Friday Food Porn: Going Down to Dumpling Town at Din Tai Fung

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

There's been lots of battling back and forth this week over my review of the new Din Tai Fung in Bellevue, with fans stepping up in support of the place and others, like me, just trying to cool the fervor a little. Does Din Tai Fung sling some fine dumplings? Yes, it does. Is it worth the hours-long waits and breathless insistence that it offers the greatest soup dumplings mankind has ever known? In my opinion, not so much.

But still, it's a beautiful place which offers a wide variety of excellent options for the itinerant dumpling fanatic. And on this chilly Friday, when waits at Din Tai Fung are probably already stretching out long, the only thing better than eating dumplings is looking at pictures of dumplings, right?

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"I ate shrimp and pork dumplings, fingernail-crimped in the fish tank full of dumpling-makers at the front of the restaurant, and they were good, packed tightly with ground pork and chunks of shrimp and shards of green onion. I ate sautéed spinach that came in a green dome set on a white plate--snapping at it with my chopsticks and smelling more than tasting the sting of the garlic from its pan. The dumplings I dipped in a bowl of black vinegar with a nose like tear gas and a powerful, sour flavor that I couldn't get enough of. With the spinach, I chewed sticks of ginger."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"And then I ate more dumplings: the xiao long bao--"juicy pork dumplings" on the menu--that are the pride and the draw at Din Tai Fung, the soup dumplings that people go crazy for and wait an hour, two, three in order to taste. I pick one up by the little twist at the top and watch it, waiting for its full belly to droop, pregnant with broth.

My dumpling hangs there, pinioned between my chopsticks, resolutely refusing to impress me with its weight, its fullness. It looks like a tiny, flat-bottomed UFO. And when I pop it in my mouth--the whole thing, all at once--it is fine. There is a squirt of broth when I bite down, a small flood of salty, meaty liquid preceding the texture of the dumpling skin, the pork."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"Din Tai Fung does good dumplings. Any place that focuses on dumplings with such savage concentration--weeks of training for the local dumpling-makers, decades of practice around the world--can't really do less. These are fresh dumplings, made by hand, often just minutes before they're whisked away to the floor, by a small army of cooks who do nothing else all day. There are problems with the trademark soup dumplings: they're not full enough and rarely hot enough, and are slapped down into the steamers with a bit too much vigor by those responsible for their finishing. They also lack the inherent sense of danger that a proper soup dumpling should have: the potential for delicious, scalding broth to come pouring out when poked, aiming unerringly for the face."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"The noodles (both fried and boiled), which no one ever really talks about, are delicious and subtly flavored, and remind me of those set down in front of starving crowds in a hundred different Chinatown restaurants whose names no one ever remembers. The service is friendly and as fast as it can be in a restaurant that's so busy it has to take tables by the gang--walking them in five and 10 at a time as if dinner were a ride in some odd corner of Disneyland. And considering the popularity of Din Tai Fung, the prices are reasonable. You can stuff yourself for $40."

For more pretty pictures of dumplings and the men who make them, check out our full Food Porn slideshow right here. To read the whole review of Din Tai Fung, all you have to do is click over here. And while you're at it, why not follow me on Twitter, too? You can find me at @Jason_Sheehan.

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