I've talked for ages (almost two years!!) about starting my Eating Down Under Series, which would highlight the three week trip that Bryan and I took with his parents at the tail end of 2012 to celebrate both of his parents retiring. Usually I like to start out a new food series with a bunch of teaser photos giving you a glimpse of what's to come. However, in this case, we were in the southern hemisphere for THREE WEEKS, which is just too many teaser photos to fit in one post. So instead, I am just going to dive into this series. Enjoy!
My birthday happened to land on one of the first few days of our trip down under, while we were still in Sydney, Australia. Bryan's family was so sweet.
"It's Jen's birthday! She gets to choose where to eat tonight."
Ooh, where to eat? Honestly, for me, the answer was easy.
You know about my little mission, right?
My goal is to eat at every Din Tai Fung in the world, that's all. I've made reasonably progress to date. I visited the original one in Taipei, of course, as well as the one in Los Angeles opened by the family's son. There are franchises around the world, and I've gone to the ones in Beijing and Shanghai as well as the one in Bellevue, Washington. Heck, I've even been tricked and gone to a knock-off one in Toronto.
I knew that there was a Ding Tai Fung in Sydney. Once I found out that it was reasonably close to where we were staying, my mind was made up.
I dragged Bryan's entire family (his mom, dad, and sister) to Din Tai Fung in Sydney to celebrate with me. What sports they are!
The marinated cucumbers are one of my favorite cold starters. Bryan's dad also loves them, so we got two orders for the five of us.
The spicy wontons are doused in a flavorful, soy-based chili sauce. Though they are pretty tasty, I still think it's best to save stomach space for the steamed dumplings and the soup dumplings (xiao long baos).
We always like to get stir fried vegetables on the side, and hollow heart vegetable (Chinese watercress) is one of Bryan's favorites. In general, I think Din Tai Fung does a great job on their stir fried vegetables. The vegetables are usually very tender, cooked just the right amount, and seasoned nicely.
Beef noodle soup comes in a generous portion, and is pretty satisfying.
One of my favorite steam dumplings is the "Vegetable Pork Dumpling", though to be honest, it hardly has any pork. You can see how green it is even from the outside. I personally love this dumpling because it is so veggie-centric. However, I think the name is confusing, and I've noticed more recently that the servers warn you and tell you that it's like 95% vegetable.
And then . . . the moment of truth. The famous soup dumplings arrived!
Oh no! Bryan picked one up with his chopsticks and the skin broke!
We've always said that the hallmark of a really well made soup dumpling is one which can be easily picked up with chopsticks without breaking. In general these were good, bu we could tell they weren't as good as the best ones we'd had in Asia.
For dessert we got a number of things. Bryan's sister wanted to get some black sesame sweet steamed buns. These are filled with a sweet paste made from ground up black sesame. It's very fragrant and sweet.
I had to get my favorite, the sweet taro dumplings, which are filled with a whipped taro filling that I find crazily addictive. Seriously, I'll often eat just 3-4 soup dumplings and and an equivalent amount of taro dumplings at the end of the meal.
The family also shared a refreshing mango pudding dessert.
I had an excellent birthday celebrating with Bryan's family at one of my favorite chains in the world. The food was delicious, though overall we definitely thought it was a step down from the ones in Asia. It was closer in quality to the one in Bellevue, which we think is not quite as good as the one in California.
So the current order of quality, in our minds, goes like this:
China / Taiwan > Arcadia > Bellevue / Sydney >> Fake one in Toronto
Surprisingly, I have never visited the one in Tokyo. Perhaps there is too much other good, tempting food around that I can never bring myself to go (or more realistically, I can never convince Bryan to come with me).
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