Din Tai Fung: My West Coast Adventure

By Siqi Liu ’19

Before my family embarked on our two-week road trip along the Pacific Coastline this December, my dad and I frantically searched the Internet for the best places to eat. I always thought I was the only one in my family with the foodie gene, I was wrong. As it turns out, my dad came up with an impressive list of restaurants for our trip that kept our stomachs as happy as we were from the rides at Universal Studios. During one of our last dinners in Los Angeles, we found a gem that to this day keeps me dreaming of soupy, hot steamed buns: Din Tai Fung.

A bit of a background: Din Tai Fung was founded all the way back in the 1970s in Taipei, where it gained fame from its xiaolongbao dishes. For those who are unfamiliar with this term, xiaolongbao is a type of steam bun that is shaped like a miniature bao and is cooked in a bamboo steaming basket, but has thin, dumpling-like skin. “Xiaolong” literally means “small basket,” standing for the small bamboo baskets they’re steamed in, and “bao” refers to its inherent similarity with the typical steamed meat or red bean stuffed bao you see at Wow Bao. Growing up, they’ve made up one of my favorite breakfast dishes (P.S. If you’re looking to put together a full, Chinese breakfast, I’d highly recommend serving xiaolongbao with hot Chinese soy milk and fresh Chinese crullers).

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Going into Din Tai Fung, I already high expectations for xiaolongbao dishes: During my 2012 trip to Beijing, my mother and I visited the some of the most famous xiaolongbao restaurants in the city. But I also knew that Din Tai Fung has some pretty recognizable credentials, too: In the 90s, New York Times rated it as one of the top ten gourmet restaurants in the world; it opened three new branches in 2015 alone; and its website boasts praises from critics in well-known publications like Times and the Michelin Guide.

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I was excited—excited enough to endure the one-hour wait as my family perused the menu and debated for the fifth time on whether we should order the braised beef noodle soup or shrimp & pork wontons. The upside is that I got to watch the chefs make xiaolongbao through their glass-window kitchen, which was pretty cool.

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We were starving when we finally got our seats, but fortunately, the ball got rolling pretty fast from there. It seemed like only minutes passed before our first bamboo basket appeared on the table. I was surprised not only by how quick the service was but also its style—we ordered four baskets of xiaolongbao/steamed buns, but instead of serving them all at once, they came one by one. That way, none of them was sitting in the corner and getting cold.

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Pork xiaolongbao in its bamboo basket steamer

The first dish we were presented was the pork xiaolongbao, and let me tell you: My family inhaled it. They were fresh off the stove, so I picked them up gingery with my chopsticks and took care not to poke a hole in them. The secret to eating xiaolongbao is to take a tiny bite first so the steam from the hot soup inside could cool a little before putting the whole thing in your mouth. And boy, I was in for a treat. The soup was perfectly flavored and not too salty, the skin was the right thickness, and the meat was tender. Needless to say, all ten of the xiaolongbao were gone in under a minute.

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Pork & Crab xiaolongbao

But that wasn’t even the best part. The highlight dishes of our dinner were the pork crab xiaolongbao, which I preferred over the plain pork xiaolongbao because I am a fan of seafood flavors, and the sweet taro xiaolongbao, which is simply divine for anyone with a sweet tooth. As someone who is far more of a savory than a sweet person, rarely orders dessert, and doesn’t like chocolate (gasp—I know), the sweet taro xiaolongbao was the perfect amount of sweetness. It wasn’t cloying or sticky, and even after eating practically the whole basket, I didn’t feel guilty.

I was also lucky enough to get a bite of my dad’s braised beef noodle soup, which had really thin, tender noodles and a mildly spicy flavor, but I’d say Din Tai Fung is still better with its steamed bun assortments. We tried to order the highly-recommended shrimp & pork shao mai, but they ran out, so we had to settle for the rice & pork shao mai. It which wasn’t bad, but it lacked the steaming hot soup that you get from xiaolongbao.

