Saturday, August 30, 2008

Din Tai Fung - Sydney

Chao p'ai hsiao ts'ai
Cold appetizer of tofu, and seaweed in vinegar dressing

-> Must order #1. Delectable, delightful - will make you crave for more.

Rating: 9.5/10

Suan la t'ang
Hot and sour soup

-> It's nice and thick, with all sorts of delicacies inside. Tasty!

Rating: 8/10

Hsieh fen hsiao lung pao
Steamed crab meat and pork dumpling

-> Must order #2. I usually order the normal hsiao lung pao (xiao long bao, in hanyu pinyin romanization), but this one is damn good as well. The restaurant's raison d'etre - world famous. Somehow, the ones in Jakarta or Singapore is better compared to Sydney's.

Rating: 9/10

Hsia jen jou ssu tan ch'ao fan
Prawn fried rice

-> Better than expected. very fragrant.

Rating: 8.5/10

Chi p'ai mien
Noodles in soup served with fried chicken

-> The chicken could be a little bit crispier, but the noodle is very nice. Perfect texture. The soup is simple yet delectable.

Rating: 7.5/10

Hsia jou cheng chiao
Steamed shrimp and pork dumpling

-> Delightful. The pastry is firm yet tender to the bite, and the soup inside the dumpling is simply sumptuous.

Rating: 9/10

Strawberry ice

-> Just okay. Basically it's just shaved ice + condensed milk + strawberries + strawberry ice cream + strawberry jam. That's a lot of strawberries.

Rating: 6.5/10

As you might have heard, I'm crazy about Taiwanese food lately.
...and notice that I used the Wade-Giles romanization for the food names instead of the Hanyu Pinyin? (for romanization of Chinese characters, the archaic Wade-Giles method is still used in Taiwan - although now it's mostly replaced by the new Tongyong Pinyin, while the Hanyu Pinyin method is used in China and rest of the world)

First thing I would like to praise about Sydney's Din Tai Fung is the service. It's exceptional. Smiling faces, polite gestures, and enthusiastic even though the restaurant is EXTREMELY busy - and they're all Chinese!
How weird, right?
Seriously, the staff are so well-trained and courteous - in fact - you can't find Chinese people that behave this way outside...Hong Kong Disneyland.

Everybody knows that services in Chinese restaurants, especially in China, aren't the most courteous around. But we're kind of used to it, anyway. Even in nice restaurants, the waitresses may be extremely professional, but friendly they are not. Not always, anyway.
Services in Chinese restaurants in Australia are no exception. Remember those horrible yum-cha ah-ma waitresses? Jeez louise, they're rude. Caucasians might be very irritated by this, but being Asian, I'm used to it. I'm always a bit pompous towards those rude waitresses, because my restaurant rule: if you're rude, then I'll be rude.

As always, the queue is horrendous, but don't let that deter you from dining there. The wait is usually not that long - 15 minutes maximum if you're willing to share a table (don't worry, it's quite fine - the rectangular tables are spacious). They set up a free self-service Chinese tea stand for queuing customers (aw, thoughtful!), and you can even decide what you'd like to order while you're queuing, so your food will come faster. Once in awhile, those friendly, cute waitresses will check up on you with smiling faces, offering recommendations, etc. Very nice. And did I say they're cute? heeheehee they are! Very pleasant xiao jies (young ladies), very courteous and polite. Heeheehee. *smitten*

...also, I was quite taken aback when they refer to me as xiansheng (sir). I mean, it's RARE to see a Chinese restaurant staff who would call people 'xiansheng'. Most other Chinese restaurants staff would normally just avoid calling you. They also replied 'hao' when called, or after taking order. 'hao' means 'good', but in this context, it means 'yes, certainly'. How polite!

Maybe some of you thought that I'm making too much of a big deal out of this, but it IS a big deal! Chinese waitresses are good people, really, but courtesy and politeness is just not in their blood. The thing is, some Caucasians would mistakenly attribute this apparent rudeness to having a bad nature, which is not always the case. Chinese waitresses are that. They're a bit odd. But we Chinese customers are used to them.

However, there are some exceptions when things become inexcusable, such as discourteous-ness in 5-star restaurants and hotels in upmarket areas / cities. If they're rude, their manager would get an earful from me.

All in all...I love Din Tai Fung. The Jakarta and Singapore ones are better in terms of food (compared to Sydney), though. The Jakarta and Singapore branches has twice as much menu items...and more interesting desserts...


Anonymous said...

I feel Din tai fung is overrated, though its very popular. I didnt find the dumplings THAT much better and the noodles i had was very bland. I agree the salad and the hot and sour soup was good though


Erique Fat Owl said...


LOL I completely understand what you're feeling. Depends on how you look at Asian cuisine (particularly Taiwanese cuisine), really - although I must admit that authentic Taiwanese food IS somewhat of an acquired taste, especially since they can be very different from mainstream Chinese cuisine. How extensive are you in Asian cuisine? (If you're an expert, I feel like I shouldn't be 'lecturing' you, LOL)

Well, for a start, the noodles you had WAS supposed to be bland. In a nutshell, many Taiwanese cuisine took inspiration from Japanese cuisine - where simplicity is revered above everything else. Japanese dishes such as 'tamago kake gohan' (rice mixed with raw egg and a few drops of soy sauce) and 'sanma no shioyaki' (grilled saury with salt) are considered dishes that represent the people of Japan, although preparations of these dishes are so simple even a 3-year-old can do it. The taste are, as you can imagine, simple and 'bland'.

In contrast, dishes that come from Mainland China & Hong Kong (Cantonese cuisine etc) have impossibly elaborate ingredients and preparations, with very complex, strong flavours, and thus more appealing to the Western world. But if you take a moment and ponder upon why these type of dishes are very popular in the west (kung pao chicken, sweet & sour pork, etc), you'd realize that it's because they're so different and 'exotic' from the usual food that Westerners eat.

When Westerners are faced with more 'simple' Asian dishes like the noodles in Din Tai Fung (just plain hand-pulled noodles in broth) and grilled fish with salt, there's a sense of dissapointment, because they feel like the taste is too imaginable.

Little they know that most people in Asia don't eat 'strong' dishes like Sweet & sour pork everyday. In rural heartland Asia (China, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand etc), most people enjoy 'bland' food. This has to do with their philosophy of modesty. That's why 'simple' dishes in Din Tai Fung are so popular in the West, especially among Asian expats, because it IS the real flavour of their homes.

"Less is more", that's what it is.

However, what they lack in flavor are often compensated by the intricacy of cooking technique. I find that noodles in Din Tai Fung to be exquisite - the texture is near-prefect and you won't feel nauseous even though you eat lots of them. This is important - because good hand-pulled noodles (la mian) has to be prepared in a certain way so that it doesn't expand so much when cooked / soaked in hot broth for too long.

As for the dumplings, I do agree that most of their dumplings are not THAT better than the others, but their particular "xiao long bao" is IMHO the most exquisite in Sydney (I can't say for Taiwan or other countries, though). Each dumpling is exquisitely crafted and their standards are amazing - their taste is exactly the same no matter where you're having their dumplings - New York, Sydney, Singapore, or Jakarta. The temperature is just perfect, and they pay lots of attention in selecting the correct type of condiments and ginger slices to complement the dish.

In the end, it's all about personal taste, but I think someone has to set a standard. It's like wine - nobody can ever say which wine is considered the BEST wine, but there ARE standards - just like Chateau Lafite is considered the gold standard in Wine, I think DTF's Xiao Long Bao is the gold standard in Xiao Long Baos. LOL