The original Tim Ho Wan—meaning “add good luck” in Cantonese—opened in 2009 in Hong Kong. Now, after a Michelin star and 44 locations across Asia and Australia, co-founders and chefs Mak Kwai Pui and Leung Fai Keung have brought their dim sum to a very welcoming New York. And the green sign, the duo’s color of luck, won’t let you pass by easily as it is.
“There used to be many traditional Cantonese eateries in the neighborhood I grew up in. But when the food scene globalized, I saw less and less authentic Cantonese dim sum, which is why I opened Tim Ho Wan originally,” says chef Mak. “I wanted to keep the tradition alive by sharing traditional dim sum at an affordable price. In fact we call ourselves ‘Dim Sum Specialists’ because we want to be known as experts on traditional Cantonese dim sum.”
“In New York we hired a diverse staff as a way to separate ourselves from the New York Manhattan Chinatown scene. We have a few front-of-house team members who can speak Cantonese to communicate with the kitchen crew, but we intentionally hired a diverse staff to match the diversity of the place,” says chef Mak.
One of the most unique parts of the setup is the gorgeous tea bar plus open kitchen, which makes the whole establishment feel approachable. “We worked with Harumi Isobe at Blank Design to create the space here,” says chef Mak. “We have large windows so there’s lots of natural sunlight during the day to create a brighter space. The back wall is filled with golden yellow Chinese decor consisting of a dragon, flower and the Chinese character for ‘luck’.”
And that’s exactly what the East Village location is about: Fill out a little form by ticking off what you want, and a bunch of handmade-to-order dim sum delights will arrive without breaking the bank.
The signature, a barbecue pork bun, needs to be ticked off your list. You’ll be in good hands if you also put a little tick next to pan-fried turnip cakes, steamy congee and the chicken rice rolls. “For New York, we wanted to keep our signature dishes like the BBQ baked pork bun. We also wanted to cater to the New York demographic so we created two dishes exclusive to the New York location: the deep-fried vegetable spring roll and the Tim Ho Wan–style French toast,” adds chef Mak.
“We have other signature dishes, too, like rice rolls, turnip cake and egg cake. Some of the favorites we noticed so far are the shrimp dumplings, sticky rice in lotus leaf and the eggplant with shrimp,” says a smiling chef Leung. And the list can just keep going. The best advice for dim sum: Keep that giant pot of green tea flowing, just sip sip as you feast. You’ll be grateful for the digestion delight later.
But back to the chefs. Their luck isn’t just in the name in New York: seems to be flowing for them across the country. The next two establishments, Honolulu and Los Angeles, are already in the works. You can say you had it first, though, on 4th Avenue.
Photos courtesy of Tim Ho Wan.