The Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) Dumpling Dream: A Simple Story of Scrumptious Success

Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐)
Silvercord Shopping Centre
30 Canton Road, Shop 130 & Restaurant C, 3/F (between Peking Road and Haiphong Road)
Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
(852) 2730-6928

Hours: Sun-Sat:  11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Average for meal/person, excluding tea, wine, and 10% service charge: HK$90-HK$150
Major cards
Rating: ◊◊◊◊½ (excellent)

Other location:
68 Yee Wo Street, Shop G03-G11, G/F
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
(852) 3160-8998
Hours: Sun-Sat:  11:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Placemat at Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐)

There are numerous entrepreneurial success stories from which we can draw inspiration, courage, tenacity, and strength, uplifting narratives about ordinary people who rose from rags to riches. In the true tale behind Taiwan’s Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐), its founder Bing Yi Yang had to endure trials, tribulations, hardships, and obstacles in his life, but through endless efforts, persistent perseverance, undeviating determination, indefatigable dedication, and serendipitous opportunities, Yang and his wife Pen Mei Lai were able to build a thriving business from meagre beginnings. Due to the social unrest and political turmoil caused by the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists in China, Yang, as a young man of twenty-one, left his hometown of Shanxi in 1948 and arrived in Taiwan empty-handed and penniless. Through sheer hard labour, he eventually was able to set up a small shop selling peanut cooking oil on the corner of Xin Yi (信義路) and Yong Kang (永康街) Streets in Taipei City (北市), and he called his business “Din Tai Fung,” a name which paid tribute to the place from where he bought his oil at wholesale, Din Mei Oils (鼎美油), and to the kindness of the owner and his wife of the cooking oil store Heng Tai Feng (恆泰豐), where he first worked upon his arrival in Taiwan and where he met his future wife. When the public discovered that traditional peanut oil could be contaminated with aflatoxins, people became wary and turned to the common convenience of canned salad oil as an alternative choice. Due to the dramatic change in the prevalent culinary trend, Yang’s cooking oil business decreased drastically and suffered a major pecuniary setback. Faced with financial pressure, the entrepreneur and his wife gradually transformed their retail outlet into a four-table eatery selling xiao long bao (小籠包) and noodles. To enhance and elevate the quality of his dumplings and other Shanghai dishes, Yang spent the ensuing years relentlessly experimenting, reworking, revising, reinterpreting, and retweaking traditional recipes. Through word of mouth, their outpost, which revived Shanghainese cuisine and culture in Taiwan, soon earned a reputation for serving deliciously refined and beautifully crafted Shanghai steamed soup dumplings. Rated as one of the top ten gourmet restaurants in the world by The New York Times in 1993, the Taiwanese dumpling house has since gained global recognition and popularity and has expanded to seven other locations in Taiwan and over sixty branches in more than ten countries across the world including Japan, the United States, China, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia, and Thailand. From Tokyo to Los Angeles, from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney, Din Tai Fung has become synonymous with dreamy, delicate dumpling delicacies.

Glass artwork at Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐)

During our stay in Hong Kong (香港), my mother and I visited this legendary gastronomic institution to have a taste of the fabled food fare. There are two locations in this cosmopolitan city-state of food, fashion, and finance, both garnered with glowing reviews and a coveted Michelin star. So on a warm, clear Wednesday evening, we walked to the closest MTR (Mass Transit Railway) station and hopped on the high-speed metro, which incidentally, is one of the most advanced, sophisticated urban mass transport systems in the world, and headed to the award-winning branch nestled snugly in the buzzing six-storey Silvercord Shopping Centre (新港中心) situated in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui (香埗頭), the home of many upscale retail shops, shopping malls, and other mercantile establishments. As we ascended up the escalator to the third floor of the commercial complex, we noticed people queuing outside the preeminent emporium; already at 6:30 p.m., the trendy culinary spot was fully packed with patrons. Again, we had not made any table reservations, but fortunately, being a party of only two people, we did not have to wait very long. By 6:40 p.m., we were escorted to the elegant, spacious dining room set in wood and glass and appointed with tawny brown tables and matching padded chairs. In the centre of the airy, modern milieu, a chic shelving unit displaying glass and metal reproductions of Chinese artifacts in pastel jewel tones jazzed up the stylish interior décor. A solicitous bevy of professional servers, dressed in stylish uniforms, moved fluidly and effortlessly among the tables, serving and pampering customers, while an efficient regiment of deft masked chefs in the semi-open kitchen were busy meticulously handmaking quality dumplings and preparing other culinary creations with fresh, premium ingredients as they received the orders from the dining area—an intriguing, ongoing theatrical piece of workmanship to watch through the large glass windows.

As we were seated at our designated table, extremely fine heung pin tea (茉莉花) was served, and menus were brought over. Flipping through the various pages, the menu, illustrated with tantalizing photos and brief descriptions of each individual item, was extensive. Although the principal attraction at the internationally acclaimed chain restaurant is, of course, the longstanding traditional xiao long bao filled with minced pork and flavoursome broth and its unconventional, audacious versions, innovative variations such as those which incorporate luxury foods like black Périgord truffle and foie gras, ingredients which lend an East-meets-West twist to the classic soup dumpling, a stunning lineup of other Chinese dishes from the culinary repertoire are also highly revered, from vegetarian victuals such as the timeless braised wheat gluten mingled with soya beans, shiitake mushrooms, and bamboo shoots and served in a honey sauce (四喜烤麸) and meat comestibles like the renowned chilled steamed chicken steeped in Shaoxing rice wine (紹興醉雞) to noodle dishes such as the arresting cellophane noodle soup with fried bean curd and pork rolls (肉卷油豆腐细) and dessert concoctions like the celebratory steamed eight-treasure glutinous rice pudding (大八寶飯) filled with red azuki bean paste and bejewelled with eight kinds of preserved fruits, including Chinese red dates, longan, sweet lotus seeds, kumquat, red papaya, and winter melon. With over eighty alluring dishes from which to choose from, it was a challenge to decide what to order, but after some deliberation, we settled on three selections, a cold vegetarian delight, one of the dumpling specialties, and a rice dish.

