Monday 23 January 2012

The King of Dim Sum: Har Gau 蝦餃

I was getting anxious. The same set of dim sum trolleys had gone past our table twice yet there was still no sign of my beloved har gau (蝦餃). Don't get me wrong, I was enjoying a post-Christmas lunch with my folks at Manchester's Glamorous Restaurant, but the thing is dim sum isn't dim sum without these superior prawn dumplings.

A waitress walked by our table. I asked her to send the har gau trolley our way. Her response that there was no trolley nearly sent me over the edge. Calm was only restored after she explained that har gau had to be ordered separately, as they can get a little tired sweating away in a trolley. Not for the first time, I realised just how much I take some old favourites for granted.

Har gau 蝦餃 @ Lei Garden (Singapore)
Har gau translated into English simply means prawn dumpling. Typically, this dumpling consists of prawns seasoned with soy, white pepper and sesame oil in a pleated wrapper made with wheat flour and tapioca flour. These are then cooked and served in a bamboo steamer, usually consisting of four dumplings in a portion.

It really goes without saying that the quality of har gau is a benchmark of how good a restaurant is for dim sum. However, there are restaurants that sell har gau but don't do a full dim sum service. I'd be wary of such places, as there's a high probability that the dumplings are from a packet out of the freezer. Some of these can be OK, but they're rarely as good as freshly-made har gau.

What makes good har gau?
In my opinion, these are the things to look out for:

1) The wrapper – this must be thin enough that it's translucent yet not so delicate that it will easily break. The number of pleats is also important, the more the better (around ten shows proper skill).

2) The filling – the prawns should be coarsely chopped rather than finely minced. The filling should also retain a good 'bite' and not be mushy.

3) Bamboo shoots - good har gau should include a few slivers of bamboo shoots for a contrast in texture and flavour. Sadly, all too many restaurants don't bother nowadays.

Steamed wasabi prawn dumplings 日式芥辣蝦餃 @ Phoenix Palace (London)
Where's the best place for har gau?
In London, my favourite is Phoenix Palace, where they also serve har gau with a twist in the form of wasabi prawn dumplings (日式芥辣蝦餃). I don't often advocate dicking around with a classic, but I love the kick from the wasabi inside the dumpling.

Outside of London, I'm afraid my list isn't as comprehensive as it should be. Like I mentioned before, I've been taking har gau for granted for far too long. Having said that, I do remember the har gau at Lei Garden in Singapore being different class (see first photo).

Can I make har gau at home?
It is possible, but it takes a lot of effort. For starters, you need to get in the right kind of wheat flour and tapioca flour from a Chinese supermarket. My Mum made some over Christmas, and they were tasty but I didn't ask for a recipe (it's not as if I'm ever going to make them!). However, if you do want to try making har gau, check out Sunflower Food Galore's recipe.

And lastly, do shout if you know of a restaurant that serves good har gau. It doesn't have to be in London, it can be anywhere in the world. I don't care as long as it's good!

PS: I haven't forgotten! Kung Hei Fat Choi! Gong Xi Fa Cai! 恭喜發財! I'd like to wish my readers all the very best for the Year of the Dragon!


  1. Oh one of the great cornerstones of Cantonese dim sum. Wholeheartedly agree with what makes awesome har gao. HF. P.S. Going to be back to my regular bloggy self again, done with CN internet for now!

  2. Kung hei fat choi!

    I've attempted to make har gao once. Christ it was hard. I think it's time to attempt it again, as they are so delicious. I think the best place I've had them in London is still Dragon Palace, I need to visit Phoenix!

  3. 恭喜發財!

    Actually, I found har gow pretty easy to make, following Sunflower's recipe (more on my efforts here).

  4. Hm, though now reading Lizzie's comment (which wasn't there when I started writing mine), I'm scratching my head trying to figure out what I did that made it so much more manageable (since I know Lizzie can cook!)

  5. Are you considering a change of name from Mr. Noodles to Mr. Dim Sum?

    Doesn't have quite the same ring to it though!

  6. HF - hope the Mandarin lessons went well! Be good to see you back blogging!

    Lizzie - I guess some things are best left to the pros!

    Kake - getting the shape is hard e.g. the ones my mum made were in a half crescent shape rather than the pleated bonnet style. Then there are difficulties in getting the wrapper right. Sometimes, it can be so delicate that it breaks, other times, it can be too thick and claggy.

    Frank - I did toy with adopting the alter ego: Dr. Dim Sum before going with Mr. Noodles!

    1. Yes, I thought the shaping would be hard too, but it went surprisingly well and I got a respectable number of pleats. Perhaps I was just incredibly lucky with the dough consistency.

  7. Good to hear they have trollies in Manchester - they need to bring them in everywhere in London. I enjoyed getting my HG fix in Hong Kong and now I am in Melbourne I have quite a few yum cha outings planned.

  8. The one's at Phoenix Palace i remember were pretty damn good.

    Gong Xi Fa Cai..........

  9. I like the trollies too - hence my love for 'A new world' just off Gerrard St.

  10. GChick - trolleys have their pros and cons, which is why some dim sum, like the har gau, are cooked to order at Glamorous. That said, there's something special about trolley service dim sum. I'm also looking forward to your Melbourne yum cha posts.

    Mzungu - I'm going to to Phoenix Palace on Friday!

    Frank - not been to New World in ages but I do remember the last time I went, it wasn't so good. And much as I love trolley service, it's the quality of the food that counts in the end.

  11. Today is a real dumpling day on the nets for me. These look very good - a deceptively simple combination of ingredients. But then that is what works so well with good dim dum it seem to me (in my incredibly limited experience).

  12. and now, I want to eat har gau at 12.50am. thank you.

  13. Gworm - I guess lots of dumplings as it's CNY! We must do some dim sum soon!

    catty - don't you just love food cravings at odd hours!

  14. Just did a google search on har gau and your fine article comes up on the first page! Fame indeed... Have you been to A Wong in Victoria yet BTW? I had an excellent lunch there this week and they have a VERY innovative har gau!