell in love with dim sum in the first place) Steamed dumpling with fresh chopped up shrimp. This one is so simple and so delicious when done with the perfectly cooked shrimp. Heaven.
Crab Dumpling: This was not served as expected. Instead of the perfect little bites this was served as one massive dumpling in a crab based broth. It was the least favorite of them all as it seemed to get soggy and fall apart in the liquid, which is perfectly acceptable once you think about this as a soup instead.
Crispy Pork Pot Sticker: When given the option of having something fried it's hard not to go for it. We assumed this would arrive and be the most indulgent of them all in all of it's fried crunchy glory, instead what came was the most elegant and beautiful of them all. A plate of 3 pot stickers with the most fragile sheet of crispy goodness placed delicately upon it..it was so composed it was hard to break into it. We did manage to gently tap it into pieces and were blown away by the deliciousness of this. Delicate dumpling, crunchy coating, simple filling of ground pork and scallions along with an accompanying sauce to die for. It was a combination of sweetened soy, spicy chili, toasted sesame, fresh garlic and a bite of ginger. I am determined to recreate it and dip everything possible in this sauce from now on!
Pork Bau: Steamed fluffy buns with pork inside. Bau are another reason I fell in love with dim sum. There is something about the whitest of the white dough, steamed to a fluffy puffy perfection that is unlike anything else you've ever eaten. But once you discover what's inside you reach another level of flavor goodness, the sweet pork mixture that is cooked into the middle. It is so good it almost seems like it could and should be dessert. LEI GARDEN made me never want to eat another one of these little buddies again because it was that perfect and that good.
We ended the meal with a sweet egg tart and resisted the urge to nap in that little booth in the warm glow of the afternoon sun. We made our way back into the mall and out into the madness of the city with full tummies and warm hearts.
Lei Garden is located in the IFC mall in Central Hong Kong (where you will also find the incredible department store Lane Crawford...)