Visiting the back-to-back branches of Din Tai Fung near Arcadia’s Santa Anita Park always made me wonder, how does the original Taipei location compare to its stateside spin-offs? In an unexpected twist, I finally got to find out on a government-sponsored tour of Taiwan.
The original Din Tai Fung dumpling house started as a much smaller operation and now rises four stories in central Taipei. Founder Bingyi Yang, his brother Chi-hua and son Frank now operate 71 branches worldwide, with more branches in China, Japan and Singapore, each, than in Taiwan. Still, the original manages to maintain mystique.
At a Din Tai Fung location in Los Angeles, Frank Yang gave me a keychain featuring one of the bao zai – dumpling kids – and the twin mascots play a prominent role at the original location, greeting diners out front and appearing throughout the space.
Ground-floor, glass-fronted employees roll dough to form delicate dumpling skins.
A small army of dumpling artisans stack bamboo steamers to the ceiling.
Xiao Long Bao star at Din Tai Fung. They have a section of the menu dedicated to XLB, indicating the fillings with emblems like shrimp, pork, black truffle, crab and chicken.
Pork Xiao Long Bao (10 pieces, NT$ 190 ~ $6) sported thin skins and packed pure, unadulterated pork. Bite off tops to let them cool. Season with sliced ginger, soy and vinegar.
Din Tai Fung provides detailed instructions on how to eat Xiao Long Bao.
Crab Roe and Pork Xiao Long Bao (10 for NT$ 330) combined juicy pork with briny pop.
Angled Loofah and Shrimp Xiao Long Bao (10 for NT$ 320) combined sweet shrimp with crunchy chunks of green squash that reminded me of cucumbers.
Man cannot live on XLB alone, so we strayed from the sway of the bao zai on a couple dishes. Shrimp & Pork Potsticker (6 for NT $160) featured six interconnected dumplings with thin wrappers, crispy base and juicy, scallion-flecked fillings.
Stir-Fry Taiwanese Lettuce (NT$ 170), sadly, is one green that’s never made it to L.A.
Vegetable and Ground Pork Wonton (8 for NT$ 140) rested in a savory bath and may have been better with pure pork, but the greens’ tannins did help tame richness.
Truffle and Pork Xiao Long Bao (5 for NT$ 450) contained bits of black truffle sourced from Italy, which, when combined with the juicy pork, created truly memorable bites.
Even though Los Angeles has two branches of Din Tai Fung, it’s still worth visiting the Taipei original, not just to satisfy my curiosity, but also to try dishes that aren’t available stateside, and to experience versions of well known options that are even more refined.
Note: My visit to Din Tai Fung was part of a government sponsored tour to promote Food Culture in Taiwan.