68 Ming Sheng E Road, Sec 4
visit reviewed: 11/20/2006
Long before I had even heard of Din Tai Fung, I would always crave the dumplings and beef noodle soup I had here at Little Shanghai, near my grandmother's house. I think my grandmother was sort of amused at how passionate my cousins, my sister and I would insist (separately) that eat at least one meal at this very local, unflashy and cheap (nothing is more than NT$150) spot. Actually, once I heard about Din Tai Fung, I refused for the longest time to eat at the more trendy, popular chain, insisting on eating at the hidden gem. Now that I've been to both more often- I would say that their xiao long bao are very comparable, but Little Shanghai definitely beats DTF in the beef noodle soup department.
From the outside, you can see a team of people busy wrapping, cooking and serving the food. At lunch, it often gets very crowded, but off peak hours, it's not too hard to get a seat inside.
The menu is pretty simple, although it's only in Chinese on the wall and on the order sheet- xiao long bao (with pork), vegetable and meat dumplings, zhong zhi (rice dumpling- sweet or salty), sesame buns, fried bread, beef noodle soup (with beef or tendons or half and half), and small sides. If you are living in Taiwan, I think one of the first characters you learn to recognize is "niao ro mien" or beef noodle soup!
We grabbed a bunch of side starter dishes (NT$30 each) from the front while we waited for our food to come, and quickly devoured them.
The steamed basket of xiao long bao (NT$100) quickly comes, with the hot, juicy, bite sized pockets of deliciousness. I am getting hungry again looking at these pictures. Sometimes the flavor of ginger is too strong, but today it is just right.
The beef noodle soup (NT$100-150 or US$3-5) is still what I think one of the best in Taipei. The hearty broth is so flavorful and a bit spicy while not being too salty or oily- you could drink the whole bowl. Also, the noodles are handmade and thick, providing a satisfactory bite to spoonful, or you could slurp it down. They also have a choice of tendon along with the beef, and often run out of the tendon if you go later in the evening. You can order a serving of everything that looks good to you and eat it family style to get a sample of everything and order more if it's not enough.
Their vegetable dumplings (NT$100) used to vegetarian, but now they include a bit of ground meat inside. Today, the dumpling skin is a bit thicker than the ones on the xiao long bao and taste a little gummier. Unfortunately, their vegetable dumplings are not as consistently good as their other dishes.
So the vegetarian options here are limited to the fried bread or the sesame buns, in addition to the side dishes. When I was a kid, I used to devour these fried bread. They are have a slightly sweet crispy crust and steaming hot soft bread rolled up inside. MMMMMMMMM. I don't usually see this served elsewhere.
I would definitely pick the bread over the sesame buns ($40 for 2). The sesame is a bit too sandy and sweet for me. I'd also rather have the red bean dumpling dessert at Ding Tai Fung, which uses the xiao long bao skins to wrap either taro or red bean and steam them.
Everyone has their favorite "local" and authentic place to eat- this one is mine. Nearby the old downtown district of Taipei, a few blocks away from Tony Roma's and Ruth Chris', this is an awesome alternative for those who are looking for a new xiao long bao or beef noodle soup spot. Every friend I've taken there has always left with a full and content stomach and asked to go back again another day. If you do go, be prepared to memorize the characters of the dishes you like in Chinese or recite it to the waitress. It'll be worth it!