Episode 67: Tim Ho Wan – Of Flavor Parades and Michelin Stars

We Filipinos are great fans of dim sum, and we always have them for snacks or as full meals whenever they are available.  The thing is, with the hundreds of Chinese restaurants in Metro Manila, many of which specialize in dim sum, what ‘s with all the hype surrounding Tim Ho Wan?

Tim Ho Wan’s reputation is quite justified. This dim sum restaurant is known for snagging a place in the hallowed Michelin Guide. Who would imagine that what started originally as a hole-in-the-wall place from Hong Kong would garner the Michelin Star, the symbol of fine dining quality sought after by restaurants all over the world.

It helps to know that “Tim Ho Wan” means “add good luck,” and good luck has indeed poured over this restaurant, as it opened several branches in Singapore, and finally, its first one here in the Philippines, to assuage the craving of people in other countries for quality dim sum.
Which now leads us to our next query: Why did Tim Ho Wan get a Michelin Star? What sets it among the dozens of restaurants hailed by the Michelin Guide?
First let’s look at how the Michelin Stars work. A restaurant with one Michelin Star means it’s “a very good restaurant in its category.” Two stars means it’s known for “excellent cooking, worth a detour (worth visiting in case you drop by the country where it is).” A restaurant with the highest rating – three stars – means one can expect “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey,” which probably means you’ll want to fly all the way overseas just to dine there. Tim Ho Wan has one Michelin Star.
Weeks after it opened at SM Megamall’s Fashion Hall, the Philippine flagship branch of Tim Ho Wan continues to attract dim sum lovers in Metro Manila. This already-large restaurant is packed with customers daily, many of which wait in line just to be seated. It seems the wait is worth it, though, because customers end up raving about how great the dishes here are.
The menu was decently extensive, with its line-up of steamed and fried dishes, rice bowls, and drinks. However, worth noting amidst the recommended dim sum are their specialties, the so-called “Big Four Heavenly Kings.”

Leading the pack is Tim Ho Wan’s famous and sought-after Baked Buns with BBQ Pork.  Hidden in the fluffy, crusty bun is a spoonful of barbecued pork swimming in a thick, sweet-salty sauce.  Next up is the Pan-Fried Carrot Cake, a chewy, oily cake spiked with radish bits. Not far behind is the Steamed Egg Cake, a cake with a soft, custard cake-like texture. To complete the list is the more traditional Vermicelli Roll with Pig’s Liver.
It takes great art to create dishes with such distinct flavors, and each of the Heavenly Kings are worth savoring on their own. But if you’re after the experience of conquering all four dishes, there’s a way to enjoy every single one of them properly. 
First, take a bite of the baked bun, and let the rich, meaty flavor of the pork and its sauce swim in your palate. Follow it up with some of the carrot cake, and let the subtle, semi-sweet texture of the cake soften the bun’s aftertaste. After finishing part of the cake, try out a piece of the roll, vermicelli sheet, liver and all. Enjoy the roll’s overwhelming savory taste, brought mostly thanks to the soft-cooked liver. Finish off the liver’s aftertaste – and end the flavor parade – with a bite on the caramel-sweet, bread-like egg cake.
Much have been said all over the media about Tim Ho Wan and the accolades for its dim sum, but it takes a lot of patience (read: falling in line) and a sensitive array of taste buds to fully savor its flavors. 
Other patrons must feel the same way – for them, the long wait is always worth it, because every dish is flavorful, filling, and satisfying to the senses. No wonder Tim Ho Wan is sought after everywhere, making it deserving to get a Michelin Star.