Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Din Tai Fung, Sydney

Dumplings are universally appreciated. How can you not like eating dumplings? Little morsels of delicate dough filled with a stuffing of ground pork, seafood and vegetables - it’s a delicious treat.

While in Sydney last year, I wanted to consume some dumplings. With some of the best Chinese restaurants in Australia, this would be the city for me to eat some awesome dumplings.

I found out about Din Tai Fung in the Gourmet Traveller 2011 Australian Restaurant Guide under the Best Chinese section in Sydney and marked it down as a place to visit to for dumplings. Din Tai Fung is located on the first floor of the World Square Shopping Centre. When you arrive at the top of the stairs there is a sign out the front of Din Tai Fung that claims that they have the world’s tastiest dumplings.

Din Tai Fung is a legendary Taipei, Taiwan based global chain, renowned for its dumplings, especially ‘xiao long baos’ (steamed soup dumplings). There are over 40 Din Tai Fung outlets around the world. The thought of a franchise is enough to send me walking in the opposite direction. To me franchises are all about quantity over quality (supersize me please?!), economies of scale (i.e. getting food out there with the least amount of effort and cost) and the addition of more salt/fat as a substitute for taste. But Din Tai Fung is not your typical franchise, on their website it states that “At Din Tai Fung our dedication to our products far exceeds our interest in profit margins. To us, our customers’ expectations will always take priority over profits…What customers want is to satisfy their palate and if this isn’t satisfied, no matter how cheap the prices may be the food will not be worth eating. At Din Tai Fung, we have insisted on remaining true to the original taste.” Din Tai Fung strives to provide quality food and the queues out the front show that the food delivers. This is a place that people keep coming back to again and again. Renowned chef Anthony Bourdain has said that he would travel half way around the world for a soup dumpling at Din Fai Fung. The Hong Kong Din Tai Fung branch has even been awarded 1 Michelin Star.

What’s also good to see at Din Tai Fung is that there are a lot of Asians dining here. That’s one of the most important judges of a good Chinese restaurant. A place where all its own people will eat at. Din Tai Fung may be a franchise but it ain’t no Wok in a Box.

You can watch the dumpling production system through a huge glass window out the front. It’s fascinating to watch all the dumplings made right in front of you with such skill, precision and efficiency. There is a careful division of labour in the production of the dumplings. There are people lining baskets ready for steaming, people making the dough while others stretch it and cut it into discs, others pull, roll, fill, twist and crimp. There are people loading the baskets and steaming the dumplings on top of a steel table with holes that shoot out bursts of hot steam. I imagine that these guys turn out hundreds, maybe even thousands of dumplings a day.

The division of labour is important for increasing productivity. It is a process whereby the production process is broken down into a sequence of steps and workers are assigned to particular steps.

Adam Smith was an 18th century Scottish moral philosopher who is widely cited as the father of modern economics. His work The Wealth of Nations is considered one of the most influential works on economics ever published and begins with a discussion on the division of labour. The first chapter opens with the statement “the greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgement with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour." To illustrate this idea Smith describes the extensive division of labour for the manufacture of pins. One worker could probably make only one pin per day. But if ten people divided up the eighteen steps required to make a pin – one man draws out the wire, another straightens it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head, to make the head receives two or three distinct operations etc etc. together the workers could produce up to 48,000 pins in one day. 

The division of labour multiplies productivity. By focusing on a particular task you become more specialized and efficient at it, time is saved from not having to switch tasks all the time, and the machines and tools used evolve in line with the division of the production process. For example, it was interesting to see how the dumplings were steamed at Din Tai Fung using what appears to be steam vents on top of steel tables. These steam vents would have no other use than for steaming dumplings, there would certainly be no wok action on the vents. The way that the dumpling production system is divided shows that the steam vents were designed for a specific step of the production process.

The dumpling production system at Din Tai Fung and the organization of kitchens in general, provide a good example of the idea of division of labour that Smith advanced.

Inside the restaurant the space is very sleek and modern, adorn with red walls. Red is used a lot by the Chinese because it symbolizes good fortune and joy. On one wall there is a huge installation of steamer baskets to remind you of what you are here for.


I ordered some steamed crab meat and pork dumplings. Each dumpling is sealed with the signature 18 folds and weighs in at around 21 grams.

I love xiao long bao dumplings because each dumpling comes with its own soup inside the dumpling. The proper way to eat these dumplings is with a few shreds of ginger and a little black vinegar/soy sauce mixture. The skins of the dumplings at Din Tai Fung have a perfectly light texture. As you bite into the dumpling the soup bursts through with flavour and salivates your tongue, preparing you for the filling which is subtle but delicious.

If you are wondering how the dumplings can contain soup, well the minced meat filling has little cubes of gelatinsed pork stock worked into it so that when the dumplings are steamed, the stock cube liquefies and fills the dumpling with soup. Genius isn’t it?

There is a huge menu with a variety of dishes on offer. I also ordered the fried pork chop and braised beef noodle soup.

I found the fried pork chop really tasty and the braised beef noodle soup had chunks of fall-apart beef in a black broth which was very flavoursome, with little spice and gingery elements. I especially enjoyed the texture of the noodles because they were nice and firm but easy to bite into and draws in the flavour of the soup.

I also ordered the lychee mint drink. The lychee and mint was a surprisingly good combination for a drink, it tasted great and was a very refreshing drink.

The food at Din Tai Fung is good value and another highlight of Din Tai Fung is that the staff are very friendly and the service is fast.

Din Tai Fung on Urbanspoon

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