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Taste Test: We Tried (Almost) Every Dish on the Dim Sum Menu at Tim Ho Wan in Waikīkī

The Cantonese dim sum empire began as a tiny hole-in-the-wall diner in a small neighborhood in Hong Kong. But despite its global popularity today, the menu has barely changed from the days of Tim Ho Wan’s humble beginning.


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Amathematician, a designer, a food editor and a digital editor walk into a dim sum restaurant ...

 

I asked HONOLULU’s food and dining editor Martha Cheng to round up a couple of hungry friends to help us rank the Michelin-starred dim sum diner at the Royal Hawaiian Center. I fought to have Tim Ho Wan join our monthly series of ranking every item on a single menu as the global franchise and I have something in common: We’re both from Hong Kong. The four of us did our own rankings and averaged them for the final results.

 


SEE ALSO: We Tried Every Sandwich on the Menu at Earl Kaka‘ako and Ranked Them


dim sum in waikiki

 

18. Steamed beef ball with bean curd skin

3 pieces, $5.80

Soft, cooked to a medium temperature and heavily seasoned, beef balls are a staple during yum cha (the Cantonese style of brunch which involves tea and dim sum). I love them at hot pot (have you tried the homemade variety at Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot at Ward?) none but one of our dim sum diners were not fans of this item’s steamed, mushy texture.

 

17. Braised chicken feet with abalone sauce and peanuts

$5.25

chicken feet

 

If you’re going to go for chicken feet, the ones offered at Tim Ho Wan are especially flavorful, soft and cartilaginous. But we don’t really go for chicken feet.

 

16. Steamed rice roll with scallions (cheung fan)

3 pieces, $5.75

The quality of these flat rice sheets that are rolled up and drenched in sauce is top notch. But I’m used to having the plain variety as a street snack while on the go (they’re cut up into bite size pieces) with peanut sauce, soy sauce, chile oil and toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top. At dim sum, these came out a little too plain compared to the rest of the players on the table.

 

15. Steamed rice roll with minced beef 

3 pieces, $6.50

Just add meat! With a simple addition of seasoned protein this plate of carbs gets a nice little boost. 

 

14. Steamed bean curd with meat and vegetable

3 pieces, 5.25

I honestly couldn’t remember this dish so it fell down the list. Not memorable? Can’t be that good, right? But two people somewhat enjoyed it.

 

13. Pan fried turnip cake

3 pieces, $5.80

turnip cake

 

I love me some turnip cake. I love going to dim sum with HONOLULU’s fearless editorial leader Christi Young because she asks for this before menus appear. And I love the lightness the shredded daikon in them brings to the overall meal. That being said, I enjoyed a couple bites of Tim Ho Wan’s version but I’ve had better in Chinatown. 

 

12. Steamed rice roll with barbecue pork

3 pieces, $6.50

The rice rolls are just getting better, people! The softness of the rice rolls soak up sauces oh-so-nicely, pair perfectly with the saltiness of the soy sauce, which is poured on top, and the sweetness coming from the barbecue pork. 

 

11. Sticky rice in lotus leaf 

$6.80

This gorgeous little steamed packet of sticky rice with meat is typically a favorite of mine when there’s chicken instead of pork involved. But I suggest only ordering this with a larger group—it was just too big a packet for a group like ours that were trying 18 dishes in one sitting. 

 

10. Steamed vegetable dumplings

3 pieces, $5.80

My fellow diners enjoyed this dumpling but didn’t rank it as highly as I did. I’m just happy it made the top 10. These perfectly steamed, slightly translucent and light vegetarian dumplings are a must-have addition to a meat-heavy meal like dim sum. 

 

8. Steamed pork sparerib with black bean sauce

$5.25

This is huge among the dim sum crowds but it’s just not my thing. However, I do find that the dish here at Tim Ho Wan is less chewy than other places I’ve tried a bite at.

 

8. Steamed rice roll with shrimp and Chinese chives

3 pieces, $5.80

Of all the rice rolls, the one filled with shrimp reigns supreme. And Tim Ho Wan does not disappoint. Its thin, slippery and moist noodles wrapped around thick fresh shrimp demonstrate the masterful technique of the dim sum chefs in the kitchens. A bad rice roll is thick, chewy and overpowering of the meat stuffed inside. But not here! Ask for scissors to cut these long crepelike rolls up, or do as I do and use the serving chopsticks to slice them down to bite sizes.

 


SEE ALSO: I Ate Every Dish on the Menu at Rangoon Burmese Kitchen


 

7. Deep fried eggplant with shrimp

3 pieces, $5.80

This was a first for me and I’m not typically into eggplant. Let. Me. Tell. You. The geniuses in that exposed kitchen took a thick slice of the naughty emoji, plopped a large shrimp ball (very much like the ones found at hot pot) on top of it, deep fried it and changed my entire outlook on dim sum dishes.

 

6. Steamed shrimp dumplings with shrimp and chives

3 pieces, $5.80

shrimp and chives

 

Shrimp fans will take shrimp dumplings anyway they can get ’em. Fans of skipping vegetables will claim these dumplings count towards their daily helping of greens. All you really need to know is that these are delicious. 

 

5. Deep fried dumplings with pork and dried shrimp

3 pieces, $5.80

It’s a deep fried sticky rice dumpling shaped like a football. Despite it being deep fried, it is exceptionally light, fluffy and sweet.

 

4. Steamed shrimp dumpling (har gow)

4 pieces, $5.80

har gow

 

Har gow is always amazing. Tim Ho Wan just does it better than most. Order them. 

 

3. Steamed pork dumplings with shrimp (siu mai)

4 pieces, $5.80

siu mai

 

Pork and shrimp cuddling together in a golden yellow wonton wrap is a comfort food to me. These ones were so juicy and warm—oh, I just got chills. 

 

2. Deep fried dumpling with shrimp and chives

3 pieces, $5.80

A crunchy deep fried shrimp wonton that you dip in mayonnaise? Um, all of the yes. This is essentially a deep fried version of har gow so everyone loved it. 

 

1. Baked barbecue pork buns (char siu bao)

3 pieces, $6

char siu bao

 

No surprise here! If you’ve ever dined at Tim Ho Wan you most likely knew that these baked bao bundles filled with barbecue pork would take the top spot. The signature item on the menu made the original tiny diner in that bustling Hong Kong neighborhood famous. The crunchy top, juicy meat to flaky bun ratio and that sweet, sweet char siu marinade has all of the quintessential Cantonese flavors that make me incredibly homesick. Heading to Tim Ho Wan? You might spot me sitting out on the lānai, digging into an order of char siu bao while sipping on a Tsingtao.

 


SEE ALSO: How to Eat Xiao Long Bao and Other Tips for Enjoying Soup Dumplings in Honolulu


HONOLULU Magazine’s gathering the top breakfast and brunch restaurants for BrunchFest presented by American Savings Bank. It will be a morning of delicious sweet and savory bites, bloody marys and mimosas, lawn games, entertainment and more. Join us for a relaxed Sunday Funday vibe on March 8, 2020 at the Ho‘okupu Center. Click here for ticket details.


 

Royal Hawaiian Center, 2233 Kalākaua Ave., Level 3 in Building B, suite B303. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (808) 888-6088, timhowan.com

 

Read more stories by Katie Kenny

 

 

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