Cover Dim sum memories (Illustration: Stephen Collins)

The executive chef of Chinese cuisine at The Peninsula's signature Cantonese restaurant reminisces about his treasured culinary memories

As part of our series celebrating the vibrancy and community within Hong Kong’s dining scene, we spoke to several of the industry’s leading lights about why they love the city’s unique food culture. Here, Lam Yuk Ming—Chinese cuisine executive chef at Spring Moon, The Peninsula Hong Kong’s renowned Cantonese restaurant—reminisces about his first experience of yum cha and why his last meal in Hong Kong would be at a dai pai dong.

Tell us about some of your favourite Hong Kong food memories.

I had my first yum cha experience when I was eight years old—my mom brought me to a local Chinese teahouse and I tried my very first taste of har gow (shrimp dumplings), siu mai (steamed pork and shrimp dumplings) and fun guo (pork and shrimp dumplings) in soup. I was fascinated by the environment and the food—servers walking around with pushcarts loaded with a variety of dim sum in bamboo steamers, the décor of the restaurant, the crowd, and the buzzing noise of people gossiping and chatting.

Another unforgettable experience was when I tried some Shanghai-style pan-fried pork buns from a tiny family-owned food stall, located in an invisible alley in Tsuen Wan; those pan-fried pork buns are probably among the best I’ve ever had! Small shops in Hong Kong [like that] never cease to amaze me with their wonderful homemade recipes—a representation of the story and taste behind the whole family who founded the stall.

Another of my favourite restaurants was Lung Moon Restaurant in Wan Chai; formerly known as Lung Fung Teahouse, it first opened in 1948 and unfortunately closed in 2009. They used to serve amazing pork belly buns, with a chunk of fatty pork belly wrapped in a bun roll. Although it was quite heavy, it always remained my guilty pleasure—the classic Cantonese cuisine there was amazing.

See also: 6 Heritage Venues To Enjoy Dim Sum In Hong Kong

More recently, there’s a shop in Kowloon City called 潮發白米雜貨 that I always visit, as they sell a combination of local Chiu Chow products, and organic fruit and vegetables; Chiu Chow dried seafood, such as dried shrimp, has a slight difference in taste, with a distinct fragrance. Every time I go there, I feel like I’m visiting a friend—the owner and I always talk about how our kids are, their schoolwork, their exams… it feels great having someone who understands exactly what you’re going through as a father.

What are some of your favourite local ingredients to use?

I always regard the leaves of baker’s garlic (蕎頭, also known as Chinese scallion) as a hidden gem, as people usually make pickles with the bulbs, but seldom use the leaves in dishes. You can stir-fry the leaves with preserved pork and dried shrimp; baker’s garlic has a milder flavour than scallions, and the leaves are milder than the bulb, meaning it works miracles at balancing the richness of the preserved pork with the savoury notes of the dried shrimp. It’s also one of my ten-year-old daughter’s and three-year-old son’s favourite dishes!

As my parents were Hakka, we’d always make wormwood dumplings (cha guo) for Ching Ming Festival—so wormwood must be one of my favourite local ingredients too! We would first start with boiling the wormwood to extract its flavour, then blend it with glutinous rice powder to make the crust. As for the filling, the sweet version features red bean paste while the savoury option is made of white turnip paste and dried shrimp; you can also make a savoury-sweet one with lentils. You can buy both these ingredients from the wet market—I like going to the one in Kowloon City.

I also love going to the local wet markets and letting the seafood stall owners decide what I am going to have for the day. Their offerings really depend on the season and sometimes there will be fishes with no name—that’s the fun part of going to the market and trusting the expertise of the stall owners.

If you could only visit one restaurant in Hong Kong again, what would it be – and how does it sum up what you love about the city’s food scene?

I would say any dai pai dong; it’s a quintessential part of Hong Kong’s food scene and culture. More importantly though, dai pai dongs remind me of late nights with my colleagues—relaxing after a stressful day, digging into our steaming hot food characterised by fantastic wok hei (which can hardly be replicated elsewhere), while knocking back bottles of beer in the midst of our “men’s talk”.

Dai pai dongs are usually located in alleyways near commercial areas or factories as in the past, they were targeted at the working class. My go-to is Chan Kun Kee, although it has recently relocated to a different [indoors] spot in Sha Tin. With roughly 20 stalls remaining in operation, dai pai dongs are a reflection of how people here interact with the local food scene, creating this unique culinary culture together.

Lam’s Picks

  • 潮發白米雜貨, G/F, 46 Nga Tsin Long Road, Kowloon City, Hong Kong, +852 2382 0555
  • Kowloon City Market, 100 Nga Tsin Wai Road, Kowloon City, Hong Kong, +852 2383 2224
  • Chan Kun Kee, Shop 5, G/F, Phase 2, Kings Wing Plaza 3, On Kwan Street, Shek Mun, Sha Tin, Hong Kong, +852 2606 1390