Dumpling in Singapore
My early days in Singapore were rough: profuse and constant sweating, an apartment with walls so thin I could hear every loud, angry conversation my neighbors had, and no friends. I was a hot, tired, lonely manchild. I was also completely overwhelmed by the hundreds of eating choices within a 15 minute walk of my apart. So much so that I had taken to eating mostly grocery store sushi or attempting to cook on my tiny one-burner stove. I was in a food depression. After some Googling, I learned that the closest mall to me had this popular dumpling chain from Taiwan in it called Din Tai Fung (DTF). I decided I would man up and go eat there all by my lonesome.
That's where I had my first Xiao Long Bao, or soup dumpling, and my life was forever changed. I was going multiple times a week, trying everything I could. It became my go-to restaurant to take out of towners. The risk averse could stick with the XLB's and maybe a bowl of noodle soup, while the more intrepid could try the funky black and green century eggs.
Even now it remains Patricia and my "can't decide where to eat" restaurant. Twice on this past trip we ended up there. I've always loved that a meal there could be extremely healthy or the kind of glutinous feast that leaves you wheezing.
Simple starters range from the Oriental Saladin special vinegar dressing is a simple (below) to sliced duck in a crispy spring onion pastry.
If I'm not getting XLB's, which is rare, I'm getting the Oriental wantons in black vinegar and chili oil. The combination of Chinese vinegar and chili oil is just so goddamn good, I can't help but spoon the excess sauce into my mouth after I've killed off the wontons.
Every DTF has a window into the room where all dumplings and buns are made at lightning speed and steamed. Every dumpling is rolled out to an exact diameter, given an exact amount of meat, and folded exactly 18 times. All of this happens in seconds. I would be terrible at it.
At the nicer DTF locations, they have premium dumpling options, including chili crab and truffle. No longer able to resist temptation, I ordered a single Pork & Truffle Xiao Long Bao. One small dumpling, $5.00.
Was it worth it? Was it truffley? Oh mama. What makes a XLB magical is that solid meat aspic is in the filling, so when steamed, the aspic melts and the dumpling is magically filled with both a tiny meatball and piping hot soup. This truffle version had truffle in the broth, plus whole slices of shaved black truffles. It was truly a flavor bomb.
I remember the first time Patricia and I tried Paradise Dynasty, a beautiful, huge restaurant at the top of the ION Orchard mall. I felt like I was cheating on Din Tai Fung with a younger, richer, more beautiful restaurant. "Don't worry, DTF! I'm sure the food here isn't as good as yours!" I thought to myself.
I was so wrong. Paradise Dynasty was better in every way. In an instant, Din Tai Fung became the ugly ex-girlfriend. I Brad Pitted Din Tai Fung. Paradise's focus is less on dim sum and more on soups, noodles, and more hearty entrees, but their dumplings are incredible.
All of their ads are for their 8 flavored XLB's (original, garlic, Szechuan, ginseng, foie gras, black truffle, cheesy, and crab roe), but the original is king. The dumpling's skin is softer and less dough, the soup and pork vastly more flavorful. They are the greatest XLB's I've ever had.
St. Louis has so few options with soup dumplings that you probably don't know how to eat them correctly. Here are the steps, in photos:
Look at your dumplings. Plan your attack. Choose the juiciest one.
Pick it up - GENTLY, MAN! - and place it on your spoon.
Poke a hole in it so the soup runs into your spoon. Drink said soup. Alternately, you can just go at it like a vampire: bite it and suck.
Dip the soupless dumpling into your mix of soy/vinegar/ginger.
Their other dumpling types are winners, too. The pan seared buns with a slightly sweet dough? Not sharing those. Their take on the dumplings in chili and vinegar? Not only are they way meatier than Din Tai Fung's, but the sauce has a much better balance thanks to some sweetness.
The fact I can't get dumplings this good in St. Louis makes me so, so sad. The only solution is that I will have to take on the endeavor myself, slaving away in my kitchen until I get it right. One day, Spencer's Dumpling Hut will be unveiled and all will rejoice.