It takes just a few bites to see why Din Tai Fung, a Taiwan restaurant chain, has become the world’s most celebrated purveyor of xiao long bao (pork soup dumplings). To the uninitiated, the plump, ping-pong ball sized dumplings might not look much but each is a tiny, slurpable work of culinary art.
Din Tai Fung’s very first restaurant was in an unassuming building in Taipei, on the city’s Xinyi Road. In Hong Kong, Din Tai Fung has earned a Michelin star – a rare accolade for a relatively inexpensive chain restaurant.
Those in London will be thrilled to discover that Din Tai Fung recently opened its doors to its first European restaurant, situated in Covent Garden.
And those who enjoy slurping on their bao in posher surrounds will be pleased to note that the ambience is more upscale than the Din Tai Fungs in Asia. Though there are finer touches such as artwork commissioned from Singaporean artist Tan Oe Pang and a cocktail bar, the dumplings tasted reassuringly familiar.
To retain authenticity and flavour consistency, key ingredients such as rice, flour and soya sauce are imported from Taiwan, while fresh ingredients are sourced locally. But will Din Tai Fung win over London, a city increasingly spoiled for choice when it comes to authentic and good quality Asian cuisine?
“London is a prime destination for food,” says Ching He Huang, a London-based chef and Chinese cuisine expert who was born in Taiwan. “It is very competitive here. People are very discerning. But people love and swear by them. They have their die hard fans. Locals who haven’t heard of them soon will.” Considering there was a two-to-three hour wait on opening night at the restaurant, this sounds likely.
Din Tai Fung didn’t invent the xiao long bao, which translates as ‘little basket bun’. It, along with the larger tang bao that is sometimes eaten with the use of a straw to slurp out the juices, originated in the Jiangnan region around Shanghai, says Huang. While many marvel at how the soup gets inside the dumpling, it’s easier than you might think. It’s formed by adding gelatinous broth that then melts in the steamer.
Din Tai Fung operates more than 150 restaurants around the world, mainly in Asia, but also on the US West Coast, Dubai and Australia. The company’s international success story is now a case study taught at business schools including Harvard but at the London opening, Din Tai Fung founder Yang Bingyi, was extremely modest, declaring: “I only know how to make xiao long bao.” Given his success, we’re sure he knows much more than that.
Source: Katie Hunt/CNN International