An irresistible dim sum encounter at Bao Teck Tea House
Dim sum ("touch the heart" in Chinese) refers to an array of dainty bite-size snacks enjoyed all over the world, especially among the Chinese communities. In Penang, dim sum is available for breakfast, lunch and even dinner from push-cart vendors, coffee shops, tea houses, restaurants and fine-dining establishments. Although the price difference can vary dramatically, there are many options for one to enjoy dim sum according to one's budget.
Having said that, expensive dim sums do not necessarily correlate to their quality and taste. Bearing in mind that although prudent Penangites are living in a food haven, we are willing to indulge only if the quality and dining experience are justified! If the flavours are mediocre, no amount of luxurious ambience, gold-plated cutlery and dazzling food presentation can quell the disappointment of being hoodwinked. Successful restaurateurs know this just too well and would not pull wool over the eyes but rather strive to establish a long-lasting relationship with their patrons.
Occupying a double-storey pre-war heritage shophouse on Lebuh Melayu, The lavish Bao Teck Tea House opened its doors in July 2020. The elaborate Chinese-influenced retro-style interior, including a lush indoor moss garden at the airwell, exudes old-world charm. The sun-lit airwell illuminates a sense of serenity enhanced by the tranquil sound of running water and a miniature mist-enshrouded waterfall. The dining area occupies both floors, furnished with fittings reminiscent of yesteryears. Great effort had been invested to design this charming interior that renders an authentic nostalgic presence.
The bilingual menu (in Chinese and English) offers both steamed and deep-fried dim sum items as well as some traditional Chinese desserts. The pictorial menu is extremely helpful, making selection easier. Here, the hand-crafted dim sum dishes are made-to-order, ensuring top-notch quality. They are served piping hot.
Presented in a set of four pieces, the Crystal Seafood Dumplings are truly scrumptious. The delicate combination of flavours draws out the natural sweetness of the seafood items, making this one of my favourites. It is brilliant that each dumpling is served on a porcelain Chinese spoon, preventing the thin translucent skin from tearing and dislodging its contents.
One of the deep-fried items is the Phoenix Ball, cut into halves to display its beautiful cross section. The crispy breadcrumb exterior and soft interior provide interesting textural components in this dish. Furthermore, the distinct creamy salted egg yolk core is scrumptious.
The golden Chinese money bag dumplings are auspiciously plump! Authentically Chinese and unapologetically modern, the beautifully presented "money bags" are pretty to look at yet delicious.
The crispy taro puffs represent another dim sum classic at the tea house. While the taro shell has a crispy exterior, it is creamy and fluffy inside, encased in a flavoursome pork filling. Although the taro puffs are deep-fried, they are surprisingly not greasy.
Bao Teik's signature snowy char siew bao comes highly recommended. The light, pillowy bao has a delicious sweet barbeque pork filling.
Apart from the above, there are other interesting items on the menu that I can sample, for example, the beancurd sheet rolls, spinach and prawn dumplings and sesame balls with a molten salted duck egg yolk custard.
Taking a closer look at the menu, one will notice that it only covers basic dim sum essentials. The chefs prefer to focus on a small spread, perfecting each item to deliver delectably impressive items. Since it first opened its doors, Bao Teik has managed to win the hearts of many, making it a favourite choice for those who appreciate fine quality offerings. To avoid disappointment, remember to make reservations early.
The classic dim sum items at Bao Teik, as well as the world over, interestingly draw from a unique culinary tradition dating back thousands of years ago in China. Tea houses that sprang up along the ancient Silk Road throughout China then provided respite for travellers to recuperate and enjoy a cup of tea with bite-sized snacks. Their creations – small portions of dim sums and baos – were designed to merely "touch the heart" and not sate the appetite. These tea houses must have been the birthplace of the yum cha culture. Over time, yum cha has evolved and along with its cuisine, it is now a vital part of Chinese culture. Penang owes its vibrant dim sum traditions to many early migrants who brought this wonderful cuisine to our shores.
Being a tea house, Bao Teik's tea menu includes Liu Bao tea, Oolong tea, White Tea, Earl Grey and Rooibos among many others. In spite of this, some connoisseurs still prefer to bring along their own tea, while paying a surcharge fee.
On a recent visit, breaking away from the norm of ordering tea, we requested Chinese herbal brews. We had a bottle of chilled bamboo cane and water chestnut brew, antelope radix brew, pineapple enzyme and dragon fruit enzyme.
Old Chinese music played faintly in the background as we enjoyed our drinks and dim sums at a leisurely pace, basking in the tranquil surroundings. It was a boon that our table was next to the moss garden.
Walk up a flight of stairs to an exclusive dining parlour decorated with lavish art deco-inspired designs, complete with famous classical European prints, velvet-bounded arm chairs and French-style drapery. Book this charming room if you have a large party to entertain. And if you play "dress up" to the 1920s, you might just be able to step back in time to that roaring, swinging era.
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
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Updated 29 December 2021
Bao Teck Tea House
25, Lebuh Melayu, 10100 George Town, Penang.
Opens: Monday – Thursday: 8:00am to 2:00pm; Friday – Sunday: 8:00am to 6:00pm
T: +604 263 1100