the first real meal is the most important

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.

366.184 • soup dumplings (by mintyfreshflavor)

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).

shao loong bao (soup dumplings) (by mintyfreshflavor)

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.

dumplings as pretty as purses (by mintyfreshflavor)

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!

dou miao (by mintyfreshflavor)

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.

shiao tsai (by mintyfreshflavor)

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!

30 Responses to the first real meal is the most important

  1. carolyn says:

    i am now sooooooooooooooooooooooooooo hungry and there is absolutely nothing within five miles of here that would even assuage the hunger at all because all i want is soup dumplings, damn you mintyfreshflavor pepperknit girl. ;)

  2. Lauren says:

    Oh the pea leaves!!! I think the ones I eat in Chicago are prepared in a similar fashion, but they have a distinctly meaty flavor, like there’s some chicken broth involved or something. I eat them here: That restaurant doesn’t do dumplings, I don’t think, but the same chef has just opened up two other spots in (our) chinatown and I haven’t been to those yet…

  3. Ana says:

    Lacrimating. And salivating. That´s too much!!

    I was trying to recognise the names you mentioned but then realise you are using their mandarin names, not the cantonese. I´m more familiar with these because that´s what´s spoken in Macau, where I used to live.

    I´m sticking to the chicken curry waiting for me, “damn you mintyfreshflavor pepperknit girl” (quoting Carolyn).

    Have a good time there!

  4. Katie says:

    I just went to the (new to me) rice ball shop down the street, which was totally good, but now I’m hungry again and really, really want dumplings…

  5. Specs says:

    Oooo. I might try to talk R into going to Singapore Vegetarian tonight. (Although this looks WAY better than anything I’ve ever gotten there).

    The dou miao looks great. Can you get it in the states? I’ve never seen it in any of the (admittedly cheap) Chinese/mysteriously vaguely east Asian restaurants we’ve been to. But it sounds delicious!

  6. Nora says:

    The Sydney [AU] outlet has queues for lunch and dinner [and they even provide chairs on the footpath]! The food was fabulous – exactly as you describe!

  7. Suzanne says:

    Water spinach! That is what my mom and I ate every day for two weeks when we were in China a whole bunch of years ago, and I have not been able to describe its deliciousness to anyone since. But now you have me craving soup dumplings, which I have never even heard of. Who would have thought that soup could be captured within a noodle? Usually it’s the other way around.

  8. Penelope says:

    So not fair! I want soup dumplings….you know how much I love them. And snow pea shoots–I thought I was the only one who loved them so. I can never figure out when they’re in season or not in the US–it’s always just serendipitous when I can get them in Chinatown. Of course, it’s best to eat them in the Philippines where there are, uh, well, servants who will pick them and prepare them for me!

  9. Ingrid says:

    Lovely description – I love the food in Singapore. If you like dumplings, you should try Eastern and Northern Dumpling and Noodle on east Coast Road – very cheap and very good.

    They get the soup in the dumplings by adding a very jellied stock that then liquifies when it is heated in the steamer. The jellied stock also helps give that lovely “mouth feel” to the dumplings.

  10. Lily says:

    Oh man, now you’ve got me craving soup dumplings and Joe’s Shanghai. I actually prefer their sister restaurant, which I think is Ginger House? Don’t quote me on that, but whatever it’s called, it’s right next door, and you have a better chance of getting an individual table there.

    Also, I wonder if it’s a regional thing, but my family (Taiwanese from Taipei) always referred to those soup dumplings as ‘xiao long tang bao’, specifically designating them as soup dumplings (tang being the word for soup or broth), naming any other kind of dumpling, especially those served in dim sum, as ‘xiao long bao’.

    Does Singapore have the food markets like the ones in Taipei, and if so, are you planning on going? O:-)

  11. Therese says:

    Lily: xiaolongbao == Shanghai style tangbao, sometimes referred to as xiaolongtangbao outside of Shanghai. Here in HK (and most of PRC) it’s usually just known as xiaolongbao.

    The other dumplings look vaguely like the Cantonese-style shaomai (siu mai) to me. And water spinach is my absolute favorite as well. It’s known as tongcai (tung choi) here. (I used to live on a street called “water spinach street”, but the restaurants on the nearby garden street prepared it better. ;D)

  12. schrodinger says:

    Mr B peered over my shoulder at the dumpling pictures. When I explained that these were better than the Joe’s Shanghai dumplings, he wanted to know when we were going to go to Singapore. Looks like you’re having a great trip so far – enjoy!

  13. julia says:

    i’ve read this post a couple of different times and it doesn’t make any difference how recently i’ve eaten–it still makes me hungry

  14. Tanya says:

    Oooh, we went there in Singapore, too. I agree, perfection! I love the dou miao, too – in general, but theirs are unbelievably delicate. I didn’t know about that cold salad – will have to try next time!

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