A taste of real yum cha

Atmospheric ... a waiter pouring tea for yum cha diners at Lin Heung Tea House in Hong Kong.
Atmospheric ... a waiter pouring tea for yum cha diners at Lin Heung Tea House in Hong Kong. Photo: Getty Images

From the doorway, Lin Heung Tea House looks like complete and utter chaos, a sparsely decorated den of buzzing conversation and cluttering pots, pans and dishes, a place where old fans swing and hum from the ceilings and where metal trolleys clunk noisily through the aisles.

There are more refined places to have dim sum, or yum cha, as this traditionally Cantonese tea-drinking and tapas-style feeding exercise is known in Hong Kong. But charmingly shabby Lin Heung has a peculiarly irresistible allure.

Upon entering this spot, off Wellington Street in the city-state's Central district, my Hong Konger friend Cham and I discover you have to be willing to fight not just for your food, but for a table as well. Only people with no real desire to eat would stand and wait to be shown to their seats - especially during "rush hour" (Sunday brunch time).

After 10 minutes of stalking around, looking - and failing - to find somewhere to sit, a kindly middle-aged man beckons us over to a pair of vacant spaces.

"Try not to rush around too much, that way you won't get scalded," he says. Right on cue, a waiter arrives with a teapot loaded with jasmine leaves and a steel kettle of boiling water - plus a piece of paper with a grid of numbers and elaborate Chinese characters I have no hope of deciphering.

Handing it to me, Cham suggests I, being the male, go hunting for food. Scouring round, it dawns on me that I'm the only foreigner in a restaurant full of locals (many of whom seem to be giggling or smiling at my presence).

I gravitate towards a poker-faced old lady, who's at the helm of a trolley laden with teensy-weensy steaming bamboo baskets.

I can't see what's in them but, like the throng of people whose arms are doing a mad dance in front of my face, I want some.

After serving three people in our tangle, the old lady grabs my paper, scribbles something on it, lifts the lids off the baskets - pork dumplings and beef balls are the hidden treats - and hands them over.

Shoulders squeezed in, I hunker back to my table, where Cham has struck up a conversation with five strangers. They're sipping tea and munching on an assortment of dishes, including lotus paste buns, rice dumplings and cow's lungs.

We agree that this is the coolest place we've ever had yum cha. It's loud, atmospheric and very old-school (it's been around since the 1920s, apparently), while the food is varied, filling, tasty and unbelievably cheap.

We head off two hours later, stuffed, having paid just $HK88 ($10) for a stack of dishes and enough tea to ensure we'll be spending the rest of the day in and out of Hong Kong's public toilets.

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