Friday, January 8, 2010

Din Tai Fung

I was in the city with my mum today and I wanted to have lunch at the legendary Taipei-based global chain, Din Tai Fung, for some mouth watering dumplings. We deliberately arrive early, mindful of its reputation for busy queues. We walk straight into the restaurant just before noon. There are no queues yet but a row of wooden chairs in the open-air atrium make it clear there will be.

Walking into Din Tai Fung, you can’t help but take note of the glass-walled kitchen by the entrance where you can peep in to see masked and gowned dumpling makers swiftly pinching, twisting and diligently creating dumplings to painstaking precision.

There’s also a sense of feeling like you’re a VIP when you enter the restaurant. I think about 7 wait staff greeted my mum and I with a hello and bow as we were being escorted to our table. I thought it was a little over the top and had to contain myself from laughing out loud.

As I sit down at my table, I look around and see a large, bustling room with a feature wall of bamboo steamers and artful arrangements of ceramic spoons and bowls. There’s also a bar with young men in masks taking care of drinks. As the waiters and waitresses walk by, they kinda remind me of flight stewards and air hostesses. They're all young and attractive with perfectly groomed hair and gleaming smiles, wearing well ironed, crisp uniforms complete with name tags and ear pieces.

The menu is beautifully presented to us encased inside a bamboo cover and we gaze at the pretty pictures inside, taking note of the dishes with a thumbs-up icon which marks it as a chef’s recommendation. We decide to have the Din Tai Fung Vegetarian Delight, Pork and Prawn Dumpling Soup, Pork and Vegetable Dumpling Soup and of course the famed Xiao Long Bao!!!

Our Din Tai Fung Vegetarian Delight is the first of the dishes to arrive. Piled neatly on a modern square plate, it is a mix of seaweed, tofu strips, bean sprouts and glass noodles drenched in sesame oil. The crunchy and chewy textures of this dish are balanced well and the flavours are nice and delicate.

Din Tai Fung Vegetarian Delight (Chef's Recommendation)

Our soup dumplings arrive shortly afterwards. I’m thoroughly impressed at the pastry engineering before my eyes. The dumpling dough is just the right thickness- thin enough to not be pasty and gluey, and just thick enough to not break and spill its contents before it hits your mouth. A bit disappointing that there are only 6 in each bowl cause I want to eat some more, they’re so delicious! Every mouthful is a stomach-pleasing revelation. The soup is also lovely- simple and warming.

Pork and Prawn Dumpling on the spoon and 2 Pork and Vegetable dumplings in the bowl

Next, our Xiao Long Bao arrives!!! Now, if there was one dumpling in the world that I love more than any other, it would have to be this one. I’d happily fill up on Xiao Long Bao anytime :)

I feast my eyes on the dainty, thin-skinned, pleated parcels filled with a dollop of seasoned pork and a scoop of broth set before me. They bulge ominously, as though about to break but they’re surprisingly strong, never breaking during the steamer to spoon transfer. They only do so in my mouth and let loose an explosive combination of pork filling and rich steaming soup... It’s an intense hit of juiciness and meatiness at the same time. Absolutely sensational!

If you’ve never had Xiao Long Bao before, it's one of those foods that you absolutely must try in your lifetime.

 Xiao Long Bao, 8 pieces (Chef's Recommendation)

 Xiao Long Bao dipped in vinegar and slivers of ginger (the recommended accompaniment to bring out the flavours of the dumpling).

Chinese dumplings are a work of art. The skill in creating firm, elastic, transparent dough skins of the exact same size and thickness, which don’t tear or unravel, requires discipline and extreme quality control. Din Tai Fung makes such dumplings with precision in addition to great taste. Overall, I had a pleasant dining experience here. The wait staffs were well-mannered, not overly attentive and efficient with their service. The food here is a bit expensive, fortunately I had an Entertainment Book voucher that entitled me to 25% off the total bill but that said, I’m still looking forward to returning to all those lovely soup dumplings waiting to be slurped up and desserts still to try! 

Din Tai Fung on Urbanspoon

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