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More on Chinese Dumplings and Din Tai Fung and authenticity.

Thi N. | Mar 19, 200208:02 PM

This is in continutation of the thread on Stan's Chinese dumplings post a little while ago. He reported that he didn't like the dumplings there at all - that the skins tasted undercooked.

Let me relate my own experience.

I have rocketed back and forth between Din Tai Fung and Meilong Village for Shanghai soup dumplings. (I have not tried the others recommended, I will.)

Din Tai Fung struck me at first as rather odd. The wrappers were very stiff - not what I was used to. I was raised on whatever sort of dim sum you find in San Francisco - very soft, to gelatinous and soft wrappers. I preferred Meilong Village immediately, for the lustiness and depth of the soup flavor in the crab and pork soup dumplings. I would have abandoned Din Tai Fung immediately, except a friend of mine forced me back repeatedly.

That friend is Chinese, and really savored the wrappings at Din Tai Fung, and taught me how to savor them myself. Now, I don't want to be making the, "Chinese prefer it, and they should know" argument - I don't think there's anything particularly valuable in visiting a place that you know to be authentic and don't enjoy. Nor do I feel that there's any inherent superiority in one person's taste just because they happen to come from the place where the food came from. There are just two different reactions to a food - the native's and the non-native's. And you ought to follow whatever taste is yours - I mean, what's eating for, your own satisfaction? Or do you eat to fulfill some weird set of standards about eating properly the foods as they have been prepared for thousands of years by ethnically pure hands? In the end, all I know is - the Blue Marlin's Italian/Japanese spaghetti with teriyaki broiled eel may be the least authentic thing in the world, but it sure as hell makes me happy.

What I do think, though, is there are particular ways of enjoying a food that one might not have, but be capable of learning. A very relevant example: pasta al dente. I ate, like most Californians, very soft, limp pasta my entire youth. Went to Boston, ate with the Italians, started really savoring very al dente pasta - which, when I first confronted, seemed to me to be very undercooked. It took a while to learn to enjoy the experience of pasta having a certain *resilience*, a tender *give*, a certain weight.

Same thing with the Din Tai Fung. Watching my friend savor something that I at first found loathsome - rather chewy wrappers - I tried savoring it myself, and found that I could - that the wrappers were very delightful, in their stiffness, and the way they would hold forth a moment, then shred, releasing a whole hot mouthful of crab/pork soup - and then found that I enjoyed the experience more - and then found that I could not do without it - and stopped going to Meilong Village.

On the other hand, I have never - and I've tried several times - learned to love congealed duck's blood.

Anyway - so, if that's interesting to anybody, give it a try. What might help is something I once read on the back of a book called The Art of Chinese Cuisine, a.k.a. Chinese Gastronomy, which is a very useful book with lots of obscure and simple and perfect recipes like pressing tofu curds under a book for a night and blanching the remains in stock. I kind of think of it as the analogue to Richard Olney's Simple French Food, but for the chinese. Anyway - the back of the book says something like: The chief difference between Western cuisines and Chinese cuisines is that Western chefs emphasize a layering and a harmony of many different flavors, and Chinese chefs emphasize creating one flavor, with many interesting textures.

Anyway, that helped me understand a lot of things that I was missing.

Sorry for rambling.


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