Eating Out: Behind The Scenes At Din Tai Fung
A few months ago, I wrote that soup dumplings are magical creations that should not be taken for granted, and that I planned to devote an entire post to their greatness at some point in the future. It’s now the future.
My first attempt at making xiaolongbao, also known as pork soup dumplings, was so unsuccessful that I left cooking class resenting the little buns. They’re like the matzah balls of dim sum — after 5 hours and dozens of attempts, only one dumpling came out looking like it was roughly the right size, shape and density. And the only reason for this hopeful moment was my teacher, who took pity on me as class was ending, rewrapped my last dumpling so it would not burst while steaming.
Xiaolongbao consists of three main parts: soup (which is a super gelatinous stock that’s cooled to a jelly form), ground meat filling (typically pork) and the dumpling wrapper. Mix the jelly soup and minced meat together, spread it in the middle of the wrapper, fold the little wrapper into the cutest little bun you ever did see, and steam. When heat hits the dumpling, the jelly stock melts into its liquid soup form. Finding the perfect ratio between all the ingredients and nailing the cooking time so the dumplings do not burst is incredibly difficult to perfect. And it’s even more difficult to perfect time and time again.
That’s why I’m floored every time I order soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung, arguably the most beloved and delicious xiaolongbao on the planet. Though the delicacy is said to have originated in Nanxiang, a town on the fringes of Shanghai, China, the Taiwan-based restaurant chain is known for creating the world’s international standard for xiaolongbao. Din Tai Fung took a frustratingly finicky dumpling and made it taste reliably delicious every single time it’s ordered.
After multiple failed attempts at making xiaolongbao both in class and at home, I wanted to witness Din Tai Fung’s wizardry up close, so I asked the company if I could watch chefs doing their thing in the kitchen.
What I observed was a company that’s so obsessed with standardization, precision and perfection, it’s almost frightening. But the results are absolutely delicious, and the level of skill and stamina demanded from chefs in the dumpling kitchen is both freakish and inspiring. I left the restaurant more impressed by the standardization in the kitchen than the food — and I really really love the food.
To read more about how Din Tai Fung makes the world’s most beloved xiaolongbao each and every day, check out my article for HuffPost here.