Din Tai Fung is a name that needs no introduction among Asian circles. It’s quite possibly Taiwan’s most famous restaurant chain. It’s renown for its precise preparation of xiaolongbao (小籠包), steamed dumplings indigenous to the area around Shanghai.
Din Tai Fung is now a veritable global restaurant chain, with locations in the United States, Australia, Japan, Southeast Asia (Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia) and East Asia (Japan and South Korea).
We made plans to visit the restaurant’s original branch off Xinyi Road, one of Taipei’s main drags. This place has been on my bucket list for Taiwan for ages, so I was especially excited to dine here.
We harrowed the rains, heading there straight from the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂), a tourist site. Already a crowd of diners was congregating, but we luckily managed to be seated within the matter of a few minutes.
Din Tai Fung offers a dizzying variety of traditional Chinese dishes. Of particular note are their cold dish appetizers and their dumplings.
The restaurant space was quite narrow, but it was a multi-level operation. The first floor was half occupied by an army of dumpling masters, meticulously preparing a variety of dumplings, with scientific precision. Quite an impressive sight to behold.
Throughout our dinner, masked chefs ran up and down the stairs to deliver freshly steamed bamboo baskets containing carefully folded dumplings of all sorts.
The waitstaff were came from a number of different countries including South Korea, Japan, or mainland China (there as part of Din Tai Fung’s company training program). Din Tai Fung seems particularly popular among Japanese tourists. I heard quite a few conversations in Japanese in the tables surrounding us.
All of the condiments on the table–vinegar, soy sauce and chili oil–were labeled in English for convenience.
If there’s one dish to order at Din Tai Fung, it’s the pork xiaolongbao, (小籠包), delicately folded steamed pork dumplings that hold a rich broth inside. They were priced at $200 NTD (USD $6.67) for 10. Rich. Savory. Tender. Tender. Supple. I could list half a dozen adjectives here to describe how delicious they were.
Xiaolongbao are lifted onto a soup spoon with chopsticks, and gently nibbled to unleash some of the broth, which is enjoyed with the meaty filling. The dumpling itself can be optionally dipped in black vinegar and eaten with thin slices of ginger, said to heighten the umami flavors.
Each dumpling is the product of patience and meticulous attention to detail. It was amazing to see firsthand the preparation that went into each of the dumplings that made it past quality control checks and onto our table.
I wanted nothing but Din Tai Fung’s dumplings, so I ordered some spicy shrimp and pork wontons as well, priced at $160 NTD (USD $5.34). This variety of dumplings (抄手, chāoshǒu) hails from Sichuan, a province of China known for its love of red chilies. The dumplings are folded like wontons, boiled for a few minutes, and dressed in a fiery red bowl of chili oil.
I was completely floored at how delicious the wontons were. The shrimps were cooked to perfection, a beautiful hue of pink, and the sauce of chili oil and black vinegar complemented the dumplings’ succulent skin perfectly.
Din Tai Fung is also known for its cold dishes, which function as appetizers. We ordered the Din Tai Fung House Special (小菜), a salad of sliced seaweed, dried tofu, and cellophane noodles, dressed in vinegar, priced at $65 NTD (USD $2.17).
We concluded our meal with bite-sized dessert dumplings filled with pureed taro (芋泥小包), priced at $170 NTD (USD $5.67).
I have to mention that throughout the meal, I was pleasantly surprised by the top-notch dumpling skins, oh so supple and just the right thickness.
Din Tai Fung was more than affordable, especially considering it’s a Michelin star restaurant. We spent $654.50 NTD ($22 USD) for four courses, including a 10% service charge, atypical for Taiwanese eateries.
We came out feeling satisfied, but not satiated, greeted by a huge dinner huge crowd waiting for seats.
Just the perfect way to spend Christmas Eve.
Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