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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dumpling Heaven

As I predicted, our culinary adventure in the San Gabriel valley did not disappoint. My brother, hubby and I had lunch at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in Arcadia. As the name implies, they serve dumplings. Not any ordinary dumplings but the BESTEST dumplings I’ve ever tasted – EVER!

The restaurant is fairly small and located along a strip mall. You could miss the place if you were driving by, if not for the horde of people waiting outside. The place is quite clean and the staff by the front door is surprisingly courteous. The wait is long but you can pass the time walking around the small shops next to it (there is a J&J Bakery right across that has really good pork sung buns – although not wanting to spoil our appetites we got them to go). We also stood in the restaurant’s tiny waiting area and watched 7 or 8 workers expertly making the dumplings through a glass plated window. The men expertly kneaded the doughy wrapper, stuffed the dough with different meat mixtures, and twisted them shut before shaking them in flour and steaming them. We waited almost 40 minutes for a table and heard from others that we were lucky we got in so quickly. I’ve heard some people had to wait up to an hour and a half to get in.

We ordered 3 varieties of dumplings: pork, pork and vegetable, pork and shrimp and an order of fried rice. While waiting you can work on your dipping sauce – ginger strips, black vinegar and soy sauce (mine had some chili sauce too). The dumplings arrive soon after. There are 10 pieces in each order. Each one is a little larger than the size of a quarter (or one peso coin in Manila). The way to eat it is to start with biting a small part of the chewy dough. You will find inside the dumpling is a little bit of broth (I’m not sure how they keep them in the dumpling and why it does not spill out). But it’s a surprise to get the hot broth with the first bite. You then drain the hot broth (believe me it’s very HOT!) and then pour a bit of your sauce into the dumpling and enjoy the rest of it (meat filling and dough). I guess another way to eat it is to pop the whole thing in your mouth and chew everything at the same time. Nothing wrong with that. But like eating an Oreo cookie, there is a art to it – you start with taking the two pieces of chocolate cookies apart and licking the icing center before eating the cookie covers. In the case ofthese dumplings, the way to enjoy them is the biting the wrapper / draining the soup / pouring the sauce / eating the rest of the dumpling method. Trust me, I’m not making it up - it says so in their menus.

At first I thought 30 dumplings would be too much for 3 people. But we were hungry and they were so good that when we were down to our last 5 pieces, we unanimously decided we just had to get one more order. Come to think of it, the small order of fried rice was good too (the rice was fluffy, very flavorful and had lots of large shrimp and vegetables). But really, the day was all about the dumplings.

Any time you find yourself in the Arcadia area. You absolutely need to try this place. It is worth the wait and the drive.

(p.s. I wanted to post a picture of the dumplings but could not. If you are curious - click here and it'll take you to the CitySearch site and they have a picture there).


marc said...

Wow! Your descriptive words make me feel that I was eating at the restaurant enjoying the food! It must also be so delicious to have a wait like that. You should write a food critique book and it'll make people want to go to all the places you've been to.

jol said...

We also had this kind of dumpling a couple of times when we were at Shanghai. I think it is called "shao long pao". It really is so delicious.

jml said...

I always have fond memories of the word dumplings bec. when you and your brothers and sisters were very young, you were all so plump and chubby cheeked you were all my little dumplings. I will always remember those wonderful days of your youth whenever dumplings come to view.