“Fake” Ding Tai Fung (Toronto)

Ding Tai Fung Toronto
This is the fifth post in the Oh Canada series, summarizing some of the great eats I had when visiting various Canadian cities this past year. We’re moving from Montreal onto Toronto now! Other posts in this series (Montreal posts) include St. Viateur BagelsLe BremnerSchartz’s Smoked Meats, and Joe Beef.

I was most definitely totally fooled.

I mean, I’d vaguely heard about this happening. My mom has told me anecdotal stories about my Taiwanese relatives popping into Din Tai Fung in other countries (was it Macau, or maybe some small city in China?), only to be turned off by the clear subpar quality of the food – an obvious knock-off.

But for some reason, I didn’t think it would happen in North America, a place where trademarks are typically enforced rather strongly.

I had heard there was a Din Tai Fung in Toronto, so it was actually my idea to get everyone to go there. You know me, trying to hit as many Din Tai Fungs as possible.

It wasn’t until after I came back to the US, and after some online research, that I confirmed that I had indeed eaten at a fake Ding Tai Fung.
Ding Tai Fung Toronto
It’s actually a pretty authentic-looking copy. When you enter the restaurant, you see the signature window displaying chefs making the dumplings. This is something you see at every Din Tai Fung, and it affirmed to me even more strongly that this restaurant must be the real thing.
Ding Tai Fung tofu mustard greens edamame
The menu looks the same and the dishes look pretty similar. I didn’t even notice that the English name is technically off by one letter. You see, it’s confusing because when you pronounce “Din Tai Fung” in Mandarin, the proper phonetic spelling using pinyin (the official method) is actually “Ding Tai Feng.” So the spelling with the letter “g” in the title (the way this fake restaurant spells it) actually sounds more correct in Mandarin.

The dishes look identical, and many tasted pretty good. Ding Tai Fung Toronto spicy wontons
Pan fried rice cakes with mustard greens, bamboo shoots, and pork were decent – not too gummy and pretty good flavor. The tofu sheets with mustard greens was OK, and I actually quite enjoyed the spicy wontons and I took several helping – there’s something about that addictive hot & spicy oil!.
Ding Tai Fung Toronto Soup Dumplings
But the dumplings were definitely sub par. They weren’t made with quite the same finesse as the real ones. The flavors were OK, but the texture of the skin was not nearly as good. Still, though, it was objectively a decent dumpling, and still better than many dumplings I’ve had in the US.

I guess it’s an interesting question – would you visit a restaurant that you knew was blatantly copying another restaurant (down to the name, trade dress, menu, etc) yet still produced reasonably solid Shanghai-style dim sum?

This Ding Tai Fung has been in Toronto for years, so clearly it’s been able to survive in one of the most competitive Chinese restaurant markets in North America. By this point, I’m sure a lot of people know that it’s not the real Din Tai Fung, yet they are happy to eat there because it’s still a decent imitation and offers them a workable copy of something they wouldn’t otherwise get (at all).
Ding Tai Fung Spicy Tendon
It kind of reminds me of all the Pinkberry inspired places (“insert-name”-berry) that started opening in various cities where the real Pinkberry was not available. People still swarmed to these places because they offered something that people couldn’t otherwise get in their hometowns. Maybe this is something like that.

I had heard from a friend that this Ding Tai Fung has “gone downhill” in the past few years. Perhaps there was a time when it was really close to the real ones, and maybe no one knew? I don’t know the history, but I find it interesting that the real Din Tai Fung hasn’t really tried to go after these fake ones. Maybe there are too many? Or is that difference of one letter enough that it doesn’t constitute copying? (I would highly doubt that, but who knows!) Or was there some sort of “break up” where before, there was a time when it was “real”?

I find it peculiar that the real Din Tai Fung did not say anything about it until July 2010, when they posted a statement on their website calling the restaurants in Toronto and Macau “imposters.”
Ding Tai Fung Toronto Rice Cakes
Nevertheless, most of the guests who were with me that night still enjoyed the food. To this group of out-of-towners (virtually none were local to Toronto), this was still better Chinese food than anything they had in their hometowns. Maybe it’s because I’ve visited too many better Din Tai Fungs that I could quickly tell that it wasn’t as good.

However, like I said, it’s still reasonably enjoyable. If it had a totally different name and opened in Boston, I’d probably eat there because it competes reasonably favorably with many of Boston’s Chinese restaurants. However, the fact that they are blatantly copying sort of puts a bad taste in my mouth, and for that reason alone, I’m not certain I’ll return.

Ding Tai Fung
3255 Highway 7 East, Unit 18B
Markham, ON L3R3P9
Ding Tai Fung Shanghai Dim Sum on Urbanspoon

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  1. says

    Sad! I love Din Tai Fung! I’ve tried the one in Shinjuku and in Taipei… one of my favorite places to eat. The locals in Taiwan seemed find it too expensive to bother, but I say it’s worth the money… tasty!

  2. Chris says

    I eat at the one in San Gabriel, ca…mmmmm, delicious, but my chinese wife and family complain they are to expensive:)

  3. Noodle Addict says

    Of course I would eat there (and have eaten there). The Sam Woo chain originated in SoCal but the Sam Woos in Toronto have way surpassed the standard and quality of the ones here in SoCal.

  4. Sy says

    I completely agree with you. This JTF in Markham ON, fake or not, is subpar in food quality and service. Indeed, as guest at one time in Oct 2014, we were served with dumplings of thick skin and raw filling. We sent them back to the kitchen! The noodles were tasteless. Other dishes were uninspiring. I’ll not recommend them to anybody.

  5. says

    Thanks for the review! I’d like to point out some small corrections. It’s rendered “pinyin” without the space.
    Also, properly written, it’d be “ding tai feng”, as “fung” is not something used in pinyin.
    It’s hard to remember because like you my parents are from Taiwan and we tend to smush some of the words together as well as get sloppy with ‘-en’ vs ‘-eng’ endings.


    • says

      Hi Jack,
      Thanks for pointing out the small corrections. I have fixed the post. I agree – I’m most certainly rusty on my pinyin. I have no excuse, though. My dad’s a Chinese teacher and I did learn both “bo, po, mo, fo” AND pinyin as a kid. I just forgot!

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