2. Xiaolongbao at Din Tai Fung
Worth the wait?
Photo by Dustin Ames
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Yes, the wait is still ridiculous. Yes, it's still overhyped. No, I don't recommend you get them right now at the Din Tai Fung in South Coast Plaza. I'd say it's still a better idea to go to the Arcadia branch where the wait can be as short as ten minutes and the prices are about a buck or two cheaper. Still, this is a list of favorite dishes, and Din Tai Fung's xiaolongbaos are about the best of its kind.
Shanghainese in origin, but perfected in Taiwan by Din Tai Fung's Chinese founders, xiaolongbaos are bite-sized, soup-filled purses of pork. And just as at every Din Tai Fung, the South Coast Plaza branch has its workers behind a glass partition making the dumplings by hand, one-by-one. You see them flattening the dinner-mint-sized pellets of dough into thin discs; smearing them with the ground pork and aspic filling; then knitting the tops into spiraling folds that crimps them shut. The dumplings are grouped 10 to a basket and steamed. As the pork cooks, the aspic melts into soup--the xiaolongbaos are born.
You pick each one up tenderly with chopsticks so as to not puncture their sagging, broth-filled bellies. After a quick soak in vinegar, you perch them on your spoon with a few shreds of ginger. On the first few, you bite off the tops and sipped the soup--they'll be too scalding otherwise. As they cool lightly, you eat them whole, the sacks bursting their sweet porkiness in your mouths.
No, it's still not worth waiting four hours for (nothing is)...but it is worth an hour round-trip drive to Arcadia and back just for the very reason that you can do it and still be fed before those people in line at SCP even get a seat.
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