Din Tai Fung is a mild infatuation for us here at flying Fluskey. We ventured out to the Hong Kong branch on our first visit there in 2012, and have thought/dreamed/obsessed about it ever since. That is why, when we visited Taiwan (the home of Ding Tai Fung) we made a dumpling pilgrimage to the original Din Tai Fung to eat xiaolongbao.
The Original Din Tai Fung
Beginning life as a shop selling cooking oil, the original Din Tai Fung in Taipei’s Xinyi district, evolved into a restaurant in 1972. They used chefs from Shanghai (home of the xiaolongbao) to make the perfect little dumplings. They have been producing basket after basket of deliciousness ever since. Of course, there is actually a huge menu, but it is the xiaolongbao that I go for!
In the 1990s they began world domination and now have branches all over Asia, the USA and Australia. They have just opened a branch in London (the first in Europe) but I have heard that it doesn’t measure up and is more expensive so I am terribly apprehensive to visit. Instead, we flew to the original Din Tai Fung in Taiwan because…why not!?
If you aren’t familiar with xiaolongbao, here is a quick explanation.
Xiaolongbao means steam basket buns. A xiaolong is the round bamboo basket that is so synonymous with dim sum and bao means bun.
The way these steamed buns are transformed into the magical soup-filled delights is kind of gross…but worth it. Each dumpling is stuffed with its minced filling , traditionally pork, and a little gelatinous blob of aspic is added. As the buns are cooked by the steam, this melts into a rich consumme. The fat content in the soup means that these little buns, despite being streamed, really aren’t very healthy when compared to other similar dumplings. But again…worth it.
Visiting the Original Din Tai Fung
You don’t get a place with the reputation as one of the world’s best restaurants without a queue. Here it is more of a crowd or bundle than a neat queue but we got stuck straight in. At the front door were three ladies with teeny tiny clipboards. They popped a tick box sheet on it and we went off to decide what to have for dinner. There is a huge picture menu on the window to help you choose. I already knew that we were having the pork xiaolongbao (you have got to have the original at the original right)?
We were actually only snacking as we were going to night market for some more food. Had we been enjoying a larger menu, I would have added either the truffle and pork, or crab roe and pork variety too. Plus, the cucumber in sesame oil and chilli wontons. Yummy!
After around 45 minutes, it was our turn and we were instructed to make our way up to the third floor. I thought it was a tiny place but it stretched up through four floors, and those higher floors were much wider than the shop front.
As we entered the ground floor, we saw the kitchen through a large glass window. They have this in the Hong Kong Causeway Bay branch too, and it’s location gives you a slightly easier viewing experience. In the Original Din Tai Fung, you would be rather in the way of you stopped to gawk for too long. It is very hard not to though.
A small army of chefs frantically works on producing hundreds of identical little buns. Each bun gets rolled, filled and folded twenty times before it is carried off for steaming. It is mesmerising to see these guys at work.
We quickly took our seats and eagerly awaited our dumplings. Steaming baskets were arriving at a rate of knots from the kitchen two floors below. Every time one was opened, we hoped it was bound for our table.
They were perfect; salty, savoury, delicate, slippery and steaming. What more could you want!?
Video – How to Eat Xiaolongbao
Here is a little video we made all about the original Din Tai Fung.
I can only apologise for the drooling and sweeping declarations of love, that filled this post (just like a steaming xiaolongbao) but they are one my favourite foods ever…in the world…ever. I can’t be the only one, while we merrily scoffed our ten little dumplings, a wedding party arrived! You have to be pretty mad for xiaolongbao to risk eating them in a very expensive white gown!
If you do ever find yourself in Taipei, or Hong Kong, (or anywhere else the Din Tai Fung empire exists for that matter) trot on over to Din Tai Fung and you’ll see what I mean!