Besides the cute public art at the Taoyuan airport, nothing says “Welcome to Taiwan” better than a first meal at the flagship Ding Tai Fung, on Yongkang street.
After freshly picking up my friend in the wee hours, 6am(!), making it back to Taipei, dropping off luggages and a quick rest, the timing was just perfect to hit Ding Tai Fung at opening time, and conveniently avoid their infamous crowd. It had been a while since my last time there, so it was nice to check back in.
Be it food or service, I don’t recall any bad experience at Din Tai Fung, and on this visit, I was particularly blown away by their service, so smooth, very helpful, efficient, all smile, and cordial. As we sat down, someone came by to help us put our personal belongings away, when I started ordering, the waitress suggested that I get half a serving of the shrimp shumai to leave some appetite for other dishes, and indicated that the (pricey) truffle xiaolongbao could be purchased individually, but I was in to treat my guest so I sticked with the full serving . During our meal, our tea was regularly refilled without asking for it, empty plates were promptly cleared off the table while new ones appeared. When our fried rice arrived, seeing that our table had no space left and that we were busy eating, the waitress proposed to serve the rice for us, she left and then quickly came back with filled individual bowls, ready for us to dig in. And to enjoy the truffle xiaolongbao in all its integrity, a separate set of bowls, spoons and chopsticks were also brought out.
Wondering if the flagship store’s amazing service was an exception, a couple of weeks later, I went back, but this time, at the Kaohsiung branch. Opened barely over a year ago, I still had not gone yet, so this was a good reason to go inaugurate .
Located in the basement of the Hanshin department store, a crowd was already formed when I arrived, on this late Saturday morning. I was handed a number and a menu sheet, and moved to the take-away counter to decide what to eat. But actually, I was already aiming for their week-end special, the mini pork xialongbao and soup, #65, but couldn’t find it on the sheet. I guess I was noticeably eyeing this item on the bigger illustrated menu with such an intensity that a waitress came over to let me know the special only ran from 10:30am to 11:30am, an important detail I had overlooked. Oh well, I won’t complain about “having to” go back for that.
Service at the Kaohsiung branch was pretty much on par with what I experienced a few weeks earlier, maybe less attentive this time due to the crowd, so considering how busy it was, I admired how the waiters and waitresses managed to keep it all together, always very cordial and with a smile. Of course, the back of the house must also be doing a grand job to output so many dishes in a timely manner.
The food at both locations was an overall hit, consistently tasty and well executed. The truffle xiaolongbao was good, juicy like its pork counterpart, but at 450NT for 5 (90NT/piece), your wallet better be prepared. Although, compared to the price at the Din Tai Fung stores in america, where it is 1.5 times more expensive, the Taipei deal is definitely a steal. A revelation on my Kaohsiung visit, was the red chili oil wonton 紅油炒手, a popular dish sold at noodle food stalls. Up until then, I had only eaten one memorable version of it, but will now make it two with the rendition from Din Tai Fung. I couldn’t tell what was in their red chili oil, but it definitely made the dish tastier. The cute dessert xiaolongbao are also always a good way to end the meal, I can never resist ordering a serving of those .
Does Din Tai Fung serve the best xialongbao? I won’t answer with a categoric yes or no, but for sure, they are among the contenders. Overall, what really wins it for me, is their consistency at making good food and equally providing great service, they are solid, not just at their flagship store, but throughout their branches. In the restaurant or any service industry, expanding one’s operation while maintaining consistent quality and service is no easy feat, and Din Tai Fung pulls it off marvelously well. In my opinion, they have set a standard to reckon with.