There are few Asian food items that are quite as iconic as the humble dumpling, particularly because it comes in so many different forms from so many different cultures. And for a lot of people, the xiaolongbao is king. Literally translated as the “bun” or “dumpling” from a small steaming basket, the typical xiaolongbao is a bite-sized morsel filled with pork and soup. Yes, there is soup inside of the dumpling. The way they achieve this is the soup becomes something of a semi-solid gelatinous mixture that then melts when the dumpling is steamed.
One of the PR companies took out a large group of us media folks out for dinner at Din Tai Fung on the lower level of Taipei 101. There are about seven more locations around Taiwan, as well as additional locations in countries like Japan, Singapore, Korea, Thailand and even Australia. Even though we had a very early reservation of 5:30pm, the official wait time for a table was 40 minutes. By the time we were done at around 8pm, the wait time had increased to over 70 minutes, despite being a very large restaurant with a lot of seating. Yes, this place is pretty popular.
When you have that many patrons demanding that many dumplings, you need to have a pretty efficient assembly line. You can see the Din Tai Fung staff in action through portions of the windowed kitchen, watching as they carefully piece out each portion, roll out the dough, put in the stuffing, and pinch it all together in exactly 18 folds.
Our meal started off with a few non-dumpling dishes. We got chicken, green beans, bamboo and so on. Realistically, these just served as appetizers for the main attraction.
Our large table was very anxious to get our hands (or chopsticks) on these delectable little dumplings. As Eddie Huang put it, the xiaolongbao at Din Tai Fung have that characteristic of xiang wei to them. Even though the dumpling skin was quite thin, it did a great job of holding the soup inside. The dumplings themselves had a footprint about the size of a poker chip and didn’t actually contain all that much soup.
This is quite different from the decidedly larger and soupier xiaolongbao served at Xu’s Wonton House in Burnaby. And it is perhaps because of this smaller, bite-sized quality that I felt compelled to want more.
In addition to the regular pork-filled xiaolongbao, we were also treated to a variety of other dumplings from Din Tai Fung. The spicy wontons weren’t as spicy as they looked and the larger gyoza definitely had a more substantial feel to them. There was one dumpling that had a truffle-based filling and I’d say that one was my favorite of the bunch.
I can’t speak to what you can expect from other Din Tai Fung restaurants in Taipei, let alone the kind of experience you’d get at their international locations, but I can say that the location inside Taipei 101 was worthwhile. While I wasn’t exactly blown away by the xiaolongbao here, I was quite pleased with the delicate nature of the dumplings and the simple yet robust flavors.
If you are ever out in Taipei, I’d say that Din Tai Fung is definitely worthwhile… just make sure you make a reservation ahead of time.