Overall, the dining experience was fantastic. I would probably faint out of happiness if Din Tai Fung decides to open a restaurant near my hometown in Chicago or Boston. So, if you find yourself on the West Coast, I beg you to do yourself a favor and try out this restaurant. Whether you’re weaned on xiaolongbao or looking to lose your xiaolongbao v-card, Din Tai Fung wouldn’t disappoint. Case in point: this pregnant lady who used to live in my neighborhood in Chicago craved Din Tai Fung so badly she and her husband flew to L.A. just to eat there. Now that’s true love.

 

Din Tai Fung

Location: Its U.S. restaurants are sadly limited to California and Seattle, but it has international locations in Japan, China, Singapore, and more.

Reservation: Only take reservations for a party of 6+ over the phone. Otherwise must wait in person, and it’s usually a long wait.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Food: 4.5/5

Service: 4/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Tasty Mo:Mo

By Michelle Ng ’18

mo·mo
/ˈmōmō/
noun

  1. (in Tibetan cooking) a steamed dumpling filled with meat or vegetables.

MoMo

Tonight my brother and I ventured into Somerville to celebrate my post-first day of classes and his almost-first week back at school. Or, you know, for dinner.

He had suggested we try a take-out Nepalese/Himalayan place called Tasty Mo:Mo because we both love dumplings and momos seemed pretty much like adventurous dumplings. This way we could enjoy the security of a comfort food while feeling cool for trying new things—and, on top of it (as I realized after obsessive Yelping), by ordering momos we would be contributing to feeding children in Nepal. For every order of momo purchased, Tasty Mo:Mo donates $1 to an organization called Food for Education, which provides food to children in Nepal so they can pursue an education instead of working for food.

So we were feeling pretty good about this place before we even went in. Tasty Mo:Mo is small, as it turns out, with just one table in a corner, a TV up on a red wall, and a counter with a few high chairs against the opposite wall.

Interior

Likewise, the menu itself sticks with the classics, which I appreciate because it’s bold: the chefs know that the items in this limited selection are their best, and have faith that customers will be happy with them.

Menu

On a Tuesday night, two people managed all the restaurant’s business, one mostly cooking an impressive number of take-out orders, and the other dealing with all the customers who came in to pick up said take-out orders. My brother and I watched this unfold after ordering, later noticing a note on a whiteboard stating that food preparation takes about fifteen minutes, as Tasty Mo:Mo only serves everything fresh.

And—as promised—after roughly that much time, our food was brought out!

Here are our three dish-specific reviews:

Trays
Chicken Chow Mein Despite being initially torn between the Chicken Chilly or this noodle dish, I was so glad we chose this one. I don’t even know how or why it tasted so good, seeing as chow mein is such a standard dish I’ve eaten like five billion times. We watched the woman cooking take noodles out of a container and throw them on the stove, so like the fried rice, they came out super hot. (I burned my mouth.) She had tossed them with green beans, onions, and cabbage, and it was served with a sweet curry-type sauce. Happy to wait for the Chicken Chilly until next time!
Bite
Steamed Pork MoMo Here’s the inside of a steamed pork momo dipped in “tomato sauce,” according to the menu (which was definitely not Italian tomato sauce). It was good! They’re incredibly fresh, and our single order included eight momos. I’m accustomed to either steamed soup dumplings or pan fried dumplings, and momos (or at least Tasty Mo:Mo’s momos) are drier than those in that no juices ooze out when you bite them. They feel lighter than some super doughy or fried dumplings too, which is a plus! Other filling options include chicken, beef, or vegan (!!), but according to Yelp reviews pork is supposedly the collective preference.
FriedRice
Egg Fried Rice The fried rice came directly from the wok to our counter so it was hot hot hot, and so different from the Chinese fried rice we’re used to. I couldn’t tell what type of rice it was, but it was soft and a bit oily, which my brother and I both liked. The pieces of egg are also larger than usual for fried rice. Featuring peas and carrots. Disclaimer that we were both ridiculously hungry and this came out first, but my brother LOVED this.

