Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Dumpling frenzy: Din Tai Fung

Dumplings, dumplings, dumplings. That seems to be all FMUS can say at the moment when thinking about food.  In particular, xiao long bao is his current addiction, and where better to satisfy that craving then the restaurant made famous by these little soup-filled buns of heaven - Din Tai Fung.

After trying out the Michelin-starred dim sum experience at Tim Ho Wan (see post here), FMUS decided that he had to now return to the place he visited in a recent work trip to Singapore, where he fell in love with xiao long bao.  So on the Monday evening after his first day on the new job, we decided to head out to Causeway Bay to see if the Dai Tun Fung branch there was as good as the Singapore restaurant.

While Din Tai Fung has a number of outlets around the world, the original was in Taiwan, and began as a cooking oil retail business in the 50s, before the restaurant opened in 1972.  Since then, its Hong Kong branch was awarded a Michelin star in 2010, and you can now find Din Tai Fung in countries such as Australia, the US, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, China, Malaysia and Indonesia.  Unfortunately the Hong Kong branches no longer hold a coveted Michelin star, however still made the 2015 Bib Gourmand list.

We arrived around 7-ish on a relatively quiet Monday night, however had expected to have to take a number and wait in line.  But much like our Tim Ho Wan experience, we were able to get straight in and the restaurant was by no means busy. However, that did not deter the staff from being ridiculously efficient in their greeting, seating and feeding of us!  The staff are hooked up with headsets like the Secret Service, and the operation is run like a well-oiled machine (no pun intended).

Once seated, we had our tea poured for us and were shown how to mix the dipping sauce, a combination of soy sauce and vinegar over some ginger strips, then left to peruse the menu. Of course FMUS went looking for the xiao long bao immediately, however I was also intrigued by some of the wontons on offer.  Feeling like old hands at this tick and flick ordering, we quickly completed our order sheet and waited the very short time for our food to arrive.

Pork and soup-filled pillows of delight - pork xiao long bao

First out was the pile of xiao long bao, two serves of the pork and one serve of the chicken. Being our first time here we were admittedly playing it a bit safe with our choices, but also guided somewhat by FMUS' Singapore experience.  But boy, this was no disappointment!  While the chicken xiao long bao were lovely, the pork ones are divine!!  Dip them carefully in the sauce, then nibble a small bite out to suck out the soup (which is piping hot), then shove them in your mouth - simple, yet very, very effective!

FMUS almost forgot to take a shot of the chicken ones - not much different from the outside
We had also ordered the pork and shrimp wontons in the special sauce.  I'm always a fan of trying a restaurant's "special sauce", and Din Tai Fung's version was simply superb.  With a little bit of heat added, I also found the sauce for these wontons makes a great dipping cause for the xiao long bao.  Try it the next time you are in there.

Pork and shrimp wonton in special sauce
We found after the first four dishes that there was still room, and, catching the eye of one of the many wait staff, we quickly ordered more of the pork xiao long bao, which were soon dispatched to our table.  We knew we would be back, so stopped at one additional serving, but I could certainty see how, on a cold winter's night, it could be tempting just to keep on ordering until you reach that Mr Creosote moment....

While this visit we limited ourselves a little in terms of variety, we have since been back to Din Tai Fung (in fact almost every week!) and have also had some of the steamed dumplings, namely the shrimp and pork shao-mai.  These look like little pouches of pork, topped with a small shrimp.  The pork filling is similar to the xiao long bao, and the shrimp just gives a little additional flavour.  My only comment, and why I'm not such a fan, is that I find the pastry around the opening to be a little thick for me, by virtue of the way that it is twisted and the shrimp placed atop the parcel.  Don't get me wrong, I'll still eat them!!

Pork and shrimp shao-mai
We've also tried the pork and shrimp wonton in spicy sauce - that has a kick, but like the special sauce, I find it also works with the xiao long bao as an alternative dipping sauce.  Be warned, however, those of you (like me) whose chopsticks technique is a little self-taught - those little wontons are slippery suckers, and if you're not careful you will wear the sauce!

There is a reason this place has the reputation of being one of the best dim sum places around - the food is always excellent, the service is super efficient and the price is reasonable.  This has become for us almost a fall back position when we can't think of anything else (and I don't want another burger).  We have been encouraged to try the truffle and pork xiao long bao (how did I not see this on the menu before!!!!) and I also want to expand our Din Tai Fung experience by trying other dishes, such as the rice or noodle dishes and the buns.  But I know we will be back for the pork xiao long bao (at least 2 rounds per meal) and wontons before too many more days have passed, it wouldn't feel like an ordinary week if we didn't go!


The jasmine tea is served for you upon arrival, with a fresh pot being brought often during the meal
Wontons and dumplings
Very efficient and attentive wait staff, and this was a quiet night!
This is where the magic happens
Entrance, where on a busy day there are large crowds waiting for their number to be called

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