Get ready to be surprised.
The words “Cantonese,” “dim sum” and “Hong Kong” are usually mentioned in the same breath. When we think of dim sum, we naturally think of Hong Kong. But what if you find out you’ve been living a lie this whole time? That the best dim sum is not to be found in the Pearl of the Orient after all? That you don’t need to subject yourself to some yelling from the service staff to enjoy the best dim sum? That you don’t need to pay an astronomical sum for good food? That’s right — the best dim sum is actually found where it all began: Canton, now known as Guangzhou.
The cherry on top? If you’re in Hong Kong, as my group was, travelling to Guangzhou is now much easier and faster with the September 2019 opening of the high speed rail in West Kowloon, Hong Kong. It has been cut down from close to two hours to just 47 minutes. From Guangzhou South station, you can easily hop onto the city’s metro to go into the city centre, and there, get ready to feast on their culinary delights. Once you have had dim sum at these places, you’ll likely never look at a Hong Kong dim sum restaurant in the same way again, much less a Singaporean one.
Feel like having some piping hot steamed bites and fresh pastry at a leisurely pace under a centuries-old banyan tree? This is the place, which incidentally, is the locals’ top pick for dim sum. The main branch is at Wenchang South Road along the popular pedestrian shopping street, Shangxia Jiu Street. The tree hangs over some of the tables on the second floor of the three-storey building, lending it a poetic atmosphere (and making it prime territory for its regulars). The food won’t win any awards for looks and presentation (some of the food was served in broken crockery), however. Service is also a bit rough at the edges. But the quality and the traditional style of preparation will keep you coming back for more.
We like: Signature har gow (shrimp dumplings), stuffed red rice rolls, egg tarts, glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf and walnut buns
At 2 Wenchang South Road, Liwan District Guangzhou (main restaurant).
Like Guangzhou Restaurant, this is another time-honoured establishment and was started in 1880. Locals we spoke to say this comes in second for the best place to get dim sum (after Guangzhou Restaurant). Some bemoan the loss of tradition because the brand has been franchised out – it seems there are two different companies managing the brand’s outlets. Nevertheless, the outlet at Beijing Road still maintains a high standard. The décor at this outlet is the trendiest of the lot in this list; its food is also well-presented and comes with a modern twist. The young and affluent crowd present at our multiple visits attest to that. If you’re a fan of Din Tai Fung’s fried rice, you would fall in love with their fried rice. I’m not exaggerating when I say each grain of rice is skilfully and evenly covered in golden egg. It’s so good we ordered the fried rice twice.
We like: Melt-in-your mouth siew yoke (crispy pork), the fluffiest fried rice we ever had, signature century pigeon, sweet and sour pork on ice and char siew (roast pork)
At 168 Beijing Road, iClub Mall, 7th flr, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou.
Another hot favourite with the locals, this restaurant is always quickly filled up during our multiple visits. The dim sum offered here is a nice balance between the modern and the traditional. The traditional dishes – har gow, siew mai, char siew buns, steamed rice rolls, egg tarts and salted egg custard buns – all performed above expectations. Pastry shells were crispy and melt-in-your-mouth while fillings were generous and fresh. Unique spins such as the truffle har gow, red date cake, red bean and coconut bunnies and beetroot har gow were also really interesting, and kept us coming back again and again.
We like: Har gow, egg tarts, salted egg custard buns, beetroot har gow, fried har gow and autumn osmanthus with red bean jelly
At Kang Wang Zhong Road, 2nd floor, He Ye Complex, Liwan District, Guangzhou.
This famous chain restaurant is just a stone’s throw away from Ren Dian. It occupies two levels and is probably the closest Hong Kong dim sum experience you might get, auditorily speaking. It’s pretty rowdy, thanks to the loud conversations that people here tend to have. Traditional dim sum is served here – no modern surprises that might faze your relatives. Like the eateries on this list, the dim sum is steamed only when you order to maintain the freshness. The Malay cake was a surprise – there was a hint of coconut that added a rich flavour to the usually light confection. Also, the har gow, like a lot of the har gow in Guangzhou, comes coated with a layer of peanut oil. Unlike their Singaporean counterparts, they don’t stick to the paper and are easily picked up.
We like: King har gow, Malay cake, salted custard bun, steamed red rice rolls and egg tarts
At 587 Long Jing Central Road, Guangzhou.
This eatery is a testament to the state of dim sum in Guangzhou – fantastic. We accidentally stumbled upon this restaurant because the one we were planning to visit was closed, and boy was it a pleasant accident. A few surprises turned up in the menu. The fried sweet rice cake knocked our socks off. The XO sauce carrot cake was also unique and delicious – the purple flakes on top actually turned out to be the XO sauce. Traditional items such as king har gow and siew mai were done very well too – the fillings were generous and fresh.
We like: Signature king har gow, siew mai, carrot cake and fried sweet rice cake
At 148 Qian Jing Road, Fan Dou City Mall, 3rd flr, Haizhu District.
One of the big guns of Guangzhou’s dining scene, this place serves both dim sum and dinner. On the second occasion we were there, there were four wedding dinners being held simultaneously so you can imagine how big the place is. The entire restaurant is a villa, much like what you see in Chinese period dramas. After your meal, you can take a leisurely stroll through the villa, taking in the sights. The dim sum served here is prepared traditionally – so no mashup of East and West. The main dishes are sumptuous and offer good value-for-money.
We like: Crispy pork, har gow, spring roll, siu mai and lotus-wrapped chicken with glutinous rice
At 142 Qianjing Road, Haizhu District, Guangzhou.
This place trended with the locals at the end of last year and it’s not hard to see why. The décor is luxurious, opulent even, and the food is still good! If you have guests whom you need to wine and dine, this is the place. Do order the roast meats if you’re here. The crispy pork is in a class of its own — the skin instantly melts in your mouth unlike any other. The black char siew is another divine item. It comes coated in a special black sauce that has so much umami.
We like: Crispy pork, black char siew, sashimi platter and goose intestines
At 33 Dongxiao Road, Haizhu District, Guangzhou.
By Nathan Ng, March 2019 / Photos: Nathan Ng
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