Bamboo baskets of steaming dumplings, fluffy buns stuffed with sweet-and-savory barbecued pork, crisp spring rolls and endless pots of jasmine tea … Dim sum (or yum cha), that Hong Kong tradition, is a staple of Chinatowns the world over. Except, it seems, in Japan. However, if (like many people I know) you’ve scoured Yokohama Chinatown and found it sadly bereft, all is not lost: It turns out that dim sum is just hiding in unlikely places.
Or behind an unlikely name: Le Parc (1-19-6 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-3780-5050; www.cordon-bleu.co.jp) is considered by many to be Tokyo’s best dim sum. It’s the rare place that can claim to have only Hong Kong chefs working in the kitchen, and they make everything by hand (seasonings, too, are imported from Hong Kong). There are dozens of different dishes to choose from, including the hard to find cheong fun: intestine-shaped, steamed rice crepes filled with the likes of pork or shrimp (Bi-Mi, below, has them on Sundays and holidays). The decor is oddly formal — maybe going for a Shanghai French concession vibe? — but it’s not a snooty (or expensive) place.
Bi-Mi (Sun Rose Daikanyama Bldg. 2F, 11-6 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-3770-2168; www.bimiyamucha.com), which I learned of from a Taiwanese-American friend, does feel like a Chinese restaurant (the white linen tablecloths and heavy chairs kind). The dim sum menu is as impressively long as at Le Parc, but with more “expert” dishes such as chicken claws in black bean sauce and braised pig knuckles. The chef here, too, is from Hong Kong.
Tokyo Daihanten (Oriental Wabe Bldg. 3F, 5-17-13 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; 03-3202-0121; www.tokyodaihanten.com) is Tokyo’s original dim sum joint. It used to be a lively place, with big round tables filled by extended families, often Chinese. It also used to bring the dishes around on carts, letting customers pick what they want (like many Hong Kong restaurants do). However, a renovation several years ago partitioned the dining hall into semi-private booths and sounded the death knell for the carts. Since then Tokyo Daihanten has been a much quieter place — a shame, because the food is still good.
Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant Karin (ANA Intercontinental Hotel 3F, 1-12-33 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-3505-1436; www.anaintercontinental-tokyo.jp/rest/karin.html) now has the only cart service in town, though it is mostly just for show. Sign up for the weekend dim sum lunch service (¥4,200 per person) and you can choose six small plates and two desserts off the menu, plus two plates from the five that the cart brings around. On the subject of hotel restaurants, I’ve heard good things about the all-you-can-eat dim sum lunch at China Room (restaurants.tokyo.grand.hyatt.com/chinaroom-restaurant/index.html; weekdays/weekends ¥3,900/4,500), but haven’t been myself.
For reasonably priced dim sum in a no-frills setting — anytime of day, any day of the week — Tenshin Chashitsu (www.weishin.jp/tenshinchashitsu.html) comes recommended by a friend who spent several years in China. The Chinese-owned establishment has some 25 different items on the menu and branches in Futago-Tamagawa, Kichijoji, Shin-Yokohama, Kami-Okayama, Kyoto and Kobe, mostly in department stores.
Rebecca Milner is a freelance writer in Tokyo and coauthor of Lonely Planet’s travel guides to Tokyo and Japan.