Wednesday, November 02, 2005

chinese: i recommend DIN TAI FUNG

218 Chung Hsiao East Rd., section 4
(enter from Lane 216)

(02) 2721-7890

Pricing: $
review visit: Nov 1, 2005

If you've ever been to Taipei, then more than likely you've eaten xiao long bao- or steamed 'soup' dumplings. You were probably even taken to Din Tai Fung, a popular restaurant chain that originated in Taipei, and has restaurants all over the world including in Los Angeles, Japan and Korea. It's a busy, crowded restaurant that both locals and tourists can equally enjoy with menus with English and pictures for those that request it.

The xiao long bao come in steam baskets of 10 with slight variations you can order- the classic original pork, the crab and pork, or the pork and mushroom. The xiao long bao are bite size, moist and delicious- one could easily devour half a dozen. What makes them different from other dumplings such as potstickers or gyoza, is its rounder shape, the thinner moist skin, and the soup that collects inside that gives you that "melt in your mouth" feeling when you eat it. The crab and pork dumplings were too soft for me, with not enough oomph and flavor that the classic xiao long bao has. The pork and mushroom tastes pretty much like the regular pork- I didn't even know the order had come until I asked our waitress. Upon examination, I saw tiny bits of shitake mushroom with the pork. The siu mai dumplings recommended by the waitress for the American friends we brought also were a let down compared to the xiao long bao. Stick the the restaurant's specialities- order the classic xiao long bao, and some vegetable dumplings.

Vegetable dumplings and pork xiao long bao (they go fast!)

There's also various soups and noodles you can order- the beef noodle soup is not too spicy with thin noodles, the sesame noodle is a bit bland with a wad of plain noodles in a sesame sauce. In the past, I've had good experiences with the hot and sour soup and the chicken soup- as well as side dishes of vegetables, tofu and zong zi, or a sticky rice pyramid bun.

Sesame noodles

Side dishes- vegetables and tofu

Though it's quite affordable at 150NT - 300NT, Din Tai Fung is pricier than other local dumpling houses. Why? Its established brand is so popular that they've started featuring Din Tai Fung dumplings on some international flights (I think Eva Air first class) and its crowded lines means they've established a fanbase for their reliable eats. It's worth it if you want to know what the fuss is about and you don't know where else to go.

In the past, I used to avoid Din Tai Fung because of it's popularity and instead take my friends to a busy local xiao long bao place down the street from my grandma's house. For my cousins, my sister and I, we would always ask our grandmother to take us to that restaurant every trip we came back to Taipei. Xiao long bao for 100NT- such a bargain- US$3 for a whole basket of delicious dumplings that you could rarely find in the states. In the recent years, the xiao long bao at that restaurant have become more gingery and their vegetable dumplings are no longer vegetarian, although their beef noodle soup is still very tasty, and my past two visits to Din Tai Fung did not disappoint, so I wouldn't hesitate to go again and also take my tourist friends the next time they are in town.

PS- 2/20/06
You can see the menu and photos at their official website: as well as the contact info for all their locations.

PS- 8/7/06
Don't forget to order a "long" or steam basket of red bean dumplings for dessert! Though it's kind of strange at first, to think of eating something sweet while looking at something salty, they are very delicious! With red bean paste inside the drier dumpling skin, it's something unique you won't find anywhere else. They also feature taro paste dumplings though personally I don't like taro.

OTHER LOCATIONS IN TAIPEI (updated 3/4/2008)

Yong Kang restaurant
No. 194, Xinyi Road, Sec.2
(entrance of Yong Kang Street)
(02) 2321-8928

Fuxing Branch
at green Fuxing Sogo, B2 FL
No.300, Zhongxiao E. Rd., Sec. 3
(02) 8772-0528