Saturday, August 14, 2010

Din Tai Fung

Now, I'm not one for chains.  Besides the occasional indulgence of McDonald's fries and a Subway low-fat sandwich on the road, I eat what the locals eat.

3 days before my trip to Shanghai, my dad called up and said, "Hey you know, you have a cousin who's an expat there.  Her mom is my cousin, and if you have time, I think you should meet up."  Wow.  Really?  A cousin from Sao Paolo, Brazil who's working in Shanghai.  Who knew?!?!

Helen asked what I would like to eat.  "Do you like dumplings?" she asked.  Do I ever!  Even if I had just had the most outrageous 10-course meal, and someone told me they had a really good dumpling, I would squeeze it in.  I always have room for a good dumpling.

So we met at Din Tai Fung, a restaurant chain that made its start in Taiwan, and has expanded globally, and even has chains in the US. 

I have a special place in my heart for soup dumplings, or Xiao Long Bao, which literally translates to Little Dragon Dumplings.  And you know why I love them so much?  Because I'm completely in awe of how these tasty little pork bundles manage to capture and contain the oh-so-flavorful juices.  And then eating them is an art in and of itself.  I'm sure it comes to no surprise to you, but I am a little obsessed with not wasting a single drop of the soupy goodness.  So my method...
  1. Dip the Chinese soup spoon into the soy sauce, ginger, and vinegar concoction. 
  2. Gently grab a delicate little dumpling with chopsticks and place into my spoon, letting it marinate in the sauce. 
  3. Gingerly take a small bite off the side, sucking in any rogue liquid that might escape. 
  4. Pour what's in the spoon into the cavity of the dumpling
  5. Pop the whole thing into mouth and savor the savorific perfection. 
I'm ultimately a purist.  While I think these look beautifully interesting, I'm much more interested in the bottom soup dumpling part.  Who cares what it looks like as long as it tastes good?

Admittedly, I've always been a sucker for noodles, too. Here, the Jia Jiang Mien is really good.  Meaty and balanced with a salty sweetness, the noodles were expertly done, and it provided good variety to its dumpling counterparts.

To ensure there's a well-rounded meal, I always try to include a vegetable dish.  These are pea shoots, and they're my favorite.  If the menu lists them, I get them.  Hands down, no question.  Super simple stir-fry, natural and healthful, vegetables never tasted so good.

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