25 March 2019
Diners at Lin Heung Tea House need to act quickly to ensure they get their choice of freshly steamed dim sum. Photo: HKEJ
Diners at Lin Heung Tea House need to act quickly to ensure they get their choice of freshly steamed dim sum. Photo: HKEJ

Rule No. 1 in a traditional tea house: help yourself

Last weekend, before going to see a play at the Sheung Wan Civic Centre, one of my friends suggested we stop by at Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香樓) for lunch.

I immediately warned them that we’d all better arrive there before noon, so that we could spare ourselves from having to compete with the waves of starving white-collar workers from offices in Central.

It had been more than a decade since my last visit to Lin Heung.

I worked in the district for a brief period after 2000; however, I never set foot in this tea house then: it is simply too hard to find a seat.

Lin Heung is one of the most traditional restaurants, the sort that take no bookings and offer free seating.

A survival tip: when you arrive at the dining hall, do a quick scan, then locate and stand behind your targets — diners who have almost finished their meals.

We, a cozy group of four, promptly sprang into action.

Three of us stood by a table waiting for it to come free, while the last guy went to the cashier, trying to cajole the person in charge to allow us to be seated more quickly.

Thanks to our combined efforts, we finally managed to secure the territory.

Since I was sitting on the aisle, I had the responsibility to fight for food.

Yes, you haven’t misread me, and I am not exaggerating.

If you want something, you have to stare at the kitchen without blinking and get ready to grab and go.

It is a valuable lesson that I have learned over the years since my childhood.

My family and I used to go to Lung Fung Tea House (龍鳳大茶樓) at the junction of Nathan Road and Shantung Street in Mong Kok every Sunday.

Back in those days, the young waitresses, instead of pushing trolleys, shouldered heavy trays of dim sum.

As soon as one walked out of the kitchen, clusters of hungry diners would flock around her, leaving the battlefield with their trophies and a victorious grin.

The girl could then continue her catwalk with a much lighter tray, trying to get the less popular dishes sold.

In short, if you insist on acting like a lady or a gentleman, you are doomed to walk away with an empty stomach.

Nowadays, most Chinese restaurants provide order forms so that diners can stay comfortably in their seats waiting for the arrival of the dim sum they have ordered.

It’s convenient but somehow misses out on the fun.

That said, there were many gweilos at Lin Heung happily fighting their local peers for their preferred delicacies.

Lin Heung is a great place, not only for its nostalgic customer service but also for its excellent vintage varieties of dim sum that you can barely find elsewhere: soup dumplings, big chicken buns, steamed chicken wraps with bean curd, quail egg siu mai, pig stomach siu mai, Chinese mushroom siu mai, and so on.

I am feeling hungry as I write this piece.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 23.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Lin Heung Tea House, established in 1918 in Central, is one of the traditional restaurants that take no bookings but offer free seating. Photos:

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