The woman who cooked is also super sweet and came out to chat and apologize for the wait (which was absolutely fine because her expertly managing five woks at once was entertainment in itself). NoodlesI admit that shoveling food into our mouths didn’t make us the best conversationalists, but I hope she knows we had good intentions. And she now definitely knows that we enjoyed her food.

In short, we began hungry and left stuffed.

LastBite
Overall, very satisfied! I think three dishes were a bit much for two people (even though we both eat a lot), so I’m also very full.  Having tried it once, I’m not sure I would make an enormous effort to return; but it’s definitely a 
hidden gem in Magoun Square and served us a great meal tonight for ~$10/each. And if I just so happened to be in the area…I’m not at all opposed to trying the Chicken Chilly next time.

 

This blog post has been reposted from Michelle’s personal blog, Michelle Ng. Check it out here to see more of her photography and blog posts!

Our Favorite Foods from the 2015 Boston Local Food Festival

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Cheese steak dumplings with pastrami, bacon, kimchi and swiss cheese from Koy, 16 North Street, Boston MA
Chicken and Biscuits from the Granary Tavern, 170 Milk St, Boston MA
Chicken and Biscuits from the Granary Tavern, 170 Milk St, Boston MA
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Strawberry smoothies in cantaloupes from Singh’s Roti
Banana cake pop from Tia's Cakes and Pastries, Boston MA
Banana cake pop from Tia’s Cakes and Pastries, Boston MA
Apple pie cake in a jar from Tia's Cakes and Pastries, Boston MA
Apple pie cake in a jar from Tia’s Cakes and Pastries, Boston MA
Chocolate caramel cake jars from Tia's Cakes and Pastries, Boston MA
Chocolate caramel cake jars from Tia’s Cakes and Pastries, Boston MA
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Steem caffeinated peanut butter…one tablespoon has the equivalent of one 7oz. cup of coffee! Available online at steempb.com
A spread of seafood from Big Rock Oysters, 501 Depot St, Harwich, MA
A spread of seafood from Big Rock Oysters, 501 Depot St, Harwich, MA
Blueberry shortcake vegan ice cream from FoMu, 128 Arlington Street, Arlington, MA
Blueberry shortcake vegan ice cream from FoMu, 128 Arlington Street, Arlington, MA

Far East Feast

As my friends and I sat down for dinner on Thursday night, they had no idea what HUDS had in store in the servery. I, on the other hand, had been anticipating this meal all week: a Chinese New Year celebration. After doing my research, I learned that the traditional meal served on New Year’s Eve typically includes both meat and fish, as well as eight individual dishes which reflect the number’s significance as a good luck symbol.

HUDS certainly delivered its version of the traditional Chinese New Year feast. I walked away with a full plate, excited to try the dining hall’s take on (the vegetarian) Buddha’s Delight, the hoisin glazed salmon, spicy green beans, peking cabbage, and some egg fried rice.

my plate

While I might be alone on this one, I was most excited for the Buddha’s Delight (pictured below). The elaborate vegetarian dish is one often served by families on Chinese New Year, and the dining hall staff created a great replication. Their version included tofu, water chestnuts, carrots, pea pods, baby corn, broccoli, and scallions, with soy sauce and sesame oil tossed in, and topped with a nice blend of ginger, sugar, and garlic. While the ingredients created a perfect combination, the dish was a bit too saucy, but a tasty addition as it leaked onto the cabbage and green beans underneath.

buddha's delight

Continuing to break outside the normal veggie offerings this evening, the Chinese New Year fare included spicy green beans (read: green beans with crushed garlic, diced tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, and cumin) and peking cabbage. The green beans definitely had an extra kick, making them an exciting and delicious break from the usual, but not quite what I would call spicy.

