Tuesday 8 May 2012

Din Tai Fung, Singapore

As revealed in my previous post, many local Singaporean gourmands will tell you that Paradise Dynasty (see here) serve the best dumplings in town, whilst others hail Din Tai Fung as the city's best dim summery (not an official term) - Anthony Bourdain also claimed they serve the “world’s best dumplings”

Originating in Taiwan, Din Tai Fung has gone on to open outlets throughout Asia (including a dozen or so in Singapore) as well as branches in Australia and the United States. The New York Times once listing Din Tai Fung as one of the world’s top 10 restaurants and in 2010, two of its Hong King sites were awarded Michelin stars.

Like those at Paradise Dynasty every one of the delectably delicious dumplings are handmade on the premises by a team of dedicated 'dumpliers' (my word for them). The skill of the chefs is pretty awe-inspiring – I have tried to make dumplings at home with my fat, sponge fingers and the results were not too pretty.

I visited the Wisma Atria Branch on Orchard Road. Paradise Dynasty with its black and gold décor and elegantly clad waiting staff makes for a luxurious eating environment – whilst the product is undeniably similar, the overall experience of the two are worlds apart.

At first I was a little lost in the chaos but after taking time out to observe I soon realised that, like a supermarket deli counter the first thing to do was to queue to be allocated a number. This was accompanied by a Perspex clipboard complete with a tick-sheet menu – the mic’ed up girl also took a note of the size of my ‘party’ (I was partying alone that day).

The next step for Din Tai Virgins like myself involved jockeying for position in front of the menu board. Then I had to take my clipboard to the girl with the mic for it to be approved – it was at this point that I discovered they were out of the local specialty, the ‘Steamed Chilli Crab and Pork Bun’

Looking around, waiting seemed to be what happened next. Unlike a deli counter the numbers are not called in order but as appropriate sized tables become available for the waiting groups – luckily, as a lone diner my wait was under ten minutes.

I did notice on my way out that some people who had arrived before me were still waiting to be seated. Two of these were dressed in orange monk garb – obviously forgiving types or just those that appreciate the joys of really good dumplings!

As someone who has a natural aversion to queues, I know I may be making this whole queuing and waiting experience sound quite horrendous but perversely I enjoyed it – perhaps it was the anticipation of the promised land of dumplings that lay ahead.

More ‘negatives’ that seemed to make the whole experience strangely enjoyable – the tables were too close together; napkins were made from cheap non-absorbent paper and the service was conducted with robotic efficiency (my cup kept stealthily topped up by passing tea ninjas.)

The thing that really should have irritated (but I rolled with it) was the doorbell that rung every time a new table became available – either that or there was some very persistent Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to get in. Of course, these things would have become annoyingly annoying if the food failed to deliver.  

Crunchy mini cucumber in spicy sauce: crisp, crunchy and cool cucumber with a nutty and spicy dressing - a wonderful side dish.

Having just been mugged by the muggy Singaporean weather, I ordered the Cooling red dates longan drink – I don’t know how much of it was because I was parched, but at the time it seemed like the best drink I have ever tasted.

Talking of the best I have tasted, I had come to Din Ta Fung to be able to add my weight to the great dumpling debate: I ordered six of the Steamed pork dumplings - to cut the waffle, the dough on these to me seemed lighter, thinner and therefore better than those at Paradise Dynasty. Paradise Dynasty’s however had a more flavoursome pork and soup combination (and of course, they also had the black truffle.) My recommendation? Go to both and you decide! 

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