Adventures written by the VAMONDE Team
Din Tai Fung is one of the most internationally recognized Taiwanese franchises, with 136 branches in 14 regions, including the United States, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Australia, and Japan. The restaurant, which specializes in Huaiyang cuisine, began as a cooking oil retailer in 1958.
However, the demand for cooking oil diminished around the 1970s and put the business in jeopardy. To survive, owner Yang Bingyi and his wife converted half the store into a restaurant selling xiao long bao, known as soup dumplings in the West. The dumplings were so popular that by 1972, the business was converted into a full-fledged restaurant. By the 1990s, the restaurant expanded internationally and became one of The New York Times’ top ten restaurants in the world. In 2010, its Hong Kong locations each earned a Michelin Star.
Din Tai Fung is most known for its xiao long bao, which translates to “little dragon buns.” At most locations, customers can watch employees craft the soup dumplings through a window. Each dumpling is folded closed with 18 pleats, a difficult feat and an auspicious number in Chinese culture (the pronunciation for "18" sounds like the Chinese phrase "going to prosper"). People who first try xiao long bao often are often delighted by its novelty; the filling is a mixture of favored meat and gelatinized soup. As the dumplings steam, the meat cooks and the soup turns to liquid, which makes for a burst of flavor when bitten.
If it’s your first time eating xiao long bao, poke a hole into your dumpling and carefully let the soup run onto the spoon provided at your table. This allows it to properly cool. Many eager customers accidentally burn their tongues by eating a freshly steamed soup dumpling! Din Tai Fung offers a variety of fillings and flavors. The most common flavors are pork by itself and pork with crab, but folks with discerning tastes can also enjoy truffled pork xiao long bao.
While xiao long bao is an absolute must-have at Din Tai Fung, the restaurant offers an expansive menu as well. Among the most popular dishes are fried rice, seaweed and beancurd salad with vinegar dressing, pork dumplings, shrimp and pork shiu mai, beef noodle soup, and red bean buns. Needless to say, if you’re going to Din Tai Fung, you better arrive hungry.
Cover photo “Xiaolongbao” by MR+G from Shanghai is licensed under CC BY 2.0.