Oriental salad of seaweed, bean curd, red bell peppers, bean sprouts, and rice vermicelli

To whet our appetite, we began with one of the restaurant’s best-selling house special starters, 什錦豆乾絲, a simple yet complex dish. Composed of long juliennes of dried bean curd, thin ribbons of red bell peppers, and slender strips of kelp seaweed mixed with al dente rice vermicelli and crisp bean sprouts, the oriental salad was liberally tossed in a sweet vinegar dressing heightened with sesame oil and punctuated with a gentle spicy kick from the roasted chilli oil. The lively vegetarian appetizer, which exhibited a harmonious interplay of flavours and textures, was subtle and light, a refreshing and sprightly start to our meal.

Although the emblematic xiao long bao with its eighteen precise pleat folds is Din Tai Fung’s raison d’être, we were in the mood to sample a different kind of dumpling that evening, for earlier that day, we were invited to a yum cha lunch and had savoured, among other dim sum dishes of our sumptuous siu sik (小吃) spread, the Shanghainese street food staple. Presented in a white triangular serving bowl, six plump boiled chao shou (紅油抄手) were placed in a pool of fiery hot chilli-oil-and-black-vinegar sauce specked with Szechuan peppercorns and finely chopped fresh scallions. Delicate yet hearty, the slippery Szechuan-style raviolis were skilfully wrapped and folded like crossed arms in uniformly thin and silky smooth wonton skins and abundantly filled with succulent fresh shrimp and minced pork. Simultaneously spicy, sour, sweet, and tangy, they packed a piquant punch. Absolutely exquisite.

Szechuan-style wontons (紅油抄手)

And our meal culminated into a captivating crescendo of culinary delight when we sampled the next dish which plated a blissful pairing of two Taiwanese specialties (排骨蛋炒飯). Pounded thin and flat and seasoned with black pepper and five-spice powder (五香粉), the pan-fried, lean pork chop “schnitzel,” deboned except for one end, was lusciously moist and meltingly tender. Equally scrumptious was the complementing bed of Taiwanese-style fried rice arranged beneath the neatly assembled slices of pork paillard. Generously studded with fried egg bits and fresh spring onion shreds, the fluffy fried Japanese rice, each grain evenly coated with a sheen of oil and golden egg yolk, was impeccably cooked. Soft yet firm, the aromatic and toothsome rice, strongly redolent of fried egg and green shallot, was full of intense egg flavour. Many people have raved about the rice dishes at Din Tai Fung, but we did not expect the fried rice, merely prepared with only a few ingredients, to be so utterly extraordinary. As we spooned the remaining morsels of food into our bowls, we were completely mesmerized by the comforting simplicity of this sensational signature dish. A remarkable standout.

Fried pork chop with egg fried rice (排骨蛋炒飯)

By the time we had consumed every trace of food found on the serving plates with gusto, we were fully stuffed and satiated. We not only relished the glorious gastronomic dishes but also appreciated the exceptional customer service. From the moment we arrived at the venerable destination to the time we departed, we were treated extremely well by the deferential and courteous wait staff who were eager to satisfy each guest and pleased to be at the diner’s beck and call, every task performed dutifully with a smile. Women’s purses placed against the back of chairs were smartly protected with black chair covers; tea cups were continuously refilled instantly even though the tea pot on the table was within arm’s reach; dish items were immediately checked off the table docket once they were delivered to the table; empty serving plates were swept gracefully away as soon as the last piece of food was removed from the plates. After the meal, the waiters and waitresses even bowed to you. Such gestures of hospitality and attention and care to detail brought a personal and memorable touch to our exhilarating dining experience at this esteemed eatery.

As we left the popular locale around eight o’clock that evening, we noticed that there were people outside the entrance, still waiting to assuage their dumpling fix. Din Tai Fung continues to stand the test of time. Behind the glamorous façade of success lie the blood, toil, tears, and sweat, not to mention the sacrifices, struggles, frustrations, disappointments, and pains encountered along the long and difficult road to success, and I admire Yang’s immense courage, relentless perseverance, unflagging fortitude, and strong belief in himself to nurture an aspiration to fruition. Din Tai Fung has risen to the occasion, and over time, the dining emporium, adhering to its simple and time-honoured philosophy of quality, authenticity, creativity, and originality, has not only become a true ambassador of Chinese cuisine but also an international brand in the art of cooking and eating. With sublime Asian fare at wallet-friendly prices and praiseworthy customer service with presence and poise to be enjoyed in the inviting, warm environs, the “atypical” franchise establishment is worth revisiting. I plan to return to this haute cuisine haven on another occasion, this time, however, to taste the iconic xiao long bao, to discover other gourmet delectables, and to savour again what dreams and the pursuit of dreams are all about.


Related Posts with Thumbnails

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.