green beans

The fried foods were all table favorites: vegetable egg rolls (top) and pork dumplings (middle). I can speak for the egg rolls, and they were spot on this evening. Perfectly crisp on the exterior, without too much breading, and enough to give all of the inside veggies just the right flavor. The egg fried rice (bottom) was also well executed – filled with celery and mushrooms for an added touch.

veggie springrolls

pork dumplingsfried rice

Last but not least on my plate was the hoisin glazed salmon, cooked just right. Hoisin sauce, similar to American barbecue sauce, is made from a combination of soybeans, garlic, sugar, sesame seeds, and chili pepper. The slightly sugary sauce adds a sweet and savory marinade to the dish without taking away from the main attraction.

salmon

HUDS’ Chinese New Year meal was a complete success if you ask me. With a few tweaks and improvements, next year’s edition could be even better, but watching my friends walk into the dining hall to find the surprise was worth my full week’s wait. While my Chinese friends were able to celebrate a taste of home, my American ones (myself included) were able to enjoy a cultural experience we won’t forget.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_New_Year

http://vegetarian.about.com/od/glossary/g/HoisinSauce.htm

On the Wok

By Faye Zhang ’17

From the time I first peered over the stove at my mother’s hand deftly flipping eggs, tomatoes, and rice, to a year spent living and cooking solo on meager means, I’ve grown to appreciate—nay, love—the wonders of the wok.

The wok, an English label, is a misnomer. In Mandarin Chinese, the wok is known as a “guō”. In Indonesia it is known as a “penggorengan” or “wajan”. In Malaysia a small wok is called a “kuali”, and a big wok “kawah”. In the Philippines it is known as a “kawali” or a “wadjang”. In Japan, “chūkanabe”. In India, ”cheena chatti” (literally, “Chinese pot”) or “karahi”.

No matter its name, size, or country of origin, the wok varies little: a round-bottomed, cast iron pan attached to a long wooden handle. According to legend, woks originated during Chinese military marches, when soldiers gave their war helmets a double role as cooking vessels over campfires. Perhaps “double” is too limiting. The wok serves nearly any purpose: boiling, braising, deep-frying, roasting, smoking, searing, steaming, stewing, and its most well known use, stir-frying.

With a wok, one never struggles to remove charred bits of food that stick to the bottom of a pan and refuse to budge. The cast iron material and round shape allows a spatula, or traditionally, a set of long wooden chopsticks, to chase down every particle and douse it with seasoning. Food sticking to the pan is no matter at all: the wise cook prizes the caramelized layers of past flavors, each of them lending mysterious savor to each new dish.

With a flick of a chopstick, the sizzling food slides over a steaming bed of rice to finish the dish. In my case, food often never left the wok—the round pan serves as a perfect, albeit hot, bowl. No use complaining, though. The wok was built for heat; perfect for cooking over a traditional pit-style stove filled with smoldering coal or wood. Fire would lick the iron rim, creating 180 degrees of perfect thermal conduction.

Modern stovetops, such as flat electric stovetop surfaces, have led to the creation of frying pans attempting to pass as flat-bottomed woks. Heavy cast iron has been substituted for lightweight stainless steel. Wooden handles have been replaced by smooth rubber. The Presto 5900, a stainless steel electric automatic wok, essentially cooks by itself.

And yet, food made in these modern contraptions somehow tastes off. Broccoli has no bite, meat is tepid, stews lack depth. Perhaps it’s the relentless cleanliness and efficiency; modern woks scrubbed clean after each use never get the chance to accumulate flavor history. There is a Chinese dish called “guō-tie”, potstickers—a clever use for leftover dumplings made in huge and un-finishable quantities during holidays. To make them, day-old dumplings are dumped into a hot wok, doused with oil, and left to sizzle. They’re called potstickers because, while the innards simmer, the thin dumpling skin sticks to the wok and fries to a crispy, salty-sweet crust.

Guō-tie is impossible to get right on stainless steel. One bite proves why: the blackened dumpling rim which envelopes a release of savory juice can only be created by a properly aged wok—the kind passed down from ancestors, full of browned, crusty memories.​