My first Michelin-starred experience at Tim Ho Wan (dim sum) proved to be so amazing that I decided to try yet another Michelin-starred restaurant. This time, I decided to go for xiao long bao 小笼包, Shanghai steamed soup dumplings.
The makings of a good xiao long bao are simple: delicate dumpling wrapper, rich broth, and flavorful meat filling. There’s one restaurant that claims fame for this soupy dumpling: Din Tai Fung
The New York Times hailed the restaurant as one of the 10 best restaurants in the world in 1993. The Michelin Guide rated the chain’s Tsim Sha Tsui location with 1 Michelin Star. Din Tai Fung, which specializes in the Chinese soup dumpling, first started in Taiwan in 1958 as an oil company. It became famous in 1980 when the founder, Yang Bingyi, and his wife decided to make these soup dumplings to survive the drastic business conditions. Now, there are Din Tai Fung restaurants all over Asia (even in cities such as Ningbo), and even in the United States with locations in places such as Los Angeles.
Located on the 3rd floor of the Silvercord Building in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui side, Din Tai Fung occupies a large area.
There was a long line when I got to the restaurant. After taking a number from the podium in the front of the restaurant, I was asked how many were in my party (just me). After hearing that I was a party of 1, the restaurant staff asked if I would mind sharing a table with other people (answer: no). As a result, I only had to wait 10 minutes before I was seated. Talk about efficiency!
I was seated at a round table with three other groups of 2.
At each seat (or per party) there was a teapot. [Fyi: Din Tai Fung charges a 6 HKD tea fee regardless if you drink the tea or not)
I ordered one order of their original pork xiao long bao (48 HKD). I appreciated the staff being respectful of my one small order and not trying to force me to order any other dishes.
After a short wait of 10 minutes, my anticipated order arrived.
Din Tai Fung claims that every bun has exactly 18 folds. But really, when presented with a steamer full of hot dumplings, who has the time to count?
To help customers fully enjoy the xiao long bao experience at Din Tai Fung, instructions are laid out on each table on the traditional way to eat it.
A dish of thinly sliced ginger was provided in a little sauce bowl to allow customers to customize their dipping sauces.
The suggested ratio of soy sauce & black vinegar is 3:1, but I really like how the acidity of the vinegar cuts through the richness of the broth, so I used a ratio of black vinegar and soy sauce 2:1.
Here’s a simple how-to guide to eating the little morsels:
Step 1: Gently grab the top of the dumpling with your chopsticks and slowly peel the dumpling away from the basket. You want to make sure that the dumpling doesn’t break and release the delicious broth all over the basket.
Step 2: With a spoon ready in your other hand, quickly but gently transfer the dumpling to the crook of the spoon.
Step 3: Hold the spoon over your bowl (as an extra precaution for leakage). Then use your chopsticks to gently puncture a small hole into the dumpling and allow the soup inside the dumpling to run out onto your spoon.
Step 4: After drinking the delicious soup from the spoon, you then dip the dumpling into the sauce, and place the dumpling in your mouth.
From a technical standpoint, the dumplings were the perfect example of exceptional technique. The dumplings were all fully intact when lifted out of the basket and were easily 50%broth by volume. They had a skin that was thin to the point of being translucent and a shape that drooped and jiggled as a result of barely being able to contain the liquid held inside.
Although the taste was good, I thought that they weren’t worth the price. In addition to the non-negotiable 6 HK tea fee, they also add a 10% service charge to your bill. Thus, my 48 HK order of 6 xiao long bao came out to be 59.40 HK after the service charge and tea fee were added. That’s almost 10 HK for each dumpling! (To put this into perspective, many bakeries sell egg tarts 2 for 5 HK, so that translates into almost 24 egg tarts!)
Additionally, I felt that the other than the expert technique that was employed, the taste didn’t wow me as much as the dim sum I had at Tim Ho Wan.
Sorry Din Tai Fung, your xiao long bao were good, but weren’t worth the price tag. The next time I’m craving a Michelin-starred meal, I’ll be heading to Tim Ho Wan. This way, I’ll be able to get an entire meal of dim sum rather than 1 measly basket of xiao long bao.