When I reached out to friends, family, and other travellers for suggestions on where to go and what to do in Hong Kong, I was flooded with amazing ideas. But one in particular kept popping up: go for dim sum at Tim Ho Wan.
For those unfamiliar with the name, Tim Ho Wan is famous for being the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world; a perfect pick for those who are visiting Hong Kong on a budget. Their pork buns are the real winner; getting rave reviews by every critic and foodie who tries them. But of course, with the fancy title, comes a few set-backs for the diners.
Of course I went, and although the meal was delicious (especially those pork bus!), I left feeling a little underwhelmed. While the price was good considering it was a Michelin star restaurant (about $25 CAD for 3 dishes and a coke), the experience was definitely lacking. Not only was there a lengthy wait time but the staff was rude and unfriendly. I had to flag someone down to take my order, and later remind them I was missing my drink. It wasn’t a terrible experience, I understand they are busy, but I expected better. It was also crammed full of fellow tourists, not that I should have been surprised, but I did hope for something a little more authentic.
A couple of days later, while walking through the streets of Kowloon, I stumbled across a massive line of locals coming from a small alley. Curious as to what was going on I stopped to investigate. The lineup started in front of a small food vendor, hidden out of site off the main road. I glanced at the signs, noticing they really only offered two things: pan fried buns and soup. As I scanned through the menu I noticed something else; a newspaper clipping. I was too far away to read the entire article but close enough for me to notice the word ‘Michelin’ in the title. It was more than enough to convince me to join the queue, especially given my love for street food.
Fifteen minutes later I stood outside with a piping hot dish in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other. There were no tables, or chairs, just a small ledge where people could set their plates. I squeezed my way in, trying to figure out how to best eat my meal without making a complete mess. Sadly, in the end I did make a complete mess, but it was totally worth it. The food was hot, fresh, and so tasty. And, despite the fact that I was literally eating on the side of a street, I loved the atmosphere. I felt like I had found a local secret, and was partaking in the culture. To make things even better, my meal was less than $5 CAD.
Later, when I returned to my hostel, I decided to check up on the restaurant and the Michelin rating. Turns out that this street food eatery was one of many in Hong Kong named in the annual Michelin guide. However, as I continued to read more about this delicious find, and others like it, I learned about the ‘Michelin Curse’ which affected small businesses like this. Turns out that upon being named in the guide, the restaurants’ landlords were hiking the monthly rent, meaning that many of these local establishments which succeeded on inexpensive, delicious food, would be unable to pay rent and have to move or worse, close down. The idea seemed ridiculous, so I’ve decided to write about it and share this little local secret to help support this business, and encourage travellers to find more like it.
The name of this restaurant is Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-Fried Buns. It is located in Kowloon and the closest metro station is Tsum Sha Tsui Station, Exit A1. The address is 48 Lock Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. Hours are 10am-10pm (though get there before 9pm, as they do sell out!).
While I still recommend visiting Tim Ho Wan (get the pork buns!) I also suggest visiting this vendor and keeping an eye out for more like it. The food is amazing, prices are cheap, and the feeling like you are partaking in a local, every day activity is one of the best parts of travel. Plus you can consider yourself to be a bit of a Hong Kong foodie, not just another tourist.