Finally, on my fourth attempt, twice in Seoul and once before in Arcadia, I finally ate at Din Tai Fung. I feel like a heretic writing this, but I was underwhelmed by the soup dumplings and, especially after all the recent accolades, I had so wanted to love this place. Din Tai Fung won the 2013 AsiaOne People’s Choice award for best Chinese Restaurant and the Hong Kong outlets were awarded a Michelin Star in 2010. But I think New York City’s Shanghai Asian Cuisine and Shanghai’s Nan Xiang Xiolong Mantou have a better soup dumpling. In some ways the steamed vegetable dumplings were more successful than the soup dumplings.
The Dumplings: We tried the Pork soup dumpling the Pork and Crab soup dumplings and the steamed Vegetable dumplings.
The Soup Dumplings – I judge a soup dumpling in three dimensions, the wrapper, the soup and the meat filling.
- The wrapper should be thin and delicate, but not so much so that it tears and gives you premature soup release. In this regard the ones at Din Tai Fung shine, the wrappers are perfect little pouches just barely holding in their contents.
- The soup should be rich and thick with pork flavor, the essence of pork as a scaulding hot soup. The soup in the dumplings at Din Tai Fung was thin, mild and watery.
- The meat filling should also be rich with pork flavor and have a warm ginger flavor finish. You should be able to taste the crab in the Pork and Crab dumplings. The filling in the ones we had was not really rich in flavor at all and had the barest hit of ginger and there was only a superficial flavor of crab in the mixed dumpling.
The Steamed Vegetable Dumplings – The vegetable dumplings were excellent, you might not agree with veggies as a dumpling filling, but these dumplings were unapologetic about being vegetable dumplings. They had a full cruciferous, greens flavor – sort of like, healthy, wrapped in dough. Like the soup dumplings the dough wrapper was also beautifully thin and light. I had some communication barriers with the hostess and could not find out to my satisfaction if they were vegan or just vegetarian, I know the ones at the Seoul outlet weren’t vegan.
The Dipping Sauce: The waiters brought us little saucers piled high with delicately slivered ginger to which you we could add soy and/or black vinegar from the bottles on the table. The black vinegar, which I often find overpowering, was a little milder than I have had elsewhere.
The Location: Din Tai Fung is Arcadia which is outside of Los Angeles near Pasadena. If the crowds are too huge at Din Tai Fung there are several other dumplings houses near by.