Years ago I saw an episode of No Reservations in which Bourdain visited Shanghai, and indulged in their famous xiaolongbao (soup dumplings). His description, and the whole visual experience left my mouth watering. Thanks to Amelia, who left a comment with a youtube to that particular episode, you can watch the whole thing here. I searched for the recipes online and in cookbooks, but it quickly became clear that to make those dumplings you need to be born in China, and raised by a mom who grew up watching her own mom and Grandma making them in their home kitchen. For all the intervening years I’d hoped to find them in a Chinese restaurant somewhere, but I never did. My frustration ended yesterday, on the last day of April, when the Tan family invited us to join them for lunch at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in Arcadia, a neighborhood 30 miles east of UCLA.
The place has a well-deserved reputation for THE best soup dumplings outside of Taipei, and you need not take my Brazilian-American word for it, (even though I am a lover of the Chinese culture). Our friend’s grandfather knew and worked with the founder of the first Din Tai Fung (in Taipei). Her family is part of the fascinating history of the place, which you can read about here. The Tans have tried countless soup dumplings in the US and Asia, and agree that apart from Taipei’s original spot, the Arcadia location is the winner.
(image from Wikipedia)
So, what makes Shanghai dumplings special? Well, for one thing, they are not called soup dumplings because you serve them floating in a bowl of soup. The soup is actually the filling! The skin surrounding the dumpling is so thin that it seems physically impossible for it to hold anything, especially a liquid! But that’s exactly what’s inside: a rich chicken stock that warms your body and soul the instant you bite into the dumpling. As you savor the delicate shell of dough only one thought occupies your mind: how many of these babies can I eat without being rude? ;-) Everyone in Din Tai Fung suffers from this same dilemma, and the solution is simple: keep ordering them. At some point you might be willing to smile at the person across the table and say, “no, thanks, you take the last one… really!”
So, if you find yourself in Los Angeles, stop by Din Tai Fung (before 11:30am, or the waiting list will scare you) and be ready for a meal you won’t forget! For directions, click here.
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