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Dim sum is the grazer’s holy grail. A little of this, a little of that, some tea — sorted. Rendered as tenshin in Japanese, the Chinese term either means “touching or close to the heart,” or alludes to a small snack or light meal.

Though the dishes are believed to have originated in Guangdong province, today they include foods and traditions from around the country, ranging from a myriad of dumpling varieties to fried delights and sweet treats. To list them all — over a thousand — would be insanity.

Dim sum can be found in every echelon of Tokyo dining. The Mandarin Oriental, Grand Hyatt and The Westin all offer dim sum, for those who can afford the price tag. At the other end, there are the big-player chains — a handful of Din Tai Fung branches; homegrown franchise Jin Din Rou; internationally renowned Tim Ho Wan even has two locations in the city. But there’s a raft of delicious dim sum diners hidden in plain sight in many a Tokyo neighborhood. Here’s five of the best, chosen for their cost-effectiveness and authenticity.

Daikouun Tenten Shurou

Down on Meguro-dori, before the avenue transforms into a canyon of vintage stores and furniture shops, is the sizable gem Daikouun Tenten Shurou. The name of the game here is fresh. The shōronpō (xiao long bao, widely referred to as “soup dumplings”; ¥1,000 for six) are wonderful — potentially even perfect. The soft, pliant skins give way to a meaty broth and finely minced, unadulterated pork.

The aromatic pork encased in the chūgyōza (medium dumplings; ¥500 for six) also comes swimming in broth, with a satisfying sturdiness to their fried bases, while the smoked duck mochigome harumaki (sticky rice spring rolls; ¥800) takes everyone’s favorite duck pancakes and fries them till crisp. The staff are also accommodating: If you want vegetarian versions of anything, just ask.

Takaban 1-1-7, Meguro-ku 152-0004; 03-5721-8866; takeout available

The shūmai (steamed pork dumplings) from Tsim Sha Tsui come densely packed with rich, juicy pork. | RUSSELL THOMAS
The shūmai (steamed pork dumplings) from Tsim Sha Tsui come densely packed with rich, juicy pork. | RUSSELL THOMAS

Tsim Sha Tsui

Despite its dubious location along one of Roppongi’s anonymous back alleys, tucked away on the ground floor of the somewhat suspect Roppongi Business Apartments, Tsim Sha Tsui is well worth your time. The wallpapered interior, somnolent music box soundtrack and extremely welcoming staff (not to mention the food), combine for the kind of down-to-earth appeal all dim sum lovers should seek out.

Everything is cooked fresh. The nira gyōza (pork with garlic-chives) feature skins of the translucent, unleavened dumpling variety, but are noticeably thick, culminating in a satisfactory chew. The shūmai (steamed pork dumplings) are miniature giants, densely packed with rich, juicy pork in a veritable sausage of a dumpling. Almost every dim sum dish is ¥650, making it fairly cost-effective if you want to mix and match a few.

Roppongi 7-17-12, Minato-ku 106-0032; 03-3403-0166; takeout available

Indulge with homemade Nonya kaya jam slathered between slices of toast and a mug of Hong Kong-style coffee at Hong Kong Cafe Chan Ki. | RUSSELL THOMAS
Indulge with homemade Nonya kaya jam slathered between slices of toast and a mug of Hong Kong-style coffee at Hong Kong Cafe Chan Ki. | RUSSELL THOMAS

Hong Kong Cafe Chan Ki

If you want to briefly transport yourself to the “Fragrant Harbor,” make your way to Hong Kong Cafe Chan Ki. This Iidabashi establishment boasts laissez-faire service and a casual, unpretentious atmosphere, like the Cantonese equivalent to a British greasy spoon cafe. Here you can gorge on staples such as velvety daikon mochi (lo bak go or turnip cakes; ¥650) and cloud-like chāshūman (steamed barbecued pork buns; ¥650) with sweet, chewy filling.

It’s also the rare spot in Tokyo where you can get genuine, homemade Nonya kaya — jam made with coconut milk, sugar, eggs and pandan leaves. Here it comes sandwiched between slices of toast (¥390) and is excellently paired with a milky mug of Hong Kong-style coffee. Stay and soak up the ambiance, punctuated by friends of the store swinging by for loud chats with the kitchen staff. As a particular treat, get a bo lo bao (pineapple bun; ¥300) — it’s like a souped-up, mega-puffed melonpan.

