Before 2018 started, I made a prediction that Taiwanese cuisine would be next big thing in the Philippine restaurant scene. It’s been seven months, so it’s probably safe to say that I was wrong. Despite more people spending their holidays in Taiwan, Taiwanese food hasn’t really taken off as much as I had predicted.
Nevertheless, a few Taiwanese restaurants gained traction this year, and Tien Ma’s is one of them. The restaurant itself isn’t new, but the original owner recently sold it to the people behind Figaro.
Even before the big change in ownership, though, Tien Ma’s already had a rich history of offering authentic Taiwanese dishes. Tien Ma’s was named after Tien Liyuan, a Taiwanese native who sold Xiao Long Bao in the night markets of Taipei. After retiring, she shared her secret recipe with the people who set up Tien Ma’s restaurant.
That’s why it comes as no surprise that Xiao Long Bao is Tien Ma’s specialty. The restaurant serves four variants: the Original Xiao Long Bao, the Cheese Xiao Long Bao, the Black Mushroom w/ Truffle Oil Xiao Long Bao, and the Fried Xiao Long Bao. Each order comes with 8 pieces.
If you haven’t tried any of the variants, I suggest you get the Assorted Xiao Long Bao to test which one would appeal to you best. I prefer the Original Xiao Long Bao, because of the sweet and savory broth. While each piece only had a small amount of meat, the soup was more than enough to make up for what it lacked. The dumpling skin, which is the hallmark of a well-made soup dumpling, was firm enough to hold the soup. I wouldn’t say it ranks close to Paradise Dynasty’s or Din Tai Fung’s versions, but it’s a passable version, especially for its price.
Personally, I wasn’t a fan of Tien Ma’s Fried Xiao Long Bao because it had thick, flavorless dumpling skin. I’m a huge fan of Suzhou Dimsum, so I don’t really mind thick skin for Xiao Long Bao, but Tien Ma’s version of Fried Xiao Long Bao was doughy and flavorless.
Aside from Xiao Long Bao, Tien Ma’s also offers several other types of dim sum. I tried the Hakao, which could be prepared better because the crystal skin didn’t hold the pieces of shrimp well enough. The Pan-Fried Pork and Shrimp Dumplings were also dry, unappetizing and were the only things that were left unfinished on our table.
One of the problems I often have with Xiao Long Bao restaurants–and I can say this about Lugang Cafe, Crystal Jade, and Din Tai Fung–is that the meal always tends to go downhill after I’m done with the dim sum.
The case is almost the same when it comes to Tien Ma’s. During my first visit, I ordered Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup. I expected the broth to be completely infused with the flavor of braised beef, but it couldn’t be farther from what I had expected. The soup didn’t feel like it was given enough time to simmer and develop the richness it needed. The noodles showed the same lack of enthusiasm. They were soft, boring, and lacked the springiness and chewiness you’d expect from well-made noodles.
For my next visits, I tried to order a few of the mains. My favorite was the Three Cup Chicken: tender cuts of chicken thighs coated in a perfectly blended salty and savory sauce. This traditional Taiwanese dish is named as such because it’s made with equal parts of soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine. Unfortunately, though, while the dish was delightful and well-balanced the first time I tried it, I couldn’t say the same when I ordered it again on a different occasion. The Three Cup Chicken from our most recent visit was dry, bland, and quite honestly, pretty disappointing.
The other mains were also ho-hum: the Salted Egg prawns were coated with a sauce that had a pasty and unappetizing consistency, while the Mapo Tofu had too much tofu and too little sauce. It also didn’t have the “Mala” flavor I was looking for. Thankfully, the weak mains were saved by the full-flavored Taiwanese fried rice.
After visiting Tien Ma’s three times, I finally saw a common theme: most of the dishes would be weak, but there would be one dish that would prevent the visit from being a complete letdown. Everything was too cluttered, too inconsistent–which makes me think that Tien Ma’s would likely benefit from revamping its menu. An abridged version that contains its strongest dishes would likely lead customers to become more satisfied with what the restaurant offers. I’m often anxious about eating at restaurants with extensive menus, and Tien Ma’s shows me why. When you try to offer everything, you end up serving mediocre versions of a lot of things. Play to your strengths, and let them shine.
168 N.S Amoranto Cr. D. Tuazon Quezon, Banawe, Quezon City