So Many Dumplings, So Little Time
Recently we had the chance to visit Taiwan. Unfortunately, June is the beginning of typhoon season so our visit was mostly rainy. Even so, we had a great time learning more about the people, culture and food of Taipei, the political, economic and cultural center of Taiwan.
When we first heard about a tropical storm heading our way, we connected with new friends on Twitter to find out what to do. We were surprised to learn that since tropical storms are so common in Taiwan the locals often go to the shopping malls, their answer for distraction during a stressful time.
We learned aboutTaipei 101, a mall with 101 floors created to symbolize the growth of Taiwan and Taiwan traditions. It was designed to withstand typhoons and earthquakes. It is also home to many international luxury brands like Prada, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Tiffany and Co. and many more. It is featured in many New Year's Eve celebrations when they set off elaborate firework displays every year.
Taipei 101 also boasts an amazing food court. One of our new Twitter friends @SooperJerry advised us to dine at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House. Jerry is a Taiwanese blogger who loves to travel and sample great food. We quickly looked up his post about it and discovered this shopping mall food court restaurant is ranked one of the top 10 gourmet restaurants in the world by the New York Times. Its Hong Kong branch has been awarded One Star Michelin Star three times. Clearly, we should not miss the opportunity to sample these delights. So, grabbing the umbrella, we headed off to the mall just like the locals.
Walking into the food court of any shopping mall at lunchtime is daunting, but it's especially challenging when you're at Taipei 101 and don't speak Chinese or Taiwanese. Sure you see global brands like KFC and McDonald's, but trying to find the Chinese characters that signify Din Tai Fung is another thing entirely. Thankfully, there was an information desk with a lovely woman who spoke English and helped us find our destination. Separately, it must be said that the Taiwanese we encountered were extremely friendly and helpful people, who smiled abundantly and were most willing to help a confused traveler.
Once we knew where to go, Din Tai Fung was easy to find... it had a huge line of folks waiting to get in. Slightly discouraged, we approached the hostess stand and asked how long the wait would be. Cheerfully we were told 20-30 minutes, so we decided to sign in. This is where the fun really begins. Once we got our printed number we were told they would call the numbers. In Chinese? we asked. Yes but the numbers were also shown on the overhead digital display and a gentle bell rang each time a number was called. Easy peasy. We were also given a clip board with a menu and a pen to make our choices prior to being seated. Brilliant.
While making our way through the menu (in English and Chinese) we looked for the items SooperJerry had recommended. Their legendary XiaoLongBao original steamed pork dumplings and fried rice with shrimp and egg. We ordered a Taiwanese beer and eight treasure rice dish for dessert. A gracious staff member came up and asked if it was our first time - being a tall, English-speaking caucasian certainly makes you stand out in this crowd. She then preceeded to give us two brochures in English about how Din Tai Fung got started and where their other locations are around the world - 41 presently - including three in the U.S.A. in Aradia, California and Bellvue, Washington. She came back later to review the order to be sure we ordered what we wanted.
When our number was called precisely 30 minutes later we were brought to our table, which was already set and ready to go. We were greeted by our friendly server in English and given an instruction card on how to eat the dumplings. This is actually important because if you don't do it properly, the scalding gravy inside the dumpling could burn you. You need to let it escape first by poking it with your chopstick (eating with chopsticks is a whole different article).
The food promptly arrived and our feast began. The steamed dumplings with our custom mixed soy sauce, vinegar and fresh ginger were amazing. Clearly these are their most popular item for a reason. When you first walk in the restaurant and see about ten chefs hand-preparing these dumplings in a factory-like setting you know it's serious business.
The fried rice (you can order brown or white rice, we opted for brown) was the best we've ever had. The egg was diced into larger pieces and amazingly fresh. The shrimp were plump and yummy. Taiwanese beer was the perfect accompaniment. The Eight Treasure rice dessert was a sweet and delicious ending to our feast.
This was just one of our delectable food stops in Taipei. If you're in Taipei or somewhere else in the world where Din Tai Fung is located you should definitely try it for yourself. It's delicious food in a relaxed and friendly enviroment. Check out their website for more information and all their locations.