It pains me to announce that after 30 years of business, Tien Hong has closed.
I only discovered this over Memorial Day weekend in late May, on a long overdue visit to Austin (ahem…I may or may not have last made a cameo in the ATX in April of 2007). The family and I were all revved up and ready to get our siu mai on–then, as I went to make reservations, I saw the saddest words one could ever see next to the Tien Hong listing on Yelp: CLOSED.
What? How could this be?, I thought to myself, panic stricken. After all, Tien Hong has always been one of my most cherished memories of Austin, part of an early series of childhood food experiences that have greatly contributed to my current day fascination with gastronomy. A quick Google search revealed that the owner (someone I remember very clearly, for whether I dined at the restaurant at age 8 or 18, he was always shuffling about, making sure everyone was taken care of) decided to retire after a long and admirable haul in the restaurant business. This had apparently all happened sometime in 2008, when I was too busy scarfing down har gau in San Francisco, and too far from Austin to get wind of the closure. As happy as I am for the former owner, I’m super bummed I couldn’t say goodbye to the restaurant.
All good things must come to an end, I guess, and nothing lasts forever. But where was my family to get its dim sum now?
I did some more sleuthing around and discovered a new(ish) place called Shanghai, ironically located at an old Mason Jar restaurant location near Highland Mall (I say ironic because that particular Mason Jar always reminds me of another sad story, which I’ll pen some other time). We headed over mid-afternoon on Sunday, and I was pleased to see large crowds clustered around the entry–and mostly Chinese folks, to boot.
The siu mai? Pretty solid. Har gau? Delish. Char siu baau? RIDICULOUSLY delish (What is it about Texans? They really know how to make a pig tender). Other various dumplings, greens and rolls? All really, really good.
The turnip cake, or lo bak go? Ehh.
Look, their turnip cakes were okay. But texturally, they couldn’t hold a candle to Tien Hong’s. Tien Hong mastered the art of the turnip cake–that soft, pillowy interior encased by a thin, crunchy layer of pure goodness–long before Shanghai had even been conceived of. The texture of the Tien Hong turnip cake is something I’ve never been able to find anywhere else, and something I’ll miss most about them.
I’m sure that during my next visit to Austin, we’ll head back to Shanghai. But a little piece of my heart will always be at Tien Hong. Fitting, no? After all, dim sum means “Touch the Heart.” Tien Hong definitely did that for me.