Usually I dislike travel posts that claim things are “the world’s best”; however, Din Tai Fung in Taipei, Taiwan, deserves the title. Originally founded as a cooking oil retail shop in 1958, the way people cooked and used oil began to change in the 1970s, threatening the thriving business. In 1972 Din Tai Fung was transformed into a restaurant with a focus on high quality food, locally-sourced ingredients and exceptional service.
Ask any local in the country where to find the best dumplings and they’ll tell you Din Tai Fung. Moreover, they’ve received a Michelin Star for the past four years, a distinct honor no other Taiwanese restaurants have attained.
While I’d had dumplings in my life, I’d never sampled the life-changing experience that is the soup dumpling (Xiao Long Bao in Chinese). Din Tai Fung makes each dumpling with 18 precise folds, and you can watch the dumplings being pounded, kneaded, wrapped, folded and steamed through a translucent window while you dine.
In order to get the full experience, my group ordered a full spread: pork soup dumplings, beef soup dumpling, shrimp soup dumplings, chicken soup dumplings, vegetable soup dumplings, fried pork chops, fried rice with egg and scallion, peanut noodles, tofu soup, spicy shrimp and pork wontons, shrimp and pork chow mein, shrimp and pork potstickers, morning glory and, for dessert, pineapple cake and a red bean dumpling.
There is a method to eating a soup dumpling, and staff will help guide you through it. Here is how to enjoy:
*You’ll be given a small plate of thinly sliced ginger, which you should top with a one-second pour of soy sauce and three one-second pours of vinegar. This will be what you place on top of your soup dumpling.
*Next, use your chop sticks to pick up the very top of the dumpling and dip it in the sauce.
*Now place the dumpling on your soup spoon and top it with ginger before poking a hole in it and letting the soup drain out. In essence, you’re creating a bowl of soup in your spoon.
*The best part, stick the spoon in your mouth and enjoy.
This part-soup part-hearty dumpling is life changing, as the textures and tastes interact on your palate. While each soup dumpling is delicious, I was particularly fond of the pork, which has a slight spice to it. My personal favorite of all the dishes was the spicy shrimp and pork wontons, which emit a pleasant hot and spicy flavor as soon as you place it in your mouth.
The fried pork chop breaks up the carb-rich meal with some protein, and its tender texture yet bold flavor and reminds me something I would enjoy at a Texas barbecue. With every bite of the meal, I’m immersed in a world of delicious culture that I never want to leave. Additionally, unlike with many local Taiwanese restaurants in the country, there are no surprises about what you’re eating. The only surprise is the overwhelmingly delicious flavor.
While Din Tai Fung is a chain, my experience was at the venue located in the iconic Taipei 101 building.