Tim Ho Wan, Part One

So you’re thinking, “OH GOD NOT ANOTHER TIM HO WAN POST.” And I can’t blame you, especially since this has no pictures. But that’s because I was too involved in my meal to take pictures. There was a moment when I was like, “Wait don’t I blog or something HOLY HELL THAT TASTES GOOD UNFFFFFFFF” and then the moment passed, and here we are. I debated not even writing this post but it’s begging to tear out of me, a food exorcism, like Shirlena Johnson singing Mercy on the X-Factor (if you do not understand this reference, Google, Google, for the love of God, Google).

Obviously like every single person in Hong Kong, I’d heard about Tim Ho Wan and wanted desperately to eat there but I never managed to find the time. Then two months ago, I had my first visit. And I didn’t even eat a goddamn thing.

Yes. You read that right. I visited this gorgeous little nook, this Aladdin’s Cave of nommyness and not one bite passed through my lips. Before you take out the pitchforks and torches, I’ll explain.

Somehow or another a few months ago, I agreed to help a friend in charge of an American teenage tour group find places to eat in HK. It was a fraught process based on the fact that I somehow had to feed 6 teenagers with various dietary preferences on HKD$25-35. Now don’t get me wrong: I know this is totally doable in our Wondrous City of Feeds. But it’s not doable if you’re picky. And I’m not trying to say these kids were. Okay no, I’m lying: some of them were really picky. Full disclosure: I have no business working with teenagers. But I love to eat and when I see someone flicking food around their plate because it looks weird this little vein starts working in my head and I have to start counting backwards from 100.

On the last night, this friend of mine in charge of the group suggested that I take this group to this little dim sum place he knows that’s affordable and within budget since I was having trouble sticking to it. Patronizingly he says, “It’s a great little story. Totally rags to riches, this chef starts out from nothing. Over on Kwong Wah Street, near the market.”

The vein starts to throb. “You’re not talking about Tim Ho Wan?” I ask, trying not to let the ‘YOU WANT ME TO TAKE EIGHT PEOPLE TO TIM HO WAN???????’ show in my voice. He does mean Tim Ho Wan and asks if I’ve heard of it.

I try not to yelp, “EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN HK EVER HAS HEARD OF IT” and instead suggest timidly that it’s not really vegetarian friendly. I get Super-Patronized with a flippant, “It was fine when I went there!” so I start to back out of the room and literally peg it to THW to pick up a number. The door lady does not laugh in my face in response to my sheepish, “Eight people?” as expected and since I got there close to 5.30 the wait was practically non-existent. The staff find space for all eight people like the superhumans they are… and then four members of the group get all, “UM I can’t EAT THIS I like my VEGETABLES without DISGUSTING MEAT YOU SICKOS” and to death stares from everyone in the restaurant LEAVE. The staff surprisingly do not stab me or withhold any nuggets of deliciousness but the disapproval from all present was enough for me to lose my appetite in shame.

I order and dishes start to arrive. Except there’s coriander in the cha siu cheung fun so B, the girl who doesn’t eat any vegetables ever, can’t eat any.  C, an absurdly well-traveled 17-year-old, comments that it’s JUST LIKE something he had as the guest of villagers in Laos/watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat/prepared for him by an elephant rider traveling through the jungles of Thailand. More dishes arrive and I quickly serve each kid, leaving none for myself because I’m too busy biting the inside of my cheek.

The har gao gets a disinterested eyeball by all when it lands in their bowls. R, a boy previously defined by his ambivalence to food, lights up when he chews. “I think this is the best thing I’ve had all trip,” he confesses. I beam.

The cha siu bolo bau arrives. The crusty top crumbles under my spoon and I’m in love. I plate up the teens, but N turns her nose up at it. “I’ve had that in New York, and I didn’t like it at all,” she sniffs.

You know writing it out like this, it doesn’t sound as annoying as it was. But three days of 6am starts and 2am sleeps and complaining, complaining, complaining about how LAME HK was compared to the rural wonder of China had definitely started to get to me. And the previous night, N had begged the other guide to let her order jellyfish because it’s her favourite dish and she eats it all the time in New York along with her other favourite food chicken’s feet and I was rolling my eyes so hard I couldn’t protest in time (predictably when the jellyfish arrived it was NOT LIKE IT WAS IN NEW YORK and so remained untouched). And I was SO tired of treating these kids with food kid gloves and being told to let them order what THEY liked I shove the beautiful, beautiful little bau towards her and snap, “You have not ever eaten this. Eat this now.”

She pushes it back towards me. ” No, I eat this all the time in New York and it’s disgusting.” If THW’s staff and patrons were not already united in their disgust of our little party after the musical chairs debacle, this clinched it.

Even though I should have eaten it myself and let the rapturous moans from around the table speak for themselves (” How is this so GOOD?” R was marveling), I make her try it. B and C babble about how they have never had anything like this, ever, and can they eat more, and R is fighting B for the last half and I am just so grateful to Mak Pui Gor for making something that gets through to these kids, that brings them out of their food shells and unites them in their enthusiasm and gives them a little understand of HK that I can’t stop grinning even though I haven’t tried it myself. I even ignore the urge to say ‘I told you so’ when N makes this little ‘O’ face of wonder as she chews.

” I think I tried something that was off in NY,” she backpedals. ” This is good because it’s fresh.” I’m benevolent as Helen Mirren in ‘The Queen’ (I have never seen this movie and actually do not know if she is in fact benevolent) as this point so I let my spite slide. I’m still smiling as I pay and I get dagger eyes from the lady at the till and still smiling when we meet up with the other 4 and my group are like, “YOU’LL NEVER GUESS WHAT WE ATE I NEED TO TELL YOU IT WAS SO GOOD.”

And so while my first Tim Ho Wan experience was definitely atypical seeing as I didn’t actually sample the food, I didn’t pay much attention to the reviews about how it had gone downhill and it was over-rated and everyone in HK is a food-fad chasing lemming who needs to go to Lung Hing Keen. Watching four teenagers who were acting like total donkeys with regards to Hong Kong food literally transform during their THW experience was enough to tide me over until I could actually eat there. Which is a good break for Part Two of the DSD Tim Ho Wan Mega Experience Post, because who reads this much on the internet?