Yep, that happened. I went to Tim Ho Wan (the original), which has a Michelin star for lunch yesterday. Check it out:
Once I finally found the place (I could tell based on the crowd gathered outside), I put my name on the waiting list. I was number 105, party of one. They were calling number 63 to be seated, so I was pleasantly surprised when she told me it would only be a one hour wait, as she’d been telling everyone else two hours. I wandered around for about 40 minutes through the Ladies Market that was just a couple blocks over, and came back, just in case they’d call my number early. And after about 15 minutes they called number 84, party of one. He was a no show!!!! He called 105 next, and I was there, jumping with my hand up! Wooo! It pays to be an eager beaver.
I was seated in a middle seat at a six person table. Two ladies at the table on my left, a girl about my age across from me, who was with the two boys to my right. We all nodded hello. I was a little scared and excited at the same time, adrenaline still pumping from getting to jump the waiting list. I looked at some of my neighbor’s food thinking “Fuck. I really hope I didn’t order that” (I’d ticked off the items on the menu before I even went in. So efficient). The two ladies to my left didn’t speak much English, and the party of three next to me seemed quite friendly. We chatted a bit (well the word “chat” might be too generous). Given the low prices (about $2 – $3 per item) I ordered a ton of things, much to the amusement of my neighbors, as it wasn’t quite clear until I had about five plates that I was just going for the tasting menu approach.
Here’s how it went:
Glutinous rice dumpling. I think I’ve had this in Beijing before, it came wrapped up in a large green leaf, and it was filled with meat. I ate the pieces I could identify as chicken breast. Those bites were wonderful. I wish there had been more of them, and fewer scary looking bites, origins dubious. Luckily I reminded myself that I had six more courses coming, so I didn’t feel too compelled to eat even a substantial amount. Ha.
These came out next, and the shop owner had to show me how to eat them with the delicious sauce. Not dipping, as I was going to do, but you put it in the little empty bowl, and drizzle the sauce over. Just as well, I was having trouble keeping the dumpling in my chopsticks and put together from the bowl to my mouth. I loved these and the flavors. The potato was so nice. The beef was slightly strange looking, pinky and squishy. I tried not to think about it as I ate them. Good thinking, if I do say so myself, because they were good.
The noodles were my favorite dish. I really liked the texture of the noodles and the green onions added such a fresh strong flavor. There were little bits of cabbage (I think) in there as well. I think a part of why I liked this dish so much aside from how it tasted, was that I could identify all the ingredients and could relax as I stuffed my mouth with these. One of my neighbors to my right thought this dish was the worst of everything. He had also eaten chicken feet. Clearly culture plays a part in palates.
My dessert came next, the pan fried red bean dumplings, another item that I was so happy to have. I love these! Red bean paste in sticky rice dumplings, sprinkled with sesame seeds and pan fried. I need to learn to make these. They are similar to mochi, which aren’t pan fried.
The turnip cake came, three squares of strangely gelatinous white stuff, with things in it, some sort of meat. I took one bite, and instantly one of my neighbors started laughing at me. I realized that I’d made a face that clearly reflected how much I didn’t like it. It was quite funny, and since the jig was up, there was no point in trying another bite to make it seem like I was enjoying it. I left the rest of the dish untouched as I needed the real estate in my stomach for the other billion dishes that were yet to come.
This looked terrifying when it came, and my fears eased only when I could identify the eggplant. This was definitely one of the dishes my neighbors had at the start that made me more than a little nervous. It was so hot, as things are when they come out of the fryer, and I’m embarrassed to admit I ate around the beef, only getting little bites. The eggplant was so nice, and I wish I’d taken a little more time with this dish, to really get into it. I think the turnip cakes had knocked my confidence a little, and these truly would have been great.
This looked quite strange at first, but it was wonderful. I loved, loved, the black peppercorn sauce. There was thin beef wrapped around what I thought was just the enoki mushrooms, but I think it was also some tougher, sinewy beef. I couldn’t get my teeth through it, so I unwrapped the thin beef using my fingers and the chopsticks. It was at this point the girl sitting across from me, who had done most of the translating throughout the meal, asked if this was my first time using chopsticks. Too embarrassed to tell the truth (although now I’m not sure that using chopsticks to fork sushi into my mouth counts), I said yes. She shook her head in obvious agreement. The seasoning in this dish was the best of all of them – complex, really nice. If it weren’t for the strange meat in the center, I’d make this my number one dish.
What a fun lunch – everyone there really wanted to be there – we’d all waited at least an hour. It was a little scary, it pushed my boundaries. I think there were bites in there that I really enjoyed, like when I’m eating some delicious Italian pasta dish or a steak, beyond the thrill of the adventure. I left feeling so excited and honestly, a bit proud of myself. And best of all – I didn’t need my Epi-pen!! I’d love to read the Michelin reviews, and see what dishes they had, and the reasons they awarded Tim Ho Wan a star – perhaps it would enlighten my Western mind. It was an experience so far from what I’d normally expect a Michelin-rated restaurant to be that it’d be nice to know the criteria, and what dishes they had. Not to say the food wasn’t good, it was truly was, but I just don’t think I understand the flavors/background to truly appreciate it. It was truly worth the wait, and worth the trip. I would certainly recommend it to anyone traveling to Hong Kong.