I arrived at Nytorv 19 around 4.30 pm. From across the street I could see a young man sweeping inside the restaurant, he must be preparing for their opening. At the same time a elderly woman came outside from the Hidden Dimsum bar in the basement while a couple of children running around on the street in front of the bar. There seemed to be surprising many people inside the bar considering it’s outside their opening hours.
My appointment with the Mak-siblings, owners of Hidden Dimsum, was scheduled to be 4:30 pm and at the restaurant, but the emptiness upstairs and the liveliness in the bar led me downstairs. Before I walked in the door, I caught the sight of a known face, Wang Mak, behind the bar.
It was like entering a Cantonese bar from a Cantonese movie. Beside the bar there were people eating and talking, scheduling working hours and negotiating with Wang, the boss. Their language switched between Danish and Cantonese. The smell of Chinese food filled the entire room. Copenhagen was transformed into Hong Kong in this instance.
Then I was introduced to Mai, Wang’s sister and co-owner of Hidden Dimsum. She was small but had a fierce look in her eyes. The way I saw how the siblings handled and talked to their staff, I had a feeling that they are professional but not cynical, they are open-minded and welcoming to the people who work for them and at the same time fair and just (the no-bullshit kind of people).
Before the interview started, I was of course asked if I’ve had eaten yet. It’s common courtesy in Chinese culture.
So I had the honor to try the staff-meal!
Mai and Wang started to tell their story. It started with their father coming to Denmark in 1989. Father Mak had an American Dream but his travel couldn’t reach that far from Guangzhou to the US, so he and the family landed here in Denmark. At that time Mai was 4 years old. In 1992 Wang was born. Father Mak was from Guangzhou and Mother Mak was from Hong Kong, so the children grew up speaking Cantonese and eating southern Chinese cuisine.
“It wasn’t easy for our parents to get a job in Denmark being immigrants at that time,” said Mai. It was difficult because of the language barrier, and the jobs available for the couple was typically in Chinese restaurants and grills.
Years went by and the once small children grew up and didn’t need as much care and attention as they used to. That was when the Maks decided to open their own restaurant. The year was 2007 when restaurant Haiku came to be and served sushi and Japanese cuisine. After 4-5 years where bigger sushi-chains came to town the business became more and more difficult for the Maks. They asked themselves, “why not serve our own food instead? After all, we know southern Chinese cuisine and we know Cantonese food by heart.” So Haiku changed into Taste of Fortune 有口福. They hired cooks from Guangzhou to keep the authenticity and not deviate from tradition.
In 2017 the Maks wanted to retire and asked their children, Mai and Wang, if they wanted to take over the business. Mai was ready to say yes while Wang was in doubt. It was a big decision and quite a chance to take, because the restaurant wasn’t doing well and it would be starting from zero. “We talked about this – a lot and many times – I still remember the evenings at my place where we discussed it back and forth,” Mai said.
In the end, they decided to take the chance and carry on the spirit of their parents. In 2017 1st October Mai and Wang took the leap. This takeover required a major makeover as well. The greatest change that trembled the whole family, was change of the name.
Taste of Fortune was not merely a name of the restaurant, it contained years of hard work and hopes for a better life, especially for Father Mak. But Mai and Wang was determined. A change must happen and the change must be grand.
2018 1st March Hidden Dimsum was standing on Nytorv 19, proudly as its predecessor. The name was birthed by Mai’s husband and the siblings saw many symbolic meanings that are attached to the new name. The restaurant is a hidden gem, both physically as it’s not obvious outstanding among the many shops and restaurants in Copenhagen and in spirit where people of Copenhagen have to find their way to dimsum like they need to find their way away from a stressful day, said Wang passionately. Dimsum itself is a hidden gem, because of the way it is served in bamboo steamers and itself being packed and wrapped so the filling is invisible to the human eye. Dimsum invites you to discover the secret that it bears. Both Mai and Wang burned for this new ideology that they have found.
