Food Reviews Taiwanese Food

World-Famous Xiao Long Bao Hits the Philippines with Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung Philippines - SM Mega Fashion Hall

DIN TAI FUNG’S OPENING WAS ONE OF THE MOST-AWAITED FOODIE EVENTS OF 2015. I’m sure most of us remember the Xiao Long Bao craze of 2011, when Crystal Jade, Shi Lin, and Lugang Cafe graced our shores. Many of us wondered when Din Tai Fung would finally open in the Philippines and satiate our craving for what is popularly dubbed as the “world’s greatest dumplings.” (Forbes) In December 8, 2015, it finally happened.

Din Tai Fung's Pork Xiao Long Bao
Din Tai Fung’s Pork Xiao Long Bao

Din Tai Fung started as a cooking oil retail business from Taiwan that reopened as a steamed dumpling and noodle restaurant in the 1970s. Over the years, the restaurant focused on improving its food and service, finally allowing it to earn recognition from The New York Times in 1993. Aside from this, its Hong Kong branch received a Michelin Star back in 2010, a first for a restaurant originally from Taiwan.

Din Tai Fung Philippines - SM Mega Fashion Hall
Din Tai Fung Philippines – SM Mega Fashion Hall

The Moment Group is the company responsible for bringing Din Tai Fung to the Philippines. Other brands from The Moment Group are Manam, 8Cuts Burger Blends, and Cue Modern Barbecue.

If you’re planning to queue up in order to eat at their Philippine branch, I suggest you find a way to do it during a weekday or during off-peak hours. They give you a number which they’ll flash on a TV screen once your table is ready. While waiting, you can sit on the red stools they’ve prepared in front of the restaurant, or you can watch the chefs prepare dumplings in the open kitchen. They’ll also hand you a copy of the menu and an order form, so you can start thinking of the dishes you want to eat. The restaurant can comfortably seat 160+ diners.

Pork Xiao Long Bao on a Chinese Soup Spoon
Pork Xiao Long Bao on a Chinese Soup Spoon

Expect bamboo steamers of Xiao Long Bao to arrive a few minutes after you’re seated. Din Tai Fung’s Philippine branch offers a few varieties of the popular dumpling: Classic Pork (P160/5pcs.), Crab Roe and Pork (P285/5pc.), Green Squash and Shrimp (P160/5pc.), Chicken, (P160/5pcs.),  and Truffle and Pork Xiao Long Bao (P135/per piece). More varieties will be available soon, so check Din Tai Fung’s social media accounts regularly.

To start off your meal, try the standard Pork Xiao Long Bao. While Din Tai Fung’s version isn’t bursting with flavor, it’s filled with a hefty amount of well-seasoned minced pork, which goes flawlessly well with a mix of the house’s soy sauce, ginger, and vinegar. The dumpling skin is firm enough to hold in about a teaspoon of broth, which is rich and delightful.

Don’t worry about picking up the dumplings–they pad their bamboo steamers with cloth, making sure that the dumplings won’t stick to the steamer.

Din Tai Fung's Crab Roe and Pork Xiao Long Bao
Din Tai Fung’s Crab Roe and Pork Xiao Long Bao

Once you’ve tasted the standard Pork Xiao Long Bao, it’s time to try the Crab Roe and Pork variant. This has a much sweeter and more complex flavor than the regular Pork Xiao Long Bao, making it an instant favorite. Between the two, I’d say the Crab Roe and Pork is a much better choice, though you really have to try both if you’re a first-timer. Remember to eat the Crab Roe XLB with a clean spoon–one that doesn’t have the lingering flavor of the broth and the vinegar from your Pork Xiao Long Bao.

Din Tai Fung's Pork and Truffle Xiao Long Bao
Din Tai Fung’s Pork and Truffle Xiao Long Bao

While both the Pork Xiao Long Bao and the Crab Roe and Pork Xiao Long Bao are good, nothing really compares to the intense and exquisite flavor of the Truffle and Pork Xiao Long Bao. Before you taste this one, make sure that your spoon is clean (you can ask for a new one, if necessary). Your server will also advise you to drink water first to cleanse your palate. Remember not to dip this in your soy-vinegar sauce so you can fully enjoy its rich taste. When you’re ready, take a deep breath, gently pick up a piece, take a bite–and just… stay quiet. For a few minutes, if necessary.

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Din Tai Fung’s Pork and Truffle Xiao Long Bao – Closeup

Take as much time as you can while eating this and enjoying its distinct, earthy flavor. If you’re already used to the taste of black truffle, you might not enjoy this as much, but if you’re still new to the experience, try to savor every bite of this delicate, wonderful thing. Foie Gras Xiao Long Bao will also be available soon.

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Once you’re finished exploring the world of Xiao Long Bao, it’s time to try Din Tai Fung’s other offerings. For a change, I tried the Shrimp and Pork Pot Stickers (P220/6pcs.). The shrimp tastes clean and fresh, complemented by the meaty flavor of the pork. The dumpling skin also offers a good bite.

Din Tai Fung's Braised Beef Noodle Soup
Din Tai Fung’s Braised Beef Noodle Soup
Noodles with House Special Spicy Sauce
Noodles with House Special Spicy Sauce

Since Din Tai Fung is a dumpling and noodle house, I decided to go for noodle dishes for my mains instead of trying the appetizing viands. While this seemed like the logical thing to do at the time, I felt both the Braised Beef Noodle Soup (P295) and the Noodles with House Special Spicy Sauce (P120) needed to be more flavorful. Perhaps my palate still hasn’t adjusted too well to the weak seasoning used in both dishes.

Next time, I’ll go for their Salted Egg Yolk Prawns (P375) instead.  I might still give their Dan Dan Noodles with Spicy Sesame and Peanut Sauce (P135) a try, though.

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Overall, it was a delightful visit. Make sure to try as many dishes as you can if this is your first time eating at Din Tai Fung. Don’t worry about the steep price of the Truffle and Pork Xiao Long Bao–each piece will be worth every single peso. As for the rest of the items, try whatever you feel you’ll enjoy.

Din Tai Fung is located at Ground Floor Mega Fashion Hall, SM Megamall Mandaluyong City.

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