What A Local Orders At Ding Tai Fung
簡繁體中文、日本語、한국어 versions coming soon!
Read the abridged English version here.
Ding Tai Fung (DTF), a once oil retailer that turned into a Michellin star restaurant, enjoys worldwide reputation of “ good food + excellent service” and is expanding its branches to Japan, the US, the UK and all around the world. If you pass by DTF’s founding store, be it 2 in the afternoon or long after usual Asian dinner time, you’ll always find it packed with tourists who would wait 90 minutes (believe it or not, they have an APP and a timer on their wall to tell you how many more lifetimes you’ll have to wait) just for a good meal.
Now I’ve got you curious. Is DTF a “tourist restaurant”? Is it worth the time and money? If you ask the locals, you’ll probably get a 50–50 asnwer. Half of us would tell you that you can get any item on their menu in just any other Taiwanese restaurant or night market, there’s nothing so special about DTF and you’re just paying extra for the service and brand. The other half, the die hard DTF fans like me, would tell you that DTF haters deserves NO HUMAN RIGHTS for their taste. Yes, you can find similar food in any other Taiwanese restaurant and yes it is SLIGHTLY pricier than average BUT you get what you pay for. Surely you can get a 20USD shirt in Uniqlo and it would serve the same as an 200USD one you get at Burberry, but would they be identical? Plus, the price gap between DTF and is not even that big. (I promise I’m not commissioned or affiliated to write this article. It’s out of pure love!)
DTF is just good, GOOD good. *Italian chef kiss* I’ve had multiple experiences venturing outside my usual order when I visit my favorite restaurants and regretted my choice. This doesn’t happen at DTF. Everything on their menu is worth a try, and they NEVER fail you. Which is why when my family and I pay our monthly (sometimes even weekly) visit to DTF, I always feel the urge to give tourists sitting next to us tips on ordering. Surely DTF is renowned for their dumplings and there’s nothing wrong with going on a full dumpling spree but DTF has so much more to offer. So below are my personal recommendations and gems I usually order. If you give it a try, it might in return give you a whole new, mind-blowing insight on just how good Taiwanese food is *Ita- eh no, Taiwanese chef kiss*:
Bamboo Salad (Summer Only)
For appetizers, my one true love is their bamboo salad. Bamboo shoots (baby bamboos) are vegetables commonly seen on Taiwanese menu and cold bamboo salad is one of the most typical summer dish.
This dish is simple, just some chopped bamboo shoots with Taiwanese sweet mayonaise. But we all know simple things are the hardest to master. Bamboo shoots are tricky. They’re easy to spot in bamboo forests but if you pick them too early or too late, they’ll either be too bitter or rough and tasteless. This dish from DTF raise your standard for bamboo shoots — you’ll know they’re picked at the perfect timing and they’ll ruin bamboos for you forever. The texture is exquisitely crispy yet chewy and the natural flavour waltzes on your tongue each time you chew. If you’ve ever had raw asparagus that’s extremely fresh, you’ll probably be able to imagine just how refreshing this bamboo salad will be on a humid Taiwanese summer day.
Green Squash & Shrimp Xiaolongbao (Taiwan Exclusive)
Xiaolongboas, literally “soup dumplings in small steamers” in Mandarin, are no doubt DTF’s most famous dish. Each cook in DTF has to go through rigorous apprenticeship before they can pour their craftsmanship into the 15 folds on each dumpling (yes, each DTF xiaolongbao has exactly 15 folds). DTF xiaolongbao is the definition of the word delicacy. Now that DTF is expanding their international branches, foodies around the world can also have a taste of these renowned dumplings — except for one Taiwan exclusive flavor.
Green squash is an Asian-native vegetable that tastes somewhat like a mixture of melons and cucumbers. The juice green squash releases when heated adds a refreshing flavor to the xiaolongbao, which not only complements the richness of the shrimp but also reduces the greasiness of the broth. In this dish, DTF insists on using only Taiwanese green squash (at least they claim so) for its quality and juiciness; therefore this particular flavor of xiaolongbao can only be found in their Taiwanese branches.
