I'm not talking about Din Tai Fung in Arcadia, near Los Angeles. But Din Tai Fung in Taipei, where this mother of all dumpling houses originated.
It's still like that in Taipei. The branch I went to had a line out the door, a mad clamor inside, servers whisking stacks of bamboo steamers back and forth. Crowded tables. A steaming hubbub of food.
I wasn't in the original restaurant but in the second Din Tai Fung. This didn't make any difference, because food for all the outlets in Taipei comes from a central kitchen, I'm told.
These soup dumplings spurted into my teacup in Arcadia, but seemed less loaded with soup here. Perhaps I was just eating them more efficiently.
How does soup get into a dumpling? Stock so rich that it congeals into aspic is the secret. A spoonful of that goes into the wrapper along with meat. As the dumpling steams, the aspic melts.
Our xiao long bao were filled with pork. There's another, French-inspired version that adds truffle to the pork. The plain pork dumplings are about $6.35 for 10. The truffle xiao long bao are $15 for 5, or $3 each.
Xiao long bao are not fluted. They are round, carefully pleated to the top and steamed upright.
The pork was so finely ground that I didn't notice it. Perhaps it only served as seasoning for the rice. The shape was different too, pinched at the waist and ruffled at the top.
We ate cold dishes such as shredded dry bean curd with seaweed, bean sprouts, glass noodles, sesame oil and chile oil; bean curd with fat fresh green beans and deliciously spongy, sweet cubes of bean curd that were red, almost like meat.
Fried rice appeared too. Then the waitress brought a bowl of beef noodle soup. As quickly as she set it down, she took it away. A mistake, I thought. The soup was meant for another table. But before long it reappeared, divided into little bowls for each person.
Din Tai Fung's soup wasn't so exotic. It could have passed for American beef stew. The noodles resembled spaghetti.
Our last dish was the restaurant's most famous dessert, dumplings stuffed with sweetened red bean paste, small, simple and all we could eat after such a fast-paced, filling feast.
Din Tai Fung, Zhong Xiao E. Rd. Sec. 4 No. 218, Taipei, Taiwan. Tel: 886-2-2721-7890.
The North American branch is at 1108 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, CA 91007. Tel: (626) 574-7068.