Iidabashi 3-4-1, Chiyoda-ku 102-0072; 03-6261-3365; takeout available; chankichachanten-iidabashi.jp

At just ¥1,200, Bimi Yum Cha’s honjitsu no tenshin set meal comes with a veritable smorgasbord of pickles, soup, dim sum and even dessert. | RUSSELL THOMAS
At just ¥1,200, Bimi Yum Cha’s honjitsu no tenshin set meal comes with a veritable smorgasbord of pickles, soup, dim sum and even dessert. | RUSSELL THOMAS

Bimi Yum Cha

The interior of Bimi feels fancy at first, with the granite floor, high chair backs and sophisticated music tinkling over the speakers — the baby grand piano crouching in the corner may leave you curious — but the constant clink of crockery and bustling service soon disabuses you of that notion. So do the cost-effective lunch sets, namely the honjitsu no tenshin set meal (¥1,200), available from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. (excluding Sundays and public holidays).

The set starts with tea, zāsai (Sichuan pickles) and egg drop soup, then it’s a matter of rice, simmered cabbage, chāshū pork, and a smorgasbord of dim sum. It even comes with annindōfu (a sweet, jellied dish made from almond kernels) for dessert. Otherwise, go “off piste” and select your dim sum individually (plates from ¥726). The nira-ebi mushigyōza (steamed prawn with garlic-chives) are delicately balanced; crispy harumaki (spring rolls) have a robust crunch and silky innards; and the buta no shūmai (steamed pork dumplings) feature a hearty, rough-cut filling of juicy pork.

Sarugakucho 11-6, Shibuya-ku 150-0033; 03-3770-2168; takeout available; bimijp.com

What’s the vibe at Ebisu’s Le Parc? “Downtown Chinese in Paris,” of course. Dig in to dim sum to the soundtrack of bossa nova. | RUSSELL THOMAS
What’s the vibe at Ebisu’s Le Parc? “Downtown Chinese in Paris,” of course. Dig in to dim sum to the soundtrack of bossa nova. | RUSSELL THOMAS

Le Parc

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting this veritable Ebisu institution on a warm, sunny day, you may be treated to a window seat, putting you as close to Le Parc’s concept as possible — that’s “downtown Chinese in Paris,” by the way. The “a la terrace” feel starts the moment you’re shown to your table and quietly poured a cup of tea, identified for you by the helpful waiter (pu’er on this particular visit; staff will also recommend dipping combos).

The ¥1,100 daily dim sum lunch set is rightly raved about. As well as steamed dumpling goodness, you get zāsai, corn soup, steamed vegetables, a choice of okayu (rice congee) and dessert (tapioca pudding or annindōfu). Le Parc’s dumplings are beautifully translucent, sticky parcels. The squid and perilla leaf is an aromatic revelation, while the ebi-gyōza (shrimp dumplings) bulge with creamy filling. If you want to pick your own, prices start from ¥560.

A note: If this were a battle of annindōfu, the very au naturel version here — topped with a single goji berry — wins. All soundtracked with the light bounce of Brazilian bossa nova.

Ebisunishi 1-19-6, Shibuya-ku 150-0021; 03-3780-5050; takeout available; cordon-bleu.co.jp/ebisu

Taizen Shengjian cranks out just one type of dim sum-style dumpling behind its tiny counter: Shanghai-style pan-fried soup dumplings. | RUSSELL THOMAS
Taizen Shengjian cranks out just one type of dim sum-style dumpling behind its tiny counter: Shanghai-style pan-fried soup dumplings. | RUSSELL THOMAS

Honorable mentions

Over in Marunouchi, Yaumay is the creation of London-based restaurateur Alan Yau, founder of the Japanese cuisine chain Wagamama. It’s a thriller of a venue for dim sum, putting a self-admitted boutique spin (and price tag) on proceedings. Go with money to spare. Its daikon mochi is a stodgy slice of savory-sweet heaven, while the mournfully moreish venison puffs epitomize its inventive menu.

Not strictly a place for dim sum across the board, but rather a speciality shop that’s laser-focused on just one variety of dim sum, Taizen Shengjian in Jiyugaoka is highly regarded. Specifically, it’s the shengjian mantou (pan-fried soup dumplings) that keeps this shop ticking along like an actual factory. With five or more people on the production line behind the tiny counter, there’s plenty of kitchen theatrics to watch before gorging on the Shanghai bao themselves (three for ¥360; six for ¥720). They’re gorgeously fresh — the casing is doughy, the pork is finely minced and the soup is an unctuous medley of savory sweetness.

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