Imagine wandering out into an unknown city, so hungry you’re willing to eat nearly anything at all, and fifteen minutes later being served some of the finest food you’ve ever tasted. This was our dumb luck at Din Tai Fung in Singapore a few weeks ago. Din Tai Fung is a Taiwanese chain of restaurants with several locations in Asia. In the thirty years since the founders started selling steamed pork buns in their Taipei flagship, Din Tai Fung has earned a Michelin star for two of its locations, and been named one of the world’s top ten restaurants by the New York Times.
We had never heard of the place, and found it purely by chance – we were jet-lagged and starving and willing to sit down at the first place that looked half-decent. Din Tai Fung looked like a good bet because it was packed like a Tokyo subway car and there was a huge line-up – always a good sign. We were somehow whisked in instantly, and when we looked around at what people were eating, we realized we’d hit the jackpot.
In the front, there’s a glassed-in kitchen where each meticulous little dumpling wrapper is rolled out by hand. Everyone’s decked out in spotless white, and if it weren’t for the all the dough, you’d think they were performing surgery. A second larger kitchen in the back is filled with an equally immaculate army of workers, and a lot of steam. Servers weave furiously through an array of small tables, balancing stacks of bamboo baskets full of aromatic jewels. People eat quietly and efficiently. Meals begin and end within minutes. It feels somewhat like dining in an ant colony.
The food was exquisite. We were completely unprepared for the experience and had no idea what to eat, so in the ten seconds we had to order we asked for chicken this and pork that, and pointed to some virtuous-looking greens on the table next to ours. Moments later, after our first bites into our first dumplings, we knew we weren’t in some random place with good food, but in a very particular place where the food is very nearly perfect.
It was thrilling – the hot silk of the wrapper, the surprising spurt of warm broth, the delicate flavour and impeccable texture. So simple, so finely crafted. So elegantly and silently consumed by our neighbouring diners that our slurping and moaning and clumsy chop-sticking probably seemed uncouth. But it was really nothing compared to the zealous gluttony we displayed over the several following days. More about delicious Singapore soon.