I still remember my first visit to Din Tai Fung. It was a rainy evening in Singapore, and my husband and I were mall hopping, trying to wait out the bout of rain splashing down the streets of Orchard Road. While window shopping, we passed a small groups of people waiting outside what looked like a slightly oversized coffee shop. Each group was holding a writing pad, which suspiciously looked like a cramped menu card. We were intrigued. Looking around, we saw a colourful menu board with photographs of loads of Asian dishes. While browsing through the menu we were surprised to see a small sign that said, “Top 10 best restaurants – New York Times”. Reading further we were in for another shock. The small cramped restaurant in the middle of the mall was in a fact Michelin Star restaurant. That was our introduction to Din Tai Fung.
After waiting for what seemed like eternity (you have to queue if you want to eat here… they do not do reservations!), we were finally seated at this tiny table, just about enough for 2 persons. A well-dressed, almost robotic server brought in a small holder, to hold our bags, and covered it with an oversized table napkin. With that taken care of, we turned to the disposable menu pads. After browsing through a long list of what sounded like delectable dishes, we marked a few. Some non-vegetarian and some vegetarian for my husband. In fact, he seemed quite surprised that he found a variety of vegetarian dishes, a rarity in most authentic Asian joints.
For me, I ordered, their signature dish, the pork dumplings, a small bowl of hot and sour soup, a plate of egg fried rice and Crispy Prawns in Creamy Dressing with Plump Lychees & Juicy Peaches.
My husband went slightly crazy, and ended up ordering pretty much all the signature vegetarian dishes. “I am in vegetarian Disney Land right now,” he mused, when I wearily looked at his selections. “I promise I won’t eat for the next whole week!” His order looked something like this: Lemon Grass Juice, Cucumber Salad for appetizer, Stir Fried Spinach, Vegetable Dumplings, Yam Buns, Peanut Buns, Steamed Chinese Style Layered Cake, and Mango pudding to finish off the meal.
Over the last couple of years, I have frequented this place at least couple of times a month. I have pretty much tried their entire selection and here is a list of must tries, the next time you visit!
Lemon Grass Juice: I always thought lemon grass was an add-on. You add it to something for flavor. Never really thought lemon grass juice could taste that delicious. It has a light savoury taste that compliments the food, and has a refreshing taste that takes away any tiredness you might feel thanks to the hot humid weather.
Appetizers and Snacks:
Cucumber Salad: This cold salad is a simple cut cucumber with finely chopped peanuts, a cold dark sauce that tasted like a mixture of mushroom sauce in vinegar. But of course that’s what it tasted like to me. My husband thought it was just some caramelized onion sauce. The dish makes for an amazing appetizer, not to heavy.
Green Chillies with Marinated Stuffed Minced Meat: Long, not so hot, green chillies stuffed with lightly flavoured and perfectly cooked minced meat, with a fusion of sweet, sour and spice in a perfect balance. It’s a treat for those who enjoy extra bit of spice.
Steamed Chinese Style Layer Cakes: For Indian readers, this is the Chinese version of our very own Gujarathi (An Indian Community) Dhokla. But, I still would be misleading, if I say it is just that. The finely layered cakes are lightly sweet to taste and make for a perfect snack, as the sticky layers just melt in your mouth. I have observed some prefer to eat this with a curry or another main course dish. For me, the taste is savoury enough to be finished off by itself.
How they manage to make the dumplings that juicy is a mystery yet to be solved. The dumplings, steamed to perfection, with the meat finely minced and well-done, are drops of nectar in your mouth. The best way to have them is to dip the dumplings, in a mixture of grated ginger, soya sauce, chilli oil and vinegar. You can prepare this mixture to your own taste.
Just like the pork dumplings, these are by far the best vegetable dumplings I have tried. For one, it is extremely difficult to find pure veggie dumplings in most Asian cuisines. The dumplings are a sheer treat for veggies who are adventurous enough to try authentic Taiwanese food.
Egg Fried Rice
I have had this dish across restaurants, not just in different parts of Asia, but their variations across UK, Europe and India as well. But, this simple dish reaches another level at Din Tai Fung. The rice is lightly flavoured, soft and delicate. The surprising part is, you can down a plate of rice, without any supplementary curry, just as it is.
Hot and Sour Chicken Soup
While it is called a soup, the serving size is quite large. In fact a good three people can share a small bowl of this soup. It’s a perfect combination that you can have with your pork dumplings and the egg fried rice. Spicy, but not hot, the soup brings out the perfect Asian flavours with the right mix of soya sauce base.
Stir Fried Spinach
Simple dish, something that you can put together at home within minutes, yet here you find yourself ordering this dish just for its flavours. It has just the right amount of garlic to give it a fresh juicy taste and it goes well with your egg fried rice.
Crispy Prawns in Creamy Dressing with Plump Lychees & Juicy Peaches
Seafood lovers, this is a treat. I usually prefer my seafood a bit spicy. In fact I have rarely tasted seafood with fruits. But this dish just works. Crispy yet juicy prawns accompanied by actual lychees. The sweet taste of lychees and the prawn is a delight. It made me smile to think how two ingredients I would never combine, work together so perfectly. A must try dish.
Steamed Chilli Crab Dumplings: Lightly spiced shredded crab meat in dumplings… it’s a perfect way to end your main course.
By the time you reach the dessert, you are already in this deep satisfied slumber. I usually get the feeling, if they kill me now, I won’t have any regrets! Of the variety of desserts offered here, most quite tasty, my favourite remains the Mongo pudding. Freshly cut mango pieces on a layers of flavoured icy base makes for a perfect end to the amazing meal!
How much does it cost me: A meal for two at Din Tai Fung can cost anywhere between S$25 to S$70 (in Singapore), approximately costing the same across major cities, depending upon your selection.
Verdict: Din Tai Fung, with its legacy of 40 long years of serving mouth-watering Taiwanese cuisine is a must visit. It is a fascinating outcome of a man’s journey from selling cooking oil to selling dumplings to converting a small restaurant shop in Taiwan to a Michelin Star chain in 11 countries across the globe!
If at all there is any negative to mention about this place, I would say it is the long queues. Singapore has over 15 outlets spread across the island, yet getting a place here during meal times is quite painful. A standard waiting time is approximately 20 to 25 minutes. And what makes it worse, is their dumpling making section of the kitchen is a small glass cabinet, where you can see the artists at work! At such times all you can think is, how can I get my hands on those dumplings quickly? The restaurant is just that good.