About Din Tai Fung
You cannot talk about Din Tai Fung without talking about their xiao long baos. These little steamed dumplings of delicious goodness are arguably Din Tai Fung’s most popular dishes.
But how exactly do they make them? Fortunately for us, we had the opportunity to go down to Din Tai Fung’s kitchen at Paragon, to discover the secret to making the perfect xiao long bao from their masterchef.
From its humble beginnings from a cooking oil store in 1972, Din Tai Fung now has 18 restaurants in Singapore alone with over 1000 staff. They recently were awarded a Michelin Star and also achieved consecutive top spot victories under the Influential Brands Asian Cuisine Restaurant Category - for Gen Y in 2013 and Gen X in 2014.
Singapore also now has its own R&D team that creates and localises Din Tai Fung dishes. Dishes like the crispy prawn pancake, crispy duck pastry and green chilli stuffed yong tau foo style are exclusively available in Singapore.
Grade 1 Chef Wei Long heads the xiao long bao making process and trains all new trainee chefs who walk through the doors of Din Tai Fung kitchen. We were privileged to be able to speak to him and discover the passion behind his trade.
Chef Wei Long
Head Chef Wei Long was originally from Ipoh, but moved to Singapore at a young age of 22 to learn the art of making xiao long baos. His training took place in Taiwan, where xiao long bao chefs undergo an intensive training which will prepare them for culinary examinations that will qualify them to be xiao long bao chefs of different grade levels. While most chefs take two years to master this art of making xiao long bao, Chef Wei Long took only one and a half which displayed his exceptional talent and fast learning progress.
Chef Wei Long’s journey at Din Tai Fung started when the famed restaurant opened its flagship outlet in Singapore at Paragon Shopping Centre in 2003 and has been present at Din Tai Fung’s flagship outlet at Paragon till this day. His favourite process is in folding of the xiao long bao and he prides himself in producing quality food for the enjoyment of customers at Din Tai Fung.
Fans of local movie director Jack Neo will be interested to know that Chef Wei Long trained Ah Boys to Men stars Wang Wei Liang and Tosh Zhang in folding xiao long baos for several scenes in The Lion Men movie. He also had a cameo role as a hand double folding xiao long baos in the movie!
We got the chance to go into the Din Tai Fung kitchen to watch Chef Wei Long in action. This was a rare opportunity as the show kitchens are strictly for food preparation purposes and are only opened to invited guests.
Step One: Preparing the dough
A good xiao long bao should have skin that is thin, yet strong enough to hold its contents. At Din Tai Fung, the flour used is specially flown in from Taiwan to ensure the highest standards and quality. The flour is mixed together with water and a dough mixture of fermented flour and water, upon which the dough is made and ready to be used.
Step Two: Dividing the dough
The dough is then put through a pressing machine and pressed for a total of 18 times. After that the dough is cut into identical pieces each weighing 4.8 to 5.2 grams.
Step Three: Rolling the dough
Each piece is then rolled out into thin sheets of 6.5cm in diameter. Chef Wei Long rolled out a piece free-hand and then measured it against an acrylic guide. It was perfect.
Step Four: Stuffing the dumpling
Pork of premium quality is used to fill the dumplings. Chef Wei Long tells me the best meat for making xiao long bao is found in the two legs of the pig. The minced pork is marinated for 6 hours. Ever wondered how the soup gets into the xiao long bao?
Premium soup stock is frozen, then thawed for a jelly-like consistency. The meat and soup stock is then mixed together and wrapped.
Step Five: Folding the dumpling
This is by far the hardest and most important step in making a xiao long bao. Each dumpling has 18 to 20 folds and needs to be folded evenly and with consistency. According to Chef Wei Long, high quality xiao long baos have the tiniest pinch at the top where the folds are joined to seal the dumpling.
The ones that Chef Wei Long folded had a tip that was barely even noticeable which was impressive.
Step Six: Steaming the dumpling
At Din Tai Fung the steaming process is highly automated. A complete basket of xiao long baos is placed on the steamer and steamed for 4.5 minutes.
After 4.5 minutes, a chef checks the xiao long baos to ensure they are steamed perfectly. The xiao long baos are tilted in the basket to check the amount of broth in them. An underdone xiao long bao will look shrivelled, while an overdone xiao long bao might simply burst.
Chef Wei Long’s awe-inspiring passion and dedication to his work are apparent in the quality of dumplings that come out of the Din Tai Fung kitchen. The next time you visit Din Tai Fung, don’t forget to try the other xiao long bao flavours like chilli crab xiao long bao available between July and August each year, red bean & chocolate and truffle*.
*Truffle flavoured xiao long baos are only available at Din Tai Fung’s Paragon, Raffles City, Resorts World Sentosa, Katong, Marina Bay Sands and Marina Link Mall outlets.
About Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung was originally a store selling wholesale cooking oil owned by a man called Bingyi Yang. Unfortunately the invention of tinned oil in 1972 caused a slump in sales and forced Bingyi to look to other avenues for income. Upon the advice of a friend, Bingyi devoted half of the shop to making and selling the steamed dumplings that have propelled Din Tai Fung to culinary fame today.
In 2003, BreadTalk Group won the franchise rights to the Din Tai Fung brand of restaurants in Singapore. Din Tai Fung now has 18 restaurants in Singapore alone with over 1000 staff, and a new outlet opening at Seletar Mall in November.
Din Tai Fung was even awarded a Michelin star and was ranked as one of the world’s Top Ten Best Restaurants by The New York Times. Back home under Influential Brands, Din Tai Fung were selected as the No 1 preferred Restaurant by Generation Y (18-28 years old) Singaporeans in 2013 and again emerged as the No 1 preferred Asian Restaurant by Generation X (34 – 54 years old) Singaporeans in 2014.
About Influential Brands
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This post is part of Influential Brands 2014, where we highlight the most influential brands in Singapore.