Din Tai Fung is a restaurant chain that started in Taiwan in 1974. They have locations around the world (including Sydney) In 1993 The New York Times named them one of the top 10 restaurants in the world and a few locations around the world have been awarded Michelin stars.
I had never eaten at a Din Tai Fung Restaurant until we moved to Singapore, but I think it would be fair to say that I’ve eaten there quite a few times now, frequenting different locations around the island. I also made sure I took mum and The Faja there when they visited us last year. Din Tai Fung serves the best dumplings that I’ve ever had and no matter what you call the steamed pork dumplings / xiao long baos / 小籠包 / soup dumplings, they are one of the most amazing things I have ever eaten.
A few housekeeping points. The food was paid for entirely by us. This meal was at the Wisma Atria location on Orchard Road. All prices are SGD, ++ (see explanation here) and were correct at the time of posting. Photos were taken indoors at night, so apologies as the quality is a bit lacking.
All of the outlets that I’ve been to in Singapore have a viewing window where you can watch some pretty amazing dumpling-making action.
The queueing / seating system varies depending on how busy it is. Often you will get a table for two straight away, but if not, you are given a number and an order ‘chit’ and you can peruse a large visual menu board as you wait for your number to be called for your table. We didn’t have to wait long and we were quick with ordering so we handed in our chit as we sat down to our table.
The order chit is something that I’ve come across in Aus, but hearing it referred to as a chit in Singapore is a new thing for me. I like to think it’s kind of a mis-communication or slang for sheet :) A chit is basically a list of the menu items, you place the quantity of what you want next to the item. So instead of ordering verbally, the chit is taken by the server once you have decided what you want and filled it out. It’s quirky and works very well in a country where English is not a lot of people’s first language.
Your checked order then comes back on an unsettled receipt, almost entirely in what I can only assume is Mandarin :) Your food arrives as it is ready and each item is crossed off as it is delivered.
The essential condiments are all complimentary, as well as some toothpicks which apparently people steal in masses as they are so good. Each person at the table gets endless tea and a plate of finely shredded ginger in which you can add some chilli sauce, black vinegar or soy. I like soy with my ginger, Key likes chilli.
Our first arrival were the steamed chilli crab and pork buns – $4.30++ for 3
These were Key’s pick and one we hadn’t had before. The steamed bun was amazingly soft and a little sweet as expected and the filling was generous and delicious. You could taste definitely the crab but the addition of the pork meant it didn’t have too much of a strong seafood taste, which I enjoyed.
My drink arrived next. This is my earl grey iced lemon tea – $3.80++
It’s no secret that I’m a tea lover and iced tea is included in that. This had an excellent earl grey flavour, with a nice sweetness and a spherical ice cube of tea instead of water which was a great touch and ensured it was cold but not watered down. I took the ridiculous (but delicious) step of pouring my hot complimentary tea over the large tea ice cube once I’d finished the cold tea. Key laughed as I did it and said that he knew I’d do that :)
The sliced duck in crispy spring onion pastry arrived next – $6.80++
The first time we ordered these I think we were expecting something different, but were pleasantly surprised when we found a slice of smoked duck inside what is essentially a spring roll. We’ve had these a few times and I made sure we got some when I took mum and dad there too. They are normally delicious, but this time they weren’t quite as good as the duck was a little chewier than usual. I can forgive a once off though as they are normally truly delicious.
My absolute favourite steamed pork dumplings arrived next – $6.80++ for 6
If you go to Din Tai Fung and don’t order these, you are stoopid. Ok, that’s a bit harsh but these dumplings are famous for being handcrafted with such skill and attention to detail that every single one, made in all of the restaurants all over the world, have 18 folds each. 18 exactly. It blows my mind. Not only are they beautiful, but they taste amazing.
They are a soup dumpling, so they have a meat centre as well as some hot liquid soup or broth. My recommendation is to let them cool a little and then put a little slice of the ginger dipped in soy sauce on top and then put it in your mouth whole. As you bite into it, the delicate dumpling skin breaks and the hot soup comes out. Honestly, the faces I make when I eat these are perhaps a little When Harry Met Sally if you know what I mean…They are truly one of the best things that I have ever eaten.
The steamed vegetable and pork dumplings arrived next – $6.80++ for 6
The vegetable filling is very green and a bit spinach like, but I daresay it is some kind of leafy Asian green. They are a bit milder after the steamed pork dumplings but still very flavourful. Again, the dumpling skin is faultless. It’s a little chewy, like a good noodle and delicate without falling apart.
At this point we had to ask after Key’s soft drink that he had ordered. I think they had forgotten about it, but after we asked they brought it quickly and apologised. No biggie there.
As they serve each dumpling, they stack the steamers so that any dumplings you haven’t eaten yet stay underneath and nice and warm. Once the dumplings are eaten and your stack gets too tall, they whisk away the bamboo steamers to house and serve more delicious dumplings and buns.
I’m not normally one to order fried rice but this fried rice with shrimps and egg is truly delicious – $9.00++
It’s perhaps the most I’ve ever spent on fried rice and while it’s not a large serve, it’s more than enough for 2. It is truly good though and flavourful enough to be eaten on it’s own even if you don’t get any other meals that require a rice accompaniment. As you can see, we got mostly dumplings and buns, but they definitely also have a selection of soups, noodles and other meat and vegetable based dishes that are not dumpling based. For me, it’s all about the dumplings though :)
Next up were our oriental wantons with black vinegar and chilli oil – $7.50 ++
These wantons come in an almost soup-like sauce of black vinegar and a hot chilli sauce. I’d had these on my visit with mum and dad but Key hadn’t tried them yet. He was a big fan. The mix of black vinegar and chilli is sweet, sour and hot all at the same time and I like to spoon up big slurps of it with the wantons.
Side note – it is inevitable that I end up hungry while writing these kind of posts and looking at all of these pictures again :)
Our sweet steamed yam dumplings were next – $6.30++ for 6
I kind of thought these would come out last so it was at this point we started to think perhaps our final savoury dish had been forgotten.
Either way, we tucked into these. We’d never had these before and the yam filling was a really different texture to any other dumpling we had tried. It was quite sweet and a little pasty like a peanut butter texture, but in a quite an appetising way. Probably not one for everyone, but we enjoyed it.
Sure enough, after our steamer from the yam dumplings was cleared, it slowly became clear that our last dish had been forgotten.
Once again though, when we queried them, they were brought out quickly with an apology.
Deep fried vegetable and pork wantons – $6.80++ for 6
The filling in these appeared to be the same as the steamed vegetable and pork dumplings above, but the crispy and lightly salted fried wanton wrapper also matched the filling really well. As we had waited a little for these, our stomachs had clearly realised we had eaten our fill and there was no way we were finishing this plate off, but the one that I could fit into mah belly was delicious.
We probably won’t get to go to Din Tai Fung in Singapore again before our departure, so I’m glad that we got to have one last ordering frenzy there. Next time we are in Sydney, I will definitely be visiting one of their locations to see if their steamed pork dumplings are just as good.
Gong Xi Fa Cai to those that celebrate the Chinese New Year :)