Taiwan – Obligatory Din Tai Fung Post

17 Jan

No visit to Taipei is complete without a visit to the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Taiwan, Din Tai Fung. Rightfully famous for xiao long bao (XLB), the delicate soup dumplings being made by this crew of workers, DTF is arguably Chinese food at its best – cleaned up, carefully made, yet still unmistakeably Chinese.

We went to the DTF location in the SOGO shopping mall in Tienmu. It’s a little less crowded than the original location, but you probably still want to get there early as there is always a wait at lunch and dinner.

From Taipei543.com, the origin story:

Founded as a cooking oil shop in the 1960s by Yang Bingyi, who immigrated to Taiwan from Shanxi province on the Mainland, Din Tai Fung originally began selling simple noodle and dumpling dishes in an effort to boost business. But before long, the shop’s tasty xiaolongbao (小籠包) steamed buns took off, and the rest is history.

DTF’s design aesthetic is indicative of its approach to food – classic, simple, clean, but still very well-made. For a Chinese restaurant, the service is incredible – meaning that it is actually friendly.

Westerners may find the service too fast. But that is not them rudely hurrying you. It is good service in Chinese – serving food as soon as it is ready.

And here’s the beautiful XLBs. We got the regular pork ones instead of the pricier crab and pork. If you go, I recommend splurging for the crab as it is INCREDIBLE. But the regular pork ones are amazing too.

The XLB skins are each handmade and so thin and delicate. They are full of juice (read: liquid pork fat) and a perfect dab of ground pork.

I really think I could sit there and eat three trays of these things (10 XLBs per tray). But even though XLBs are the best thing at DTF, the rest of their food is so good I tore myself away for you, gentle reader.

Make sure to eat them with the black vinegar and ginger strips.

These are the spicy shrimp and pork wontons, one of my favorite dishes. The sauce is really strong, so you probably want to eat your delicate XLBs first.

These are the steamed pork and vegetables dumplings. Not my favorites, but still way better than most dumplings you’ve ever had.

The shrimp and pork shu mai. Yes, shu mai, just like the dim sum you had on Saturday. But look how much care was put into wrapping each one into what looks like a little sack of awesomeness. It’s also a lot less greasy than what you’re used to. Delicious.

The house steamed chicken soup. This is another good way to understand DTF. This is as basic a soup as you can imagine – chicken broth with skin-on pieces of chicken. There’s nothing particularly fancy about this, but it perfectly executed. All the oil is skimmed so the broth you sip is clean and pure.

This is called stir-fried Taiwanese lettuce, although it’s kind of a terrible name.

Shrimp fried rice. I love me some fried rice. Usually I like my fried rice to have some browning, as well as some Chinese sausage. This has neither, but it is just perfectly seasoned. Love it.

A small sign of DTF’s care is that they bring the fried rice out with a plastic cover to keep it perfectly hot. That’s for the 10 second journey to your table.

Finally, we tried the taro buns for dessert. No surprise that it was great. Nice level of sweetness and nutty taro flavor.

My last point about DTF is that the locals will complain that DTF is overpriced. What’s fair about this point is that food in Taiwan is dirt cheap. Really. Ridiculously cheap. We went to have XLBs at a well-known breakfast place later and got a tray of XLBs for 90 NT. That’s $3.

But most menu items at DTF are 190 NT. That’s a tray of maybe the world’s best XLBs for less than $7. That’s not in a sticky table hole in the wall in the SGV. That’s in a place with Michelin star service. I think the most expensive item is the crab and pork XLBs at about 330 NT. That’s a hair over $11.

As George Oscar Bluth would say, “Come on!”



2 Responses to “Taiwan – Obligatory Din Tai Fung Post”

  1. Just A Simple Guy January 18, 2013 at 12:49 am #

    been to this restaurant in Hsinchu twice (or was it 3 times) so far. The food is nice there especially the Xiao long bao eaten with the ginger with black vinegar.

  2. Taipei543 January 18, 2013 at 6:19 am #

    Yum – great post. Thanks for the mention! 🙂

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