I remember reading a chapter from Jen Lin-Liu’s book “Serve the People” on dumplings and how she struggled with xiao long bao. Those diminutive dumplings filled with hot broth and a dollop of pork served in the most fragile of dumpling wrappers. Jen recounted the number of times she failed to get any of the three combinations correctly and ended up with mounds of failed xiao long bao’s. Her experience intrigued me and tickled my taste buds, I’ve had the dumplings before but the way she wrote about it seemed like something only an expert craftsman could make. When Din Tai Fung opened a few months ago in Megamall I was discouraged from trying it out, the lines were long and the hype was palpable that I was afraid I’d get lost in dumpling translation. Fast forward to today and finally Tricia and I got the chance to try the world famous, highly praised, xiao long bao.
Having missed out on the opportunity to try out the restaurant in Hong Kong (it was in my itinerary) today felt like the perfect time to expand our cuisine and move away from Japanese ramen and sushi. With barely anyone in Din Tai Fung, we were seated at once, given a menu, and without any thought I circled their order of 10 pieces pork xiao long bao. Who goes to Din Tai Fung and have something else right? Apart from their classic dumpling there were other variants: the crab roe and pork ones looked and sounded delicious but that’s for another time
The moment the server lifts up bamboo cover and the steam dissipates with some movie-like effect uncovering the dumplings, Tricia and I were amazed. 10 beautiful pieces of xiao long bao waiting to be devoured, all carrying the same palish color without any blemish. Curled tops, diminutive and above all else fragile, I took one carefully hoping and praying that it wouldn’t break and spill all over the bamboo basket. Carefully ladling the 1 part soy sauce and 3 part rice vinegar and a few strands of ginger on the dumpling I took my first bite.
For those my age you might have once watched “Cooking Master Boy” an anime where a kid goes around China challenging chefs ala Iron Chef style. Every time a character from that show tastes a dish they are sent to some culinary realm filled with colors and metaphors for flavors, the visualizations were over the top and their expressions were always near orgasmic. Now I haven’t tried a lot of xiao long bao’s in my life but this was absolutely superb and really delicious.
The dumpling’s skin was soft and consistent, not gummy but chewy and has a melt-in-your-mouth feeling. Despite coming out hot, both the broth and the pork weren’t scalding, the flavor became tastier when the sauce was added. But eating the dumpling on its own is already a masterpiece in itself, all the flavors are balanced and each one complemented one another. The salty, the tasty, the richness of the pork worked together in harmony. It was umami.
When all 10 dumplings were gone, our appetites were sated and the richness of the meal continued to linger in our mouths. The experience was unforgettable and priceless, an experience meant to be repeated every now and then. Din Tai Fung certainly deserves all the merits it has received from New York Times, the Michelin Guide, and from its loyal customers because of its affordability and how this restaurant has elevated such a diminutive and unassuming piece of dumpling to a masterpiece.
Din Tai Fung
Ground Floor, Mega Fashion Hall
Megamall, Mandaluyong City
Open from 10 am to 11pm