White fluorescent lighting, whirring fans on the walls, red plastic menus written with white Chinese characters, water kettles boiling on stoves placed on the ground… When I entered Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香樓), it was as if I’ve traveled back through time and walked straight into the 70s in Hong Kong. The place was packed and loud, and half the people were standing, waiting for tables to free up, while waiters dressed in traditional white shirts bustled in and out cleaning up tables. I stepped hastily aside as a dim sum trolley rushed past, a little flustered in my summer dress and feeling slightly out of place.
Ironically, if it wasn’t for my friend, Rovik, who is from Singapore and who first suggested coming to Lin Heung after having looked up “best dim sum in Hong Kong,” I would not have known this place and thought of coming. So I was actually brought to Lin Heung, for the first time ever, and by someone who isn’t even from around here. As a Hong Konger, I can be pretty oblivious sometimes.
Lin Heung Tea House is one of the oldest tea houses in Hong Kong that survived till today. Tea houses used to be casual hang out places for the working class, and eventually some tea houses expanded into more extravagant ones that provided performances and served customers from a certain class. Lin Heung used to be considered as a working class tea house; and in many ways, it still is. Having maintained its affordable prices, old-fashioned decor and almost negligible service, Lin Heung is a living classic. It is crowded, rowdy and overwhelming. In short, it is the epitome of authentic dining experience in Hong Kong.
As dim sum supply is limited, you have to go up to the trolleys to take whatever you want with a tally card. Trolleys are pretty rare now in Hong Kong as most dim sum places opted for the more modern servce of waiting and serving. But at Lin Heung, if you just sit there expecting a waiter to come over and serve you, then I wish you all the luck. If you don’t want to starve, you have to go all out -and I mean it literally. The moment a traditional dim sum trolley rolls out, I kid you not, it’s like a real life, Asian version of the Hunger Games. People flocked towards the trolley the moment they caught sight of it, crowding around the poor trolley lady and waving their tally cards, yelling and peering over each other’s heads to get a better look at the choices. The word “courtesy” is completely out of context here. It was a pretty amusing sight to see people emerging from the crowd with a bamboo steamer basket in their hands, a slightly sweaty forehead, and a triumphant look on their faces.
Starting at HKD $12, the dim sums were considerably inexpensive. Thanks to my other friend, Jethro, we managed to get our hands on quite a number of dim sums. The food itself was decent, pretty much what you expect dim sums to taste like. They were more on the greasy side for me, but considering the prices and service here, I had no complaints. My favorite was the Cantonese Sponge Cake, a sweet, steamed cake that was wonderfully warm and moist.
Lunch at Lin Heung was nothing like any of my dining experiences before. I didn’t know what to expect, but the experience speaks for itself. It’s not everyday that you get to be in touch with a dining culture that is so central to the lives of Hong Kongers from previous generations. Some people come here for the food, but for me, like most others, I come here for the taste of a lost era of Hong Kong.
蓮香樓 Lin Heung Tea House
Address: 160-164 Wellington Street, Central
Number: 2544 4556