Steamed Shrimp Dumpling: aka Har Gow ( 蝦餃 ) - A list of Hong Kong's Finer Ones.
When ever the topic of Cantonese Dim Sum is being discussed, Har Gow, the quintessential of all Dim Sum dishes, almost always come to the fore front of discussions.
The ONE dish that the skill of Dim Sum chef is judged, this easily replicated dish is one tough cookie to perfect!
In my book, the perfect morsel should have thin, translucent and malleable wrapper skin that is taut, slightly chewy and strong enough not to break when picked up with chop sticks. It should also not stick to the paper or steamer surface. This calls for the correct ratio of water, wheat and tapioca starch mixture! ( An art that I found no North American Chinese Restaurants manage to master ). On top, the wrapper should have at least 11 to 13 pleats. This is a reflection of the skill and devotion of the Dim Sum chef.
Filling should use the freshest of shrimps, preferably whole Gei Wai Ha 基圍蝦 ( Sand Prawns ) with minced Bamboo Shoots and perfectly seasoned with rice wine, white pepper and premium top soya to bring out and not mask the fresh umami flavor of the shrimps. Product should be crunchy, juicy and not overcooked.
The following is a list of this hard to perfect dish from some of Hong Kong's better and reputable establishments. IMHO, they all range from more than passable to near perfection. Unfortunately, photos of four of my favorites: Celestial Court, Yung Kee Club Level, Lung King Heen and Fook Lam Moon were missing from my data bank.
- Fu Sing
- Sun Tung Lok
- Tim Ho Wan
- Yan Toh Heen
- One Dim Sum
- Sha Tin 18
- House of Canton
- Fan Tang
- Hong Kong Cuisine (1983 )
- Guo Fu Lou
- Ming Court
- V Cuisine
- Above & Beyond
- Luk Yue
- Lei Garden
I would rate the near perfect top tier candidates to comprise of Fook Lam Moon, Yung Kee Club Level, Ming Court and Above and Beyond. Second tier candidates include Sun Tung Lok, Tim Ho Wan, Guo Fu Lou, Lei Garden, Hong Kong Cuisine, Yan Toh Heen, Fan Tang, and Sha Tin 18. The rest, though not as good as the afore-mentioned elite ones, still manage to beat all the ones I have eaten in San Fran., New York, Toronto and Vancouver...etc HANDS DOWN!!!
Thank you for your kind words, Lau!!
BTW, FYI, I had a ' Giant Lobster 5 ways' chowmeet in Toronto with a now NYC chowhound 'Deanna', a few days back. We were talking about fellow NYC chowhounders like Kathryn and yourself and we were hoping that one day we can all have a chowmeet either here in Toronto or down in the Big Apple!
re: Charles Yu
you know i've actually been thinking about going up there at some point soon to "go see toronto and my friends in toronto" but really to just go eat some good chinese food without having to get on a really long flight haha. i may make it happen soon and i'll def email you when i do! i'd love to go eat with you and i'll def be asking you for recs
This is awesome. Everything you say about your criteria for a good hargow is what I always hope for. I've had great hargows in so many places in HKG, but I have a hard time distinguishing elite ones from good ones in HKG because most places are so much better than the ones here in America.
My best North American hargow experience was at Toronto Airport Doubletree Hotel ~5years ago. I had hargow there just after returning from HKG and swore it was just as good as some of the places we went in HKG.
For food historian buffs, it's also worth noting that ha gow has a shorter history than traditional tea houses (which started in Guangzhou sometime in the 1800s), where it is said ha gow was invented by a certain tea house in Shuzugang 漱珠崗's nearby Wufeng village 五鳳村 in the 1920s / 1930s, where they were situated near a river with plentiful access to freshwater shrimp, and thus the inspiration to create something based on this readily available supply of local ingredient. (As a side note, chicken feet and pork spareribs didn't show up until 1950s or 1960s apparently as restaurants tried to add more menu items using lower cost ingredients. )
Back in 2007 when Maxim's City Hall was somewhat popular with celebs and HK food media writers, the chefs, it is said, would first marinate shrimp filling with cornstarch and sugar for an hour, then rinse continously with cold water. Then seasoned with salt and pepper (to draw out additional moisture content), followed by more cornstarch and sugar, add sesame oil, then refrigerate so the filling binds (vs Guo Fu Lou's use of egg mixture 蛋漿, I suppose). All these steps per those chefs, reate the ha gow filling's texture that you describe...crunchy with juices.
re: K K
Nowadays, fresh water, 'River Shrimp' is becoming a very priced commodity. Shanghainese restaurants, known to just plainly stirred fry them in oil, has seen their prices gone up and portion sizes gone down!!
I agree, in a perfect scenario, fresh water 'river shrimp' for Har Gow should be used, However, doubt a lot of people can afford them as their regular daily 'Yum Cha' stable?!
Charles, did some of the HK establishments in your collage above serve a portion of 3 dumplings (instead of the traditional 4s in the case of har-gow and siu-mai), or did you just take the photos *after* someone had taken a piece?
As you'd noticed previously, most dim sum spots in Kuala Lumpur served har-gow in 3s these days - a break in tradition, but also (strangely) consistent with the Cantonese aversion towards the number '4'.
BTW, a documentary I saw some time ago showed the kitchens of Lei Garden where the shrimps for the filling were marinated in chicken stock beforehand.
The chef's skill in making the thin har-gow wrapper was breathtaking. He knead out a small portion of the dough and, with a quick stroke using the flat side of his cleaver, flattened the dough into a wafer-thin, almost translucent disc on the kneading board. He then expertly peeled off that dough with his swish of the knife blade, filled it with the shrimp filling, pleated it, then set it on a steamer basket.
The camera then pulls back to show row upon row of har-gow - Lei Garden produces its dim sum dumplings centrally each morning, before shipping them out to its various branches.
Hi klyeoh! I knew you would ask this 3 vs 4 questions!!! Ha!
At Hong Kong Cuisine (1983), they offered us 3 because there were 3 of us and the Har Gow was part of a Dim Sum sampler
I believe Luk Yue has only 3 morsels per steamer.
Ming Court actually offered 5, with a smaller center one
Absolutely beautiful. Andy Warhol could not have done something this delightful! Thanks!
One criteria that I have to agree with Ah So on, is that ha gow should also be "one bite" 一口一件. Some of the abominations I've had in California, restaurants try to do value ha gow and stuff a large amount of shrimp inside but not golf ball sized horrendous, with inconsistent amount of pork fat. The worst was a shrimp paste ball inside and I've had ones where it was chopped up shrimp (no juice).
From what I've read, Guo Fu Lou puts egg into the shrimp filling for ha gow.
Ever try Cuisine Cuisine's "oyako" ha gow? Mother and child? 芥末子母蝦餃
re: K K
The biggest I've tasted was in Vancouver. 'Almost' the size of a 'base ball'!! If not the Har Gow, then at least the 'Beef Ball'
Ref: Dim Sum chefs of Guo Gu Lou and Fook Lam Moon came from the same stable. Use egg white as 'binding agent'??!!
Of the better ones left, haven't been to Celebrity Cuisine, Cuisine Cuisine, Tin Lung Heen or Tim's Kitchen.... for Dim Sum. Just too much choices for a relatively short trip. Also, have to take care about not ingesting too much glutenous or fried products, usually associated with 'Yum Cha'!!
re: K K