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Anyone who’s been for dim sum anywhere in the world has definitely seen the bamboo steamers that hold our favourite treats. But have you ever wondered how and where they’re made?
First things first: why bamboo? Although there are stainless steel and plastic steamer baskets on the market, bamboo steamers remain in high demand. Some of their past (and current) clients include Lin Heung Tea House and overseas dim sum restaurants in cities with a high concentration of Chinese residents. Bamboo is a highly breathable material that allows the food to remain moist, and the mild, unique fragrance the material imparts compliments the food instead of overpowering it, unlike metal and plastic, which can leave unsavoury flavours in our dim sum. As beneficial as bamboo steamers are to our foods, they do come with one consistent downfall—the baskets have an average lifespan of only one year, as the bamboo is not able to withstand the heat and dampness of regular use, whilst stainless steel and plastic versions can last much longer.
Tuck Chong Sum Kee has stood in Sai Ying Pun, quiet and unassuming, for over 70 years, with over 30 years of it spent in their Western Street shop front, but they have been crafting products using bamboo for more than a century now. They are the only remaining shop in Hong Kong that still insists on crafting their iconic bamboo utensils entirely by hand. The current shop owner, Mr Lam Ying Hung, is his family’s 5th generation successor—and possibly the last, as the amount of new apprentices are dwindling rapidly. Other handcrafted bamboo steamer shops have long since closed, and there are only a handful of shops left in the city that sell authentic bamboo steamers, machine-made or otherwise.
Mr Lam and his fellow bamboo artisans can make a single steamer in mere minutes. When you look inside the workshop, Mr Lam’s workbench is a solid block of Singaporean timber, the very same one from when his family first moved to Hong Kong. It takes about three years to learn the art of handcrafting a steamer from a single piece of bamboo. When Tuck Chong Sum Kee first opened in Hong Kong, they only made the 21-inch basket that waitresses would carry with two leather straps attached. Now you can get baskets of 17 different sizes, in addition to chopsticks, cups, mooncake moulds, bamboo nets, and other eating and cooking utensils that are made from leftover bamboo pieces.
Tuck Chong Sum Kee Bamboo Steamer Co., 12 Western Street, Sai Ying Pun | +852 2540 4386