Shrimp & Pork Pot Stickers
Pot stickers are basically flat fried dumplings and are theoretically similar to Japanese gyoza. One of the criterias Japanese foodies use to judge whether a gyoza tastes good is the crispness of the tsuki (羽根). I never really understood Japan’s obsession with those excessive dry, feathered skin that sticks on the dumplings…. until I tried DTF’s shrimp and pork pot stickers. This dish offers perfect tsuki, chewy dumpling skin, exquisitely balanced combination of fresh shrimp and pork stuffing and is topped off by its burning-hot juice that will surely leave your tongue swollen yet satisfied.
If all of above still doesn’t convince you how good this dish is: My American niece (who usually refuses whatever food sent to the front of her nose) shoves down 2 whole dishes of these (that’s 12 of them!) every time she visits Taiwan.
Stir-fried Pea Shoots
Again, stir-fried pea shoots is an extremely common- household even- dish that can be found literally ANYWHERE in Taiwan. Pea shoot, literally “hollow-chested vegetable” in Mandarin, is native to Taiwan and southern China. Legend has it that the hollow-chested vegetable grew from the body of a loyal minister whose heart got disemboweled by the tyrant emperor he was assisting. No one knows if the legend is true but this hollow feature surely gives the vegetable a crispy and refreshing texture and has enchanted thousands of Japanese and Korean tourists into listing it as a must-have Taiwanese food.
Pork Chop / Vegetable and Mushroom Fried Rice With Egg
DTF’s fried rice is no doubt the dish that I yearned most during my study-abroad year — I asked for it the moment my family picked me up at the airport.
Their pork chop fried rice has always been my all-time favourite. Fried pork chops are commonly seen in Taiwanese bentos: It’s similar to Bavarian schnitzels, but without the excessive flour coating, which cuts down, even if just a little, the calories (so you get to eat more!). DTF’s pork chop is everything you could ever ask for: it’s crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside and the on-point pepper seasoning complements the fried rice perfectly.
Recently, when I’m feeling a bit self-conscious with not having enough greens in my diet, I order their veggie and mushroom fried rice, which is also VERY good and balances the meaty meal.
House Special Spicy Shrimp and Pork Wontons
Now This is my private recipe: DTF’s fried rice and spicy wonton are star-crossed soul mates who have a secret love affair that only true gourmets know about. What you do with the lovebirds is simple: stir the wontons until they’re coated with abundant spicy red oil, reunite the wontons and the fried rice in your bowl, and most importantly before you eat — stir the rice so every single grain is dyed with a crimson blush. The spicy oil (it doesn’t taste as spicy as the redness suggests, don’t be intimidated!) brings out the aroma of the egg and rice in the fried rice and upgrades DTF’s fried rice from a good dish to something you will never be able to forget even if you try.
Whenever my friends tell me they’re eating at DTF, I make them swear they’re gonna order this combo. They always come back gratefully. I’m sure you will as well.
Hot and Sour Soup (2 flavours: Original & Spicy)
In Taiwan, instead of having soups as appetizers that opens a feast, we complete a good meal with burning-hot soups.
Again, it’s a common dish in Taiwan and Southern China but there’s just something special in DTF’s recipe that makes their hot and sour soup irreplaceable. The sliced tofu, carrot and chewy fungus adds multiple kinds of texture to the dark and slightly sour soup and balances the peppered flavour. You might also want to try the spicy flavour to complete your real “hot and spicy” adventure. Trust me, you’ll want a refill once you finish your bowl.
As mentioned in the beginning, DTF is a gourmet restaurant that never disappoints. The above list is just my personal recommendation for those who are feeling a bit lost in the sea of the dishes DTF offers. All items listed on their menu are there because they deserve to, so don’t stop yourself from venturing and ordering things that aren’t mentioned above — the pride of Taiwan will never fail you. *Taiwanese chef kiss*