When my parents lived in Columbia, the Chicken #1 sandwich at Clyde‘s was one of those things I just had to have upon returning for a visit. Now that they live in Singapore, my tastes are a bit different—Din Tai Fung, for soup dumplings, is requirement #1.
Din Tai Fung is actually a chain, with several restaurants in Singapore and others around the world (Australia, and even LA!). I first had it in Taipei about 4 years ago. The dumplings are hand-made behind a glass wall, so you can see the guys hard at work (I was waved off from taking photos the last time I was there, so I didn’t try this time. I have shots of the guys in Taipei, but those are on my external hard drive, back in NYC). There the wait is always so long, they give you a tiny clipboard with the menu printed on it, and you indicate how many of each item you want. When you’re eventually led to a table, you hand over your order on the walk over. Here, if there’s a wait, they employ the same system, but I have had it be empty enough that we were seated before asked to order (I think you always fill it out yourself).
Soup dumplings exist in the States—Joe’s Shanghai is the place to go in NYC. But there’s something much better about them here. Joe’s Shanghai’s dumplings have a really strong pork flavor—the soup is almost gamey, it’s so porky. Here, the liquid housed in each dumpling, along with the meatball, are impeccably subtle. The wrappers are supple but don’t break open and spill soup everywhere when you lift them out of the steamer, like they do at Joe’s. In other words, they’re perfect.
Shao loong bao, what these are called, actually means “little steamer dumpling,” but the “soup” quality is what makes them unique. I’ve read that the stock is frozen and placed in the dumpling along with the meatball, so that when steamed the ice melts and you end up with soup encased in a wrapper. It means that eating them requires some careful work—and definitely needs a spoon. You set it down in the spoon and tear it open slightly, either with your teeth or a chopstick, and let the bowl of the spoon fill up. I slurp it out separately, because the next step is dunking the dumpling into the bowl of soy sauce, black vinegar, and shreds of fresh ginger that you’ve mixed up. The fresh ginger is key—we always ask for extra.
Other dumplings, such as these, aren’t shao loong bao, they’re just dumplings (bao), but they’re so pretty I can’t resist them. I love the way the little shrimp is poised atop the wrapper like that!
My favorite greens are these, dou miao. They’re pea shoots (shoots of the snowpea plant), and they’re consistently tender and tasty. Sauteed with plenty of garlic and oil, they are only beat by kung xin cai (water spinach), a hollow-stalked green that isn’t super common but is super tender and tasty.
The other dish we got surprised me. My mom asked me if I remembered the shiao tsai we used to get before meals when we lived in Taiwan—little plates of snacky things, like a seaweed salad or a tofu “noodle” salad. It turns out they combine it all into one dish here! There was also some cellophane noodle in there, too.
Day 1′s main meal was a success. Not sure what’s on tap for tomorrow!