Since the grand opening of Din Tai Fung in Santa Clara, soup dumplings have been all the rage, so to speak, in the Bay Area. Many (xiao) long (bao) to get a taste (literally) of the menu selections, but this famed Taiwanese dumpling palace requires that reservations be made weeks in advance. For those who are impatient, is there an alternative? Let’s take an analytic look at the cuisine of Din Tai Fung and a local Milpitas dumpling shop, My Dumpling.
Din Tai Fung
Located in Westfield Valley Fair, its entrance lies amidst an endless sea of shoppers, but despite the chaotic exterior, Din Tai Fung itself has a highly sophisticated atmosphere. Stepping into the restaurant, I was greeted by a large glass window that allowed me a behind-the-scenes glimpse of art (dumplings) in the making. The wait to be seated was short, and I was soon maneuvering my way through clusters of modern wooden tables, topped with baskets of aromatic dumplings. Once seated, I reviewed the paper menu and recorded my order.
Whisked quickly out of the kitchen in a bamboo basket, the fish dumplings were steaming hot when they arrived at my table. I marveled at the plump, pleated crescents, and prodded one gently with my chopsticks before lifting it to my mouth. Upon taking my first bite, the supple dumpling skin broke and warm soup spilled into my mouth. The firm, yet airy fish filling was speckled with fresh vegetable pieces, and delivered a sensational seafood flavor. 9/10, would slurp again.
Pork Xiao Long Bao:
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this delicacy, soup dumplings (xiao long bao) are not actually part of any type of soup – xiao long bao are small dumplings with soup and meat filling within them. Since Din Tai Fung is famous for its xiao long bao, I was especially excited to try the recommended pork ones, which were round, steamy, and twisted into a floral shape. Unsuspectingly, I took an eager bite, and my tongue was instantly burned by the generous spurt of hot soup, but after some yelps and cooling, I was able to savor the culinary genius. The meat was perfectly cooked, and fell apart in my mouth with the gentlest bite. 10/10, worth the burn.
Taro Xiao Long Bao:
For dessert, I ordered the taro xiao long bao, and wondered if there was going to be taro-flavored soup in the dumpling. There ended up being no soup in this “soup dumpling,” but I had no complaints because these pockets of gooey taro goodness were the most delectable order of all. The sweetness was balanced extremely well, and I felt as if I could eat them forever. I ordered extra to enjoy at home. 11/10.
With its modest storefront, My Dumpling is easy to overlook in the crowded Milpitas Square, but it’s pretty packed once you enter, especially if it’s lunch or dinnertime. The interior space is small, and the tables are a little bit crammed together, but not so badly that it’s difficult to get around. No reservations are needed; I was quickly led to a table by one of the waiters and given a plastic menu on which I recorded my order.
Although they looked less fancy than those served at Din Tai Fung, they were surprisingly tasty. Unlike other fish dumplings I had previously tried, these had no soup inside, but rather, more fish filling; this was kind of strange to me. However, nothing says regular dumplings should be soupy – I think the lack of soup actually made for heartier dumplings. The skin was soft and pleasant to bite into – I would say that I prefer these fish dumplings to Din Tai Fung’s. 10/10.
Pork Xiao Long Bao:
After my unexpected delight with the fish dumplings, I had high expectations for the pork xiao long bao, but they were pretty average. Even though there was a generous amount of soup in them, I was disappointed by the filling and skin. The meat filling was mostly tender, but there was nothing added to it – no vegetables, and flavoring was minimal. The skin, upon which I build my first impression of a dumpling, seemed too tough. Overall, the xiao long bao were passable, but they weren’t special. 8/10.
Shrimp and Pork Shiao Mai:
I ordered this on a whim because I wasn’t satisfied by the xiao long bao, but this was a bad idea. They tasted strange. Indescribably strange. I do not recommend these. 6/10.
Xiao Long Baottle
In comparison, I would have to say that Din Tai Fung is definitely superior to My Dumpling in terms of xiao long bao, but both places offer delectable fish dumplings. For a cheaper and faster dumpling experience, My Dumpling is a great choice, but know that the cooking can be somewhat inconsistent. I have been here multiple times, and the food is either a hit or miss, but what’s life without some risk? And if you have the time and money (and patience), make a reservation at Din Tai Fung and bask in the glory of its carefully crafted dumplings.