>> Wednesday, January 06, 2010
This post is Part II of the larger mini-series titled "A California Christmas." The posts in this series include: Part I: Ten Ren Tea Station, Part II: Din Tai Fung, Part III: Sushi Gen, Part IV: Mrs. Knott's Chicken Restaurant, and Part V: Melisse.
I love love love dumplings. When I was in Taiwan back in April, we went to Din Tai Fung three times!! And we were only there for five days! Yeah, exactly. I even passed on beef noodle soup while I was there to have more dumplings. Call me crazy. I know, I know, beef noodle soup is like Taiwan's national dish. *sigh* Maybe next time. ANYWAY . . I digress.
The soup dumplings at Ding Tai Fung are amazing. The skin is super thin, yet does not break. It holds the hot soup perfectly (look at the picture above!). When you bite into the soup dumpling, a gorgeous chorus of pork-crab soup flavors explodes into your mouth. Finish the experience by chewing on the perfectly thin, stretchy-yet-unbreakable, "Q" skin that has been lovingly hand-rolled multiple times to achieve this texture. Soooo delicious.
So when I found out that the son of the Din Tai Fung founders wanted to open a new outpost in the US, I was beyond excited. Finally! I could taste these heavenly dumplings in my own country! And only a 45-minute drive from Bryan's parent's home. Definitely do-able.
It's interesting to note that only the Taiwan and US locations are owned by the family. The remaining Din Tai Fung locations throughout the rest of Asia are actually franchises. Fortunately, the rules and training requirements for opening a franchise are very strict, so I'm sure the dumplings at all the locations are delicious.
If you go . . .
Of course the soup dumplings are a MUST-GET, but there many other dumplings that are delicious as well. My favorite steamed dumpling is the vegetable pork dumpling, which actually is mostly finely chopped vegetables, with only a hint of pork for flavor. Since I love vegetables and I hate oily dumplings, this one is perfect for me. It tastes relatively light, yet is still so flavorful. And of course, the texture of the skin is fantastic. The vegetable dumplings are also pretty good too. They are filled with finely chopped vermicelli, greens, and possibly tofu.
Bryan's mom really likes the wonton soup. The broth is delicious - clear, clean, yet flavorful at the same time. The wontons are also really good. The skin is delicate and almost melts in your mouth, while the meat is moist and very flavorful.
Their signature dish is the juicy pork/crab soup dumpling, and is definitely worth getting! If you love crab, you'll love the flavor of the soup inside this dumpling. (Note, the more orange dumpling in the picture is the pork/crab soup dumpling while the other ones in the picture are the normal pork soup dumplings).
Like at all Din Tai Fung locations, you can watch the dumpling cooks hard at work hand-rolling out all the skins, filling the dumplings, and steaming them. The operation itself is amazing to watch, as these guys churn out thousands of dumplings a day. One noticeable difference between the Arcadia restaurant and the ones in Taiwan are that most of the workers here are Hispanic.
How Does This Compare to Taiwan?
The food is definitely very close. The menu is a bit more limited, though. For example, my brother-in-law's favorite dumpling, the dessert taro dumplings, are not available in the US location. Also, there's a particular charm about the original Din Tai Fung in Taiwan that is a bit lost here. Nevertheless, the dumplings seem to be made with the same recipe and technique, and thus are still very delicious. Definitely worth the trip - especially since it's a lot cheaper than buying tickets to Taiwan!
Note: There are two addresses because they recently opened a new annex right next door (yes it's THAT popular!) Don't worry! All of the food comes out of the same kitchen. I would recommend going early, especially on weekends, as the line gets really long!
Din Tai Fung
1088 and 1108 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007