Din Tai Fung: My Favorite Place to Get Xiao Long Bao

Food     by Rita Tarnate     Nov 16, 2020

Fresh basket of xiao long bao

Cuisine: Taiwanese
Price: $$

Soup dumplings are a staple of Jiangsu cuisine. Known as xiao long bao in Chinese, the term literally means “little basket bun.” True to its name, xiao long bao is a dumpling filled with pork and hot broth, so first-timers beware.

If you live in big cities like New York or L.A., there are many places to get authentic xiao long bao. My favorite, hands down, is Din Tai Fung. They first opened their doors in Taipei in 1958 and became famous for their xiao long bao. Today, Din Tai Fung has an international fan base with over 170 locations in 13 countries. The U.S. branches are currently only on the West coast.

I had my first taste of Din Tai Fung in 2013 while visiting family in Shanghai. Located in the quaint French Concession, the New World mall branch is elegantly modern and relaxed. My uncle seemingly ordered everything on the menu, and while it was all delicious, the dumplings made a lasting impression.

It was also my first time trying xiao long bao. After that first bite, I immediately understood the hype. Their dumplings are light yet rich in flavor, delicate yet structurally sound. The dough is durable – not too thin that it tears but not so thick that it’s chewy or overpowers the overall flavor. This is what makes Din Tai Fung world-renowned.

The memory of those little buns lingered, and my obsession took on a life of its own. I Googled pictures as a weak attempt to get my fix and occasionally stalked new branch openings, praying one would open close to me.

Two years later, a wedding took my husband and I to Seattle, where there’s not one but TWO Din Tai Fung locations. We went to the University Village branch, located on the 2nd floor of a shopping center. At peak lunch hour with a University of Washington home game during parents weekend, the vibe was certainly a contrast to the Shanghai experience.

After another three years, we lucked out again! On a trip to Manila with our then 7-month-old daughter, we learned that a Din Tai Fung had just opened in one of the mega malls (noticing a trend?).

In both cases, the xiao long bao lived up to its fame and my memory’s expectations. These dumplings are unwaveringly good. Making xiao long bao is tedious, to say the least, and Din Tai Fung does it perfectly, every day, in different locations across the world. But how do they do it? Through quality control on steroids.

At every Din Tai Fung, the dumpling kitchen is on display. It’s great entertainment for tiny travelers, and your inner OCD can rejoice as you watch hundreds of dumplings being made with surgical precision (the makers are even clad in masks and caps). Each dumpling is weighed and has exactly 18 pleats. They’re consistently perfect no matter which branch you visit.

So how in the world do you eat a dumpling that’s filled with piping hot broth? Din Tai Fung recommends you first dip your dumpling into a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar before placing it in your soup spoon. Then, use your chopstick to puncture the skin and let the broth drain out. Top it off with some ginger and enjoy! As they start to cool, you can skip the ritual and just pop the entire dumpling in your mouth.

Xiao long bao in a soup spoon

Din Tai Fung provides a photographic menu, and you simply fill out an order card. There’s plenty to try, but the obvious order is the pork xiao long bao. Each basket comes with ten dumplings, perfect for one person.

If you’re with a larger group, you can sample the other dumplings and dishes they have to offer. The fried rice is deliciously fluffy, and if you’re dining at one of the U.S. locations, the sautéed green beans are incredible. They’re flash-fried, garlicky, and sinfully addicting.

Steaming basket of pork and shrimp shao mai

I’m also a fan of their shao mai. It’s neatly wrapped in an hourglass shape with their signature pork on the bottom and a piece of shrimp on top. If you still have room for dessert, the red bean xiao long bao is reminiscent of the sesame balls you get at dim sum (my favorite!).

As with other Chinese family-style meals, everything is great for sharing, but you may not want to!

Have you been to Din Tai Fung? Where did you go, and what is your go-to order?

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