My shame was very great indeed. Din Tai Fung, the world famous emporium of soup dumplings, had opened up at the Americana Mall literally ten minutes from where we live in Atwater Village. I’d seen the sign go up when I was Christmas shopping, and–a few weeks later–I saw life through the windows. But any time I’d plead, “Soup dumplings? Din Tai Fung?” to Craig, there’d be some reason we couldn’t go. I was getting restless. I had to try it. So, right before Sundance, when Craig was still picking out his premiere outfit, I agreed to help him find a pair of shoes at the Americana if he’d agree to eat lunch with me at Din Tai Fung. A deal was struck. Soup dumplings would be mine.
The first thing that you see when you walk into Din Tai Fung is just the thing you want to see when you walk into Din Tai Fung: cooks in the kitchen rolling out soup dumpling wrappers by hand.
To say that this got me excited about lunch would be a profound understatement; I basically catapulted myself off the hostess stand and to my seat at the table.
To temper my enthusiasm, I thought it might be best to order something else to start. “Pork bun?” I asked Craig. “Sure,” he assented.
They came two to a steamer basket and I very eagerly bit into mine. What was I expecting? Well, maybe something like the amazingly flavorful ones I ate at Sea Harbour? These were a big disappointment: a chewy ball of dough with a little pork patty inside. That’s it. By itself, it was almost too sad to eat; but dipped into a combination of vinegar, soy sauce and chili oil, I managed to enjoy it more. But was this a sign that the soup dumplings wouldn’t be all they were cracked up to be?
Things perked up with the arrival of dry sautéed string beans:
These were very clean-tasting and fresh, not overwhelmed with a sauce or over-smothered in oil. I found myself snacking on them, one by one, as the clock ticked slowly along and the world waited, with bated breath, for the soup dumplings to hit our table. First came the potstickers:
The presentation was rather fascinating: as you can see, they potstickers were all connected at the top with a flat sheet of dough. You had to break them apart, which gave you more surface area to crunch through. The filling was made with shrimp and pork and, as far as potstickers go, these were pretty unbeatable.
But who cares about potstickers? I want soup dumplings, dammit! At last, they arrived at our table:
Look at those gorgeous little miracles, filled–mysteriously, magically–with bursts of warm soup. I say warm because in New York, when I first experienced soup dumplings (and you first met Craig), I scorched my mouth on over-heated liquid. The ones at Din Tai Fung are cooked in such a way that you can immediately pop one into your mouth and do no harm to yourself.
What makes these so stunning is the care that goes into producing them. Notice the beautiful way the dough is twisted, how it’s not too thin and not too thick. Flavor-wise, it’s all very straightforward–you taste the dough, you taste the broth, you taste the soy sauce and vinegar that you dip the dumpling into. But what makes it a special experience, and one that I soon want to have again, is the texture. The difference between these soup dumplings and your every day soup dumplings is the difference between factory-made spaghetti and pasta hand-rolled by an Italian grandmother. These are soup dumplings made with love; and only ten minutes away, you can be sure I’ll be experiencing that love over and over again.