Along the new name sprouted a new concept. Mai and Wang created a whole new menu with focus on dimsum. Soon a new staff and new homepage came to be, everything changed for the better, except one thing – the work ethic. Mai and Wang believe in hard work and the work ethic they saw in both their parents when they grew up. “They were hard-working Chinese people,” said Mai. “We didn’t see them very often because they were working from morning till evening,” she continued.
“When our parents had a day off and we would spend time together, it was either making gaozi or making late night snacks. We would gather around the dining table and we talked together. Our quality time together as a family was always around that table.”– Mai.
Watching their parents work every day while knowing why they worked and what they worked for, made a great impression on them, and that impression is what Mai and Wang want to deliver with their dimsum. Mai and Wang wish to gather people around the tables at Hidden Dimsum and have quality time together. Just like the times they remember from the dining table at home.
“I love eating here at work, because I can just eat however it fits me. I can use my hands and I’m not limited by ‘knife and fork’.”– A waiter from the restaurant.
As I was eating my staff-meal, I overheard a waiter talking to Mai and Wang, telling them how much he loved eating at work. It intrigued me that he wasn’t talking about the food but how he gets to eat it.
“We Chinese people, we eat with all our senses,” Wang told the waiter. “You just eat however you see fit, there is no right or wrong.” They told me that that’s what they tell their staff, because that’s how it is when you eat.
“Our food is not limited by which kind of tools you should use to eat it as well as when you should eat it during the meal. When the dimsum is ready, it will be served. It’s not like European meals, where you have your starters first and then the main course and in the end dessert. No, you can have sweet dimsums as your starter or even as the main course. That’s how we serve in the restaurants too. We don’t plan our egg tarts 蛋撻 to come in the end of your meal, it shows up when it shows up, and you eat it when you want to eat it.”
Dimsum is unlimited.
“Growing up we always had dimsum and southern Chinese food at home, so we have the taste for it,” Mai said. “This is what we are good at.”
“It’s not just about eating the food, but it’s also about the heart and mind. We want to create a Chinese way of hygge.”– Wang.
It couldn’t stand clearer for me that both of them hold great passion to what they do. It’s not just a job. It’s a way of life. Through the young minds and new concepts the spirit of their parents’ hard work and hopes will live on.
Finally, I asked them about their identity, how do they see themselves as Chinese people in Denmark. The siblings looked at each other and then Mai asked her brother, “you are more Danish, right?”
“I do have a stronger tie to Denmark but I respect and care for China,” Wang explained. “When I was a teenager, it was difficult to decide whether I was Chinese or Danish, but it became clearer for me when I got older. I’m a Chinese Dane, if you can call it that.”
They both said that they have Chinese roots and a Danish mindset. “We love traditional festivities, but when it comes to our opinions and decisions, it’s more Danish. We are both,” Mai exclaimed. “Don’t you feel the same way?” She asked me. And I do, their thoughts and struggle about how to define their identity are very much like my own.
“There should be room for more than 1 culture, as long as we’re well-integrated.”– Mai and Wang.
They both emphasized that it’s important to them that they are integrated. Mai told me about how she had to explain to her daughter that even though she is Danish, she still looked different than her Danish-born (white) classmates, because she has Chinese roots. “But apart from her looks, she thinks that she is just like any other Danish child,” Mai said while shrugging her shoulders with a smile.
As our interview slowly rounded off I started to see the restaurant in a different light than when I first stepped my foot on these floors. I saw its history, its values and the people behind it.
Hidden Dimsum is not just a new restaurant that serves traditional Chinese food in a Danish manner. Its revolutionary ideas come from a long line of family work ethic and tradition of hard work. It is evolving to survive in an ever-changing city and still holds onto its purest values from the very beginning when the Maks decided to share their taste of fortune with Copenhagen.
If you find yourself intrigued by this story. Pay Hidden Dimsum a visit and bear in mind that every piece of dimsum you eat, has a story.
Come and gather around the table. Dimsum will soon be served.