Din Tai Fung in Xintiandi, Shanghai

Din Tai Fung

Xiaolongbao or Tangbao (literally “soup dumpling”) is a famous Shanghainese (yes, yes, Wuxi does them too) steamed bun that comes in a small basket (hence “Xiaolongbao” literally means “small basket dumpling”).

And on a cold afternoon, there is nothing like popping a hot Xiaolongbao into your mouth only to burn your throat with a sudden squirt of steaming soup. And as you open your mouth to scream, the inhalation sucks down the small pliable knob of pork which is exactly the right size to block your throat. As the world swirls and your vision goes dark, you realize that, perhaps, I should lighten up.

But if you must go with Xiaolongbao, you should definitely go with the best Xiaolongbao in Shanghai; ironically, if not controversially, the best Xiaolongbao in Shanghai is from Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese restaurant.

It was a brisk, overcast morning that we decided to do a brunch at Din Tai Fung after some shopping at Xintiandi, the must-go tourist trap. (FYI: Brown Sugar rocks).


At this time, you must be wondering about the English spelling of things in China, i.e. shouldn’t “Din Tai Fung” be “Dingtaifeng”? Don’t worry about it, the Chinese don’t really care about English (think about “Shanghai”).

Anyway, we went early and started ordering. The cold appetizers like the cold chili cucumbers and garlic and the cold vegetable and tofu salad were refreshingly crunchy. The cucumbers were surprisingly not spicy at all, just flavorful with a light hint of Sichuan pepper. And I can’t help but think of how to do the cucumbers at home.


The Cold Braised Ox Tripe was surprisingly tender and best of all, it had absorbed all the flavor from the braise. The Cold Drunken Chicken was deemed to be better than what we get in Singapore. The chickens used are a local breed which is very yellow in color but very flavorful. What I liked about it was the delicate flavor of the wine in the chicken.

What I really envy and enjoy about temperate countries is the availability of seasonal fruits and vegetables. So I was delighted when a lady introduced us to an array of different seasonal vegetables available now. What caught our eye was this mound of leaves with the tag “Wild Vegetable cooked in wine”. In Mandarin, it’s called “Caotou” (literally “Grass Head”). We thought why the hell not?

Chaotou ("Grass Head") Seasonal Vegetable cooked with Baijiu and Meikueilu

It was amazing. Cooked almost al dente in a heady perfume of Baijiu and Meiguilu jiu, it tasted, surprisingly, like Beurre Noisette and just as addictive. We were to encounter the Caotou a few more times on our trip but the most delicately delicious (and I must add “seriously mouth-watering”) version is still at Din Tai Fung.

And of course, one of the best things about cold weather is that you can have heaty dishes and there is none finer than a good steaming bowl of Hongshao Niurou Mian (“Red-cooked Beef Noodles”).

Hongshaoniurou Mian (Spicy Beef Noodles)

There were 6 of us and we ordered a bowl of the beef noodles to share. Each got a pretty generous portion of noodles, beef and beef tendons. What sets the beef noodles at Din Tai Fung ahead of everyone is that I can really taste the beef in the soup and not just Essence de sauce de Soja et de MSG.

So how were the Xiaolongbao?

Possibly the best and most expensive xiaolongbao in Shanghai

I thought they were exceptional because they were laden with soup and yet the dumplings did not break as we lifted them out of the baskets. People would say that the trick to that is to have a thicker skin. Unfortunately for them, the dumpling skin at Din Tai Fung were thin and almost delicate. It didn’t have that floury hard texture like you get in some wontons. More “har gow” than “siew mai” if you get my drift.

The crab roe version was sweet, full-flavored but not overpowering. But everyone loved it and said it was the best crab roe Xiaolongbao so far.


We were stuffed when we left the restaurant and not a moment too soon because it was full at 12 noon and a queue was starting to form.

So were the Xiaolongbao really the best in Shanghai? Well, I’ve sampled the fare at a few restaurants and street stalls and suffice to say I’ve not tasted a more refined and delicious Xiaolongbao in Shanghai. I was told that it’s because of the management of the franchise. Unlike Singapore, there are, I was told by a restaurateur, at least 30,000 restaurants in Shanghai; with such fierce competition, if you’re not good, you’re out.

Mind you Din Tai Fung’s Xiaolongbao is probably the most expensive in all of Shanghai, but frankly, it’s not ball-breaking and I think the Xiaolongbao and the other dishes are worth a detour from shopping and massages. Just go early.

Ding Tai Feng is at Shop 1, Xintiandi, South Block, No. 6, 2/F, 11A, Tel: 021 6285 8378.


Cold Braised Ox Tripe

Tofu with Crab Roe and Pork

Cold Pork Knuckles

Sliced Beef Tendons

Chao Tou ("Grass Head") Seasonal Vegetable

Posted on 7th Dec 2009 in Food and Drink, Makankaki, Shanghainese


There Is Only 1 Comment So Far


[…] a sore point for many Shanghainese when it comes to Din Tai Fung having the best xiaolongbao in Shanghai. Many of them will tell you that Din Tai Fung is not the […]

Post A Comment

The comments are closed.


Recent Comments

cincymetal.com: ?hhis is vital a? you would certainl? nnot want a pet dog entrance do?r to open...

Rexic: Would have agreed with you but then I saw Pontian wanton mee with nacho cheese...

ivan: Thanks! I just think it’s a tired argument that doesn’t make sense.

Bugger: Btw, kacang puul looks amazing!

Bugger: Hear! Hear! So called “authenticity” is a great hurdle to emergence of new...

MervC: I like they way they bring out the massive chunk of tuna, and the great knife skills,...

ivan: Yes you are. 🙂

MervC: Look like Hashida Sushi. Am i right?




Cha Xiu Bao

Chubby Hubby

Makansutra Forum

My Inner Fatty

Nibble & Scribble

NYT Diner’s Journal

Only Slightly Pretentious Food

Serious Eats

Tamarind and Thyme

The Girl Who Ate Everything

The Wong List


View Stats