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Restaurant Review: Truffle Dumplings at Din Tai Fung
Yes, I’m telling you something you probably already know: Din Tai Fung make the world’s best xiaolongbao 小籠包 -- Steamed Dumplings, in the English vernacular.
From Taipei to Los Angles, Hong Kong to Toronto, thousands upon thousands of people frequent Din Tai Fung outlets all over the planet to get their dumpling fix.
Actually, it goes well beyond the dumplings as there are other dishes in their repertoire that are probably more popular in a day-today eating sense, and with their no-booking, fast-table-turnover, this chain is more an Asian cafeteria than restaurant.
Nonetheless, there is no denying that their steamed pork dumplings are very special, moreover an incredible logistical exercise, as you watch with intrigue through the glassed open kitchen at the regiments of cooks hand-making - kneading, rolling, stuffing and shaping them in the millions.
But have you tried their latest creation, truffle xiaolongbao?
I suspect not, unless you live in Singapore and have been to one of their establishments recently as they only introduced them mid-October.
This ambrosial combination of ground pork, pork soup and French black truffle is exclusive to Singapore, although available by request in Taiwan.
The original pork dumplings have a degree of richness in themselves and one assumes this is partly due to the fat content in both the soup and meat. This richness is balanced or counteracted by dipping your dumpling in Chinese vinegar and adding a few slivers of young ginger, giving you that sweet-sour taste sensation that tantalizingly stimulates all the taste receptors.
Personally, I think these dumplings are sensational and crave them, frequenting Din Tai Fung in the Paragon shopping center basement or Junction 8 at Bishan at least once a week, wolfing down a serve of 10 dumplings easy.
And then along comes the truffle dumpling, which I tried for the first time last week.
Ladies and gentleman, I tell you this is nothing short of seduction and a culinary orgasm. And there’s no foreplay involved, just straight into it, the simplicity making it all the more ingenious.
The combination of steaming the minced French black truffle that little bit more than the normal pork dumpling infuses the earthy truffle aromas and flavour in the soup, exploding in the mouth with a hedonistic-exotic rush from tongue to olfactory, to every pleasure node in the brain.
This gastronomic intercourse will cost you S$3.80, over twice the price of the standard pork dumpling, but my lord, is it worth it.
By the way, don’t dip the truffle dumpling in the vinegar or add fresh ginger, obviously this will kill the delicate flavour sensations.
They don’t serve table wine here, although they do have Chinese wine and beer but none of which would do justice to this dumpling.
However, on my next visit I’m going to BYO a bottle of 1997 JF Coche-Dury Meursault Perrier to pair with them, which I reckon will be a multiply orgasmic, in culinary sense of course.
I would also think a very mature, rich Alsace Pinot Gris would work, or better still, in a contrasting-palate-freshening sense, a Blanc des Blancs Champagne with a good 10 years-plus bottle age; something like a 1998 Pol Roger Blanc de Chardonnay.
Doing a little research, it appears our uber-dumpling was created when the Din Tai Fung head chefs met with legendary chef Christian Le Squer from the Michelin three star restaurant, Ledoyen, in the Champs-Elysees, Paris, Le Squer suggesting the idea of using truffle in the dumplings. Bravo!
So, Singaporeans, make sure you head down to Din Tai Fung for an amazing dumpling experience. Likewise for the Taiwanese, but you will have to request them, as not on the menu. And the rest of the world, well all the more reason to have a gastronomic holiday in Singapore.
As regular Din Tai Fung patrons will know, there are more than just dumplings to indulge in and such great value for the quality of food and efficiency. I would highly recommend this be a once a week family visit with dishes like steamed chicken soup, fried rice with pork chop that is incredibly tender, noodle soups and wontons (all hand-made) that will please anyone and any age group, and that’s from those just eating solids onwards.
A particular favourite of mine is the Dou Miao snow pea shoots fried in garlic, wonderfully delicate and tasty; if only my parents had fed me these sorts of greens when I was kid.
There’s a good story behind Din Tai Fung, The China-born founder, Yang Bingy, fled the Civil War in 1948 to Taiwan and worked in the cooking oil business for decades. As cooking oil became available in canisters, their business died and in order to survive Yang and his wife began making and selling steamed buns, becoming so popular that they started a restaurant... and I guess the rest is history.
The original restaurant is located on Xinyi Road in Taipei, to which I am planning a pilgrimage; dumplings and Eat Drink Man Woman.
For more on Din Tai Fung and outlets in Singapore, visit http://www.breadtalk.com/dintaifung/index.php
For USA http://www.dintaifungusa.com/
For Australia http://www.dintaifungaustralia.com.au/
(Curtis Marsh – The Wandering Palate, our veteran sommelier and independent wine and food writer, has over 30 years experience in hospitality, wine and media.)