October 4, 2010

Knocking out the champ

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I made a long-overdue return to Din Tai Feng (鼎泰豐) with the parental units today.  The original establishment, the place against which all other branches are measured.  It has long been said that the xiaolongbaos (小籠包) here reigned supreme over all other branches, even the ones elsewhere in Taipei.  As of today, I no longer hold this opinion.

As with any visit to DTF, we stuck to ordering the dumplings - mostly XLBs in particular - since it is what they do best... and also because these are the items which are difficult for the rest of us to make at home.

We started with the angled loofah and prawn xiaolongbao (絲瓜蝦仁小籠包).  Very, very yummy.  The loofah grown in Taiwan are so delicious...and summer is the peak season for this vegetable.  The diced bits are soooo full of the distinct flavors which exploded in my mouth.  I'm glad we ordered to baskets of these...

The steamed vegetable and mushroom dumplings (香菇蒸素餃) were OK, although mom never thought these were anything special...

The crab roe xiaolongbao (蟹粉小籠包) was where the trouble started.  I bit into the first one, and was completely underwhelmed.  Yes, I could taste the crab roe, but it was too mild.  I bite into a second dumpling, and once again tasted the crab oil but it wasn't fragrant enough.  Finally I decided to tear a hole in a third dumpling and take a look inside.  Sure enough, there wasn't a lot of roe to be found.  A quick review of the picture I took from my visit to the Causeway Bay branch of DTF in Hong Kong showed plenty of orange crab roe stuffed inside their crab roe XLB...  Mom also believes that the quality of crab roe which could be sourced in Hong Kong would, as a matter of course, be higher than what is obtainable in Taiwan - which would account for the lack of fragrance today.

Things didn't look up with the arrival of the black truffle xiaolongbao (黑松露小籠包).  The fragrance of black truffles was definitely there, but again there was none of the explosion I expected in my mouth.  I took a second dumpling and once again tore open a hole to peek inside.  What I found were shavings of truffles, as opposed to the fungus being finely diced in Hong Kong.  There was also the real possibility that the truffles used in Hong Kong were of higher quality.  After all Hong Kong charges a significant premium over Taipei for the same item.

So I couldn't help but come to the shocking conclusion that, for those of us who live in Hong Kong and are willing to pay the premium, there is absolutely no need to make the pilgrimage to DTF in Taipei.  I don't think that the execution in Taipei has suffered - the quality of the skin was still top-notch - but it's simply a matter of the quality of ingredients. Hong Kong is able to source better materials for the fillings, and the results speak for themselves.

Taipei has just been dealt a knock-out punch by Hong Kong.

1 comment:

susan said...

Wow, Peter, the DTF in TST didn't have all these different XLB when I reviewed it! Okay, add the CWB one to the list of must-reviews.
When are you free to go to Tim's Kitchen?


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