Food in BKK: Din Tai Fung

After a year’s delay caused by the May 2010 political protests and subsequent fires, Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung recently opened its first branch in Thailand at the Central World Plaza mall at the Ratchaprasong intersection.  Last week, Tawn and I made a trip there to see how well it upholds the chain’s reputation.  The results?  Overall, positive, but a little bland.


I almost didn’t write this entry because, well, how many times do I need to post pictures of food from Din Tai Fung?  I’ve been twice in Taipei and then again in Hong Kong and Singapore.  The pictures never look that different.  But I waited more than a year for this branch to open and I thought it would be a shame not to give it due consideration.


One feature of Din Tai Fung locations is that the kitchen, or at least the dumpling making portion, is very visible.  The company takes pride in how they operate and their cleanliness is a sign of quality.  Plus, the army of cooks making thousands of dumplings is impressive to watch.  Here are some photos I took, which I think looked a little more interesting in black and white.




The dining area faces large windows overlooking the Big C Supercenter across the street, letting in lots of natural light.  Another seating area is open to the rest of the mall, which leaves you feeling a bit exposed.


The logos on the spoon and napkin have the Chinese, English, Japanese, and Thai versions of the restaurant’s name.  The lady working the front counter, taking names, and coordinating orders was from the Singapore branch, leaving me curious about how they manage operations in different countries.  Is this a franchise location or is it owned directly by the original company in Taiwan?


We started with a special “Oriental Salad in Vinegar Dressing,” which is a combination of seaweed, sprouts, mung bean noodles, and thinly sliced vegetables.  While a tasty combination, it was underseasoned and benefitted greatly from a hearty splash of soy sauce.


Sliced ginger in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar, the ideal condiment into which you should dip your bao, or dumplings.


The original Xiao Long Bao, steamed pork dumplings.  Here in Bangkok, as well as in the Hong Kong location, I felt that the filling was under-seasoned.  My memory from Taipei is that the dumplings were full of flavor, but perhaps I need to go back and test that memory.


Another variation on the dumplings, this one with vegetables and pork.  The filling was more flavorful than with the original Xiao Long Bao.


Perhaps my favorite dish, the wontons with black vinegar and chilli oil.  Stuffed with shrimp, these lightly sweet dumplings are served in a sauce that is not as frighteningly spicy as you might imagine. 


A good concluding dish was the fried rice topped with pork chop.  The lack of flavor in the bao was made up for by the pork chop, which was liberally dusted in salt and pepper.


If you are thinking of ordering dessert at the Bangkok branch, be advised that nothing is yet available.  I didn’t ask why but perhaps one day they will fix whatever problem they are having.

All told, the quality continues to be high and the Din Tai Fung company can be confident that their good name will be upheld here.  I’m left with the lingering question of whether the blandness in their dumplings is something that I just didn’t notice at the original locations in Taipei and the Singapore location, too, or are the dumplings actually less flavorful here and in Hong Kong?  Further tests will have to be conducted!

Meanwhile, I am glad our wait for Din Tai Fung is over.


Making Xiao Long Bao with No Roadmap

One of the training classes around career development I’ve written for my company lays out the premise that you can’t get to where you want to go if you don’t know where you are going and how you will get there.  Having a clear destination and taking the time to plan your route are important of course, not just in career development but in cooking, too.  So it was all but certain that my desire to make Xiao Long Bao (Shanghainese soup dumplings, hereafter abbreviated as XLB) was bound to fail as I had no clear road map for getting there.

I definitely had my destination in mind!  XLB are my favorite Chinese dumpling and my favorite place to have them is at Din Tai Fung, a chain originating in Taipei.  In fact, here’s a little video about Din Tai Fung’s XLB from my November trip to Taipei with Tawn to visit Andy and Sugi.

The destination was clear, but as I started reading the recipes and learning about the technique, I realized that this was going to be a lot more effort than I was ready to expend for some weeknight dumplings.  Surely, I thought, I could just find my way through the wilderness without a map.  Couldn’t I just, you know, feel my way to the XLB?

(Yeah, you know where this story is going, don’t you?)


I started with what I did know about XLB: the filling was a mixture of minced pork, ginger, garlic, green onions, soy sauce, rice wine, and white pepper.  Easy enough.  I gathered those together.


The “secret ingredient” of these soup dumplings is that you gelatinize broth and mix the cubes of the gelatine into the filling so that the broth melts as the dumplings steam, leaving a nice pool of juicy goodness to slurp up as you eat the XLB.  So I used some broth and some gelatine and made broth jell-o.  Easy enough.

When I mixed the cubes of broth into the pork mixture, though, the kitchen was too warm and they started melting.  Before you knew it, I had no more cubes but instead had a watery filling mixture.  Oh, no!


The next step was to fill the dumpling wrappers with that perfect twisted pleat, shown above in the handiwork of the Din Tai Fung cooks.  I was using gyoza (potsticker) wrappers purchased premade at the store.  Even before I started filling them, I had a suspicion that my lack of a road map was going to lead me down a dead-end street.  Sure enough, I couldn’t get the gyoza wrappers to hold that pleated shape.


Getting hungry, I just went with a simple half-moon fold, trying to satisfy myself with being able to keep the runny filling (thanks to the no longer gelatinous broth) from leaking out.


The end result wasn’t pretty but actually tasted just fine.  Nobody in their right mind would confuse this mess of a dumpling with XLB, but for a weeknight it was good enough.  Sometimes, driving without a road map takes you somewhere other than you intended, but a place that is perfectly suitable nonetheless.


I Got My Christmas Wish!

Christmas Eve in the Big Mango.  With all the lights and Christmas carols playing, you would swear you were in a Buddhist Christian nation.  And yet, you are not.


Decorative lights adorn the pedestrian bridge crossing the Ratchaprarop – Rama I junction.  Louis Vuitton’s shop at Gaysorn plaza is in the background.

Stephanie arrived from Melbourne yesterday morning about 5:30.  Going back eleven years, Stephanie was one of the managers with whom I worked when I was based in Hong Kong opening the AMC Festival Walk 11 cinemas.  A few years later she moved to San Francisco for several months and lived with Tawn and me.  She has since moved to Australia and we see her every second year or so here, there or elsewhere in the world.

She’ll be our first guest in The Annex which means I’ll be working from my laptop instead of my office armoire.  That’s okay as the weather is nice and I’ve set up on the balcony overlooking the pool.  If it wasn’t for the construction noise from that new seven-level condo going up down the street, it would be quite peaceful.

Last night we met Tawn and headed to Central World Plaza for dinner.  While walking through the mall I spotted a large sign covering the entire storefront of what used to be a fondue restaurant.  Opening 2010: Din Tai Fung!


Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he is bringing me the best xiao long bao dumplings in the world.  Let’s hope this branch of the venerable Taipei chain will be better than some of their other foreign outlets, which are reportedly inferior to the locations in Taiwan.

I was so excited to see this that I wanted to text message Andy and Sugi immediately, which would have been about 7 am for them.  Thankfully for them I didn’t have their number on my phone.  Whew!

This evening Stephanie’s sister and brother-in-law arrive with a dozen of the in-law’s family members.  I’m not sure what the plans are for holiday dinner but we will see.  I suspect that Christmas celebrations will be minimal but we are planning something big for New Year’s Day.