Customers fight for dim sum at Lin Heung Tea House in Hong Kong.
Food

At this Hong Kong restaurant, you have to fight for your dim sum

Feb 26, 2019

It’s the epitome of Hong Kong’s no-frills, hustle-and-bustle dim sum culture.

Lin Heung Tea House, which has been in the city for over 100 years, has become famous for providing piping hot food in bamboo steamers—which people have to then fight over.

Unlike many dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong and overseas Chinese communities, where trolleys go around a dining room, customers at Lin Heung converge on a cart in the middle of the room, where they tussle over a limited number of dishes.

Finding an empty seat here is like playing musical chairs. It’s not unusual to have up to 15 customers crammed like sardines around a shared round table, with only room to move hungrily held chopsticks. Quarrels occasionally break out.

Customers fight for dim sum at Lin Heung Tea House in Hong Kong.
Customers fight for dim sum at Lin Heung Tea House in Hong Kong. / Photo: Winson Wong/SCMP

Waiters here are notoriously standoffish, brusquely stamping customers’ tickets as they grab dim sum baskets off the cart. There’s a different stamp for each size of dish to indicate the price.

For tourists seeking a piece of the rambunctious and energetic Hong Kong displayed in classic kung fu movies, Lin Heung represents that.

“My brother and I watched kung fu movies growing up, and often there are scenes in restaurants where there is chaos and fights start,” says Joe, a tourist from London. “This is the perfect place for that.”

(Almost) the end of an era

Aside from the elbow-shoving experience, Lin Heung is also known for serving traditional dim sum items that are no longer available at most places due to health concerns or the labor it takes to make them—quail eggs, pork liver siu mai, and steamed Chinese sausage rolls.

Steamed fish head with black bean sauce, left, and curry squid with beef tendons are some of the delicacies served at Lin Heung Tea House in Hong Kong.
Steamed fish head with black bean sauce, left, and curry squid with beef tendons are some of the delicacies served at Lin Heung Tea House in Hong Kong. / Photo: Xiaomei Chen/SCMP

The chaos can be overwhelming for anyone used to more orderly restaurants, but for many customers, it’s exactly why they come.

“Restaurants we used to go to as kids operated in the same way,” says Helen Yeung, a retiree who has dined here for more than 30 years. “So I am here for a flavor of the past and the nostalgia.”

Lin Heung was slated to shutter this week after its lease was not renewed by the building’s owner. Loyal customers lamented it as the final chapter in the history of a restaurant whose roots go back to 1889, when it was a small outpost in Guangzhou. (The first Hong Kong shop opened in 1918.)

The Lin Heung Tea House has been in Hong Kong for over 100 years.
The Lin Heung Tea House has been in Hong Kong for over 100 years. / Photo: Winson Wong/SCMP

But at the 11th hour on Monday, the restaurant reportedly signed a deal with the landlord to extend its lease—meaning diners can expect at least another three years of raucous, elbow-shoving dim sum.

Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.

Dim sumOld Hong Kong