Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Din Tai Fung

At last we made it to Din Tai Fung, world famous dumpling restaurant, located in a strip mall in Arcadia. From all accounts, there's usually a line out the door, but I guess our timing was good. We were able to place our order immediately and were out the door after a twenty-minute wait. They were extremely gracious to us, giving us tea while we waited and chatting us up lest we got too restless. We ordered three sets of dumplings, ten of each: Pork (steamed pork dumplings or Xiao Long Bao known as XLB), pork and vegetable, green melon and shrimp. The XLB are the flagship product.

I read that each XLB consists of 5 grams of dough, 16 grams of filling. From their website: "After a minimum of three years of training, the chefs section them out by hand with no need for weighing...but they do anyway — there are a dozen gram scales in the kitchen solely for this purpose. Using a small rolling pin, they roll, pull and stretch while rotating at 90-degree intervals until the skin is flat and round.

They roll out one skin every 3 seconds - 20 per minute. They have to go fast as the orders are streaming in. The to-go desk behind the counter was loaded with their signature black, white and red bags filled with dumplings and the door never stopped swinging open and shut as people came to pick up their orders.

Each dumpling is crimped with 18 pleats. Remember there's only 5 grams of dough to work with...each pleat has to weigh .275 of a gram...paper, paper thin. It's the thin skin that makes a
huge difference in the flavor of the dumpling. They literally melt in your mouth. On line I've read that the dumplings can be plucked out of hot soup with chopsticks and not fall apart or puncture...well I'm not that skilled and I punctured plenty using chopsticks. I changed to a spoon because eating the whole dumpling with the right amount of skin to filling is the way to enjoy the magic of the perfect dumpling. 

Din Tai Fung was on the New York Times list of the 10 best restaurants in the world in 1993. In 2009 the first Hong Kong location received a Michelin star followed in 2010 with a Michelin star for the second branch.  No small feat for a humble dumpling shop. 

Richard and I admired the characters and design of the to-go bags. He explained to me that the character on the bag is the "din" character and it sort of resembles a pot. The T-shaped mark on the left means metal and so the character means cooking cauldron.

Tai means peace and Fung means abundance. I thought the character was crudely drawn - Richard said, "Oh no, that's beautiful calligraphy!" The brush strokes are very sophisticated. They've put the first character on the bags, the Tai character appears on the dumpling boxes and the abundance character, Fung, on the soup bowls. The plastic spoons are black, the vinegar packets bright red. It's a very pleasant aesthetic experience to unpack it all and enjoy each little work of art.

Din Tai Fung isn't cheap...the dumplings were 7 and 8 dollars for each ten pieces. Soup was 7 dollars for about a cupful. The price doesn't seem to be a barrier at all to their customer base. I'd say about 80% of the people in the restaurant while we were there were Asian. 

In the same shopping center is a wonderful bakery - JJ Bakery. I walked in looking for our favorite egg tarts. A batch was just coming out of the oven and we had to hang around waiting for them to cool. I asked the woman in charge to give them to me hot. She insisted they would "sweat" too much in any package. 

While waiting we admired all the beautiful decoration work and enjoyed the familiar smells of a bakery....dough, yeast, fermentation aromas, bread and cake. It brought back memories of working at Van de Kamp's and hitting that wall of wonderful aroma every morning when I walked in the door. Even the sound of carts rolling over tile brings back little snippets of memory. After the tarts cooled, we bought a loaf of brioche and got out of there before bakery insanity struck and we bought too much. 

Turns out this is a chain with 7 locations: City of Industry, Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Arcadia, Irvine, Torrance and Chino. 

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