What to Order at Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung is not a place that needs much introduction, especially in the Taiwanese food world. What is new is its expansion of locations outside of Asia. Started in 1948, Ding Tai Fung gained its fame with perfecting Shanghai Dumplings or xiaolongbao, excellent customer service, and extraordinary consistency.

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This restaurant empire stands out from other establishments for making simple Taiwanese staples exceptional. It’s not one of those fancy seafood banquet places but rather has perfected the pedestrian with the best of ingredients, preparation, and hospitality.

What I’m writing about today is what to order other than xiaolongbao – though I’ll say if you have enough diners/appetites with you – get both the pork and the pork with crab.

First, the Hot and Sour soup here is finely made, just look at how delicately every ingredient in this soup has been chopped and prepared. Normally, hot and sour soup can be kind of throwaway dish, but this is one of the best items here:

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The Seaweed & Beancurd in a Vinegar Dressing appetizer are another must get item here, a mix of fresh bean curd, seaweed, and sprouts are meant to be a cold dish complement the meal (does it real well).

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Another item that I love to get is the Pork Chop. This is ubiquitous Taiwanese staple but done way more upmarket here, your equivalent of getting a burger at a fancy restaurant.

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The Noodles with Spicy Sauce, again are simple and delectable prepared with a sesame sauce that would leave you feeling greasy and MSG bloated at other places.

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The Shrimp & Pork Wontons with Spicy Sauce has a version in many Chinese provinces, this is the Taiwanese Din Tai Fung version that does not disappointment, with the complex flavor of many aromatics in its preparation.

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Dessert is an underrated part of Din Tai Fung, but is probably my favorite part of the meal.

I love love love the Taro xiaolongbao, featuring fresh taro grounded into a sweet paste steamed in the same shell used to make the savory dumplings. I took a Chilean friend here and she called them “Taro dumplings from Heaven.” If you love taro like me, you can’t live without these. It’s probably the most Taiwanese-influenced item on the menu.

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Two other desserts I’d get: 1) The Red Bean Rice Cake is a fluffy steamed bread stuffed with red bean that is not too sweet. A lot of non-Asians tend to not like red bean, but it’s because they’ve eaten high fructose corn syrup loaded pre-packaged stuff rather than the real deal like here. 2) The Eight Treasures rice is a true classic of Chinese cooking, a sticky rice prepared with with raisins, dates, red bean, longan, and other dried fruit and nets. This is dish typically eaten during Lunar New Year and other special occasions done masterfully here:

That’s the ideal Din Tai Fung meal for me.

For another look at Din Tai Fung more from a cultural lens similar to mine, check out Eddie Huang’s introduction on his Viceworld show:

Couple more pics of the Din Tai Fung location at the Santa Anita Westfield in Arcadia CA:

 

 

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My American Thanksgiving

This was my American Thanksgiving. The dishes on the table tell the story of who and how we’ve come to be.

The turkey has that Chinese soy sauce flavor many Chinese-Americans families prepare their turkey with some variation of. I’ve heard of endless permutations of turkey adapted to different cultures, such as Jamaican Jerk turkey and Lebanese turkey.

We’re Taiwanese-American, and the seafood fried noodles (made with imported Taiwanese noodles), Taiwanese style potato salad (but made with potato salad from Ralph’s with the eggs, apples, and sweet Japanese mayo added to it to save time), and picked hot peppers reflect that.

Also included in that heritage are the dishes that were imported to Taiwan through its colonial and post-colonial history. The sashimi, burdock root, and edamame are a constant presence at meals. The Lion’s Head meatballs and stewed oxtail, with some Taiwanese touches, reflect the dishes of my family from Zhenjiang, where we were from before we became Taiwanese, fleeing at the close of the Chinese Civil War to Taiwan midcentury.

More traditional American side dishes fully adopted are the string bean casserole, the gravy, and a pasta salad along with Kona Brewing Company beer.

For dessert, we had a sponge cake made with mango pudding and taro and drank coffee and tea.

I was inspired to write about this from the NYTime’s amazing feature, aptly named “The American Thanksgiving” showing the dishes and all the roads they travelled to get here, remixed for this holiday. I especially loved the pieces on the Hmong family integrating their traditions around respecting animals they prepare for the holiday, the Italian American family with the double-turkey feature, the rediscovered Norwegian Cake, Jamaican jerk turkey, the cheesy Irish potatoes, and the Soul Food pork neck macaroni. Okay really, I want to eat it all.

In fact, one of my favorite things to do on Thanksgiving is trawl through my Facebook and Instagram feeds and seeing what my friends are eating. I salivate at the pictures of turkey surrounded by food from the world over, combined in ways to celebrate this holiday.

If you made it through this lovefest this far, I’d be remiss to mention that while we’ve all been joyfully celebrating Thanksgiving, Native Americans have been continuing their protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Please take a second to learn about it and see how you can help.