We know you’re excited. We are too. Taiwan’s favorite xiao long bao paradise will open its doors in Manila in a couple of days and to help ease the pain of waiting, here’s everything you need to know about Din Tai Fung in the Philippines.
You have The Moment Group (the company behind 8Cuts Burger Blends, Manam Comfort Filipino, Cue Modern Barbecue, Ooma, Phat Pho Manila, Linguini Fini Manila, Bistro M, Mecha Uma and Bank Bar) to thank for the xiao long bao awesomeness that’s about to come your way. The Moment Group’s Eliza Antonino, Abba Napa and Jon Syjuco have been long-time fans of Din Tai Fung.
Jon said, “We’re fans first and foremost, before we are business partners. We’ve been enamored with the brand as consumers. We’ve dined in Din Tai Fung around the world from Australia to Taiwan. I think the only one I haven’t been to is the one in the U.S.”
Eliza added, “The three of us, we travel all the time, we travel to eat. That’s why we got together to do restaurants. We all have our own favorite restaurants but one thing we had in common was Din Tai Fung – our love for the brand and the food and the service and our overall experience every time we eat at Din Tai Fung.”
Din Tai Fung, which started as a cooking oil shop in Taiwan in the 1950s, became famous for its xiao long bao, delicious steamed soup-filled dumplings that have earned them praises and rave reviews. There are Din Tai Fung restaurants in different parts of the world including the United States, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, China and Dubai. Din Tai Fung’s Hong Kong branch has been awarded a Michelin star every year since 2010.
It took The Moment Group two years to woo Din Tai Fung. “It was literally a courtship. Some things come easy, some things come hard and this was something we really really had to work for. There was a language difference, a lot of the people who were pitching could speak the language which would make their meetings thirty minutes while ours would be four hours. All our presentations had to be translated. That made it quite intense,” said Jon.
And it wasn’t the promise of profit that made them succeed, said Jon. “There was a lot of discussion about philosophies and values and beliefs and service culture. It’s a passion. It’s not so much about what the bottomline would be or what the sales would be or what the numbers were, it was all about who we are as a culture, as a company, how we value our customers and how we show that and how we serve our customers… I think the two-year courtship process is like courting the love of your life. It’s really like a dream come true. It was a process of convincing them that they could trust their life’s work with us.”
It takes three days to make one xiao long bao. A perfect soup-filled dumpling has just eighteen folds. “It takes a whole long process (before you can) put that small little dumpling in your mouth. No shortcuts,” said Eliza.
And to bring you the authentic Din Tai Fung experience, The Moment Group’s managing partners and 20 members of their staff went to Taiwan for six months of training. Eliza started working as a busgirl and eventually worked in the front kitchen so she can learn to make xiao long bao. “My first day of training was in Taipei 101 as one of their servers. I wiped tables, I cleared cutlery, I served guests, everything. I learned to walk the way they walk. I learned to smile the way they smile. We worked 12-hour shifts. They have 330 seats that turn on an average of 12 times a day. You need to set up the table and serve the guest and clean that table 12 times the whole day. You’re just on your feet the whole time. But everybody is smiling. What I really enjoyed about it was you’re not just cleaning the table, there are reasons why you have to follow those steps to clean that table. It’s why I think people who work there don’t feel like it’s just a job.”
The people behind The Moment Group have come up with a term for the unique way Din Tai Fung does things: Happy O.C. “When I got to know how they do things, I realized, that’s why they’re the best. They’re consistent about everything. Every single thing, every detail, every step, there’s a reason why they do the things they do. It’s not just their service philosophy, their company philosophy… Everything is always precise and with reason but they’re always smiling when they’re doing these things.”
The average person takes two weeks to learn how to make xiao long bao but Lysa Angeles, the executive chef of Phat Pho and one of the staff members who flew to Taiwan for training, did it in just two days. Eliza said, “On her second day there, I got called by the assistant of the owner who asked me, “Where did your girl come from?” “Our Vietnamese restaurant.” “Does your Vietnamese restaurant have dumplings?” I was like, “No. Why?” “Because she picked up making the xiao long bao quick.” The next day, their head chef of the front kitchen came because I guess they didn’t believe the trainer that this little girl could do it. The day after that, the owner went to really verify if she was doing it correctly. What’s even more amazing is, if you’ve been to Taiwan, they don’t allow women in their front kitchen, it’s all males. They only allow women who are training from other countries. But because of Lysa, now you’ll see women in the front kitchen because the owner said, we better rethink our idea of not allowing women in the front kitchen.”
Today, Lysa is Din Tai Fung Philippines’ kitchen manager while Rhey Huergas, The Moment Group’s first employee and first chef, is executive chef.
Din Tai Fung’s Taiwanese team has been very impressed with the Filipino staff. Eliza said, “I’m very very proud of the Filipino staff we brought. I believe the whole Taiwan team is very very happy with them. The owner Mr. Yang wants to bring more people there for them to employ in the future, especially the front of house. Like Karen, one of our Taiwanese trainers who arrived in Manila three days ago, she said, “When Mr. Yang sees your staff, the more he’s gonna want more Filipinos working in Taipei.” Things like that are really heartwarming.”
There are twenty Taiwanese Din Tai Fung employees who will be staying in Manila for three months to help make sure that everything is running smoothly.
Din Tai Fung opens its doors to the public on December 8, 11 a.m., at the ground floor of Mega Fashion Hall. Din Tai Fung founder and owner Bingyi Yang will be in town for the launch.
They are ready for the crazy lines. They will be using the same number queueing system Din Tai Fung has in Taiwan. Just make sure you tell your friends to arrive on time—parties won’t be seated until they are complete. “We seat according to party size,” said Eliza.
There will be no limit—you can eat as many baskets of xiao long bao as you want. “We don’t want to deprive anyone,” said Eliza. ”We have 27 dumpling chefs in the front kitchen. They’re trained to do the turns that Taiwan is doing.” Din Tai Fung’s Taipei 101 branch, which seats 330 people, serves 16,000 pieces of xiao long bao every day.
To prove to you their commitment to great service, here’s an interesting fact: Din Tai Fung Philippines has 164 seats and 167 employees. They have a front kitchen, a back kitchen and a central kitchen all working to serve you.
First time at Din Tai Fung? Order the pork xiao long bao. “I expect every table to have pork xiao long bao,” said Eliza.
From December 8 to 15, the first 50 tables will get a free basket of pork xiao long bao—a small basket of 5 pieces if there are five people or less in your group and a big basket if there are six people or more at your table.
Not sure what else to order? You might want to try the favorites Jon and Eliza’s favorites, after all they’ve eaten at Din Tai Fung countless times.
Eliza’s picks? “Pork xiao long bao, shrimp wanton with the house special spicy sauce, I also like our potstickers. I’m not a dessert person but I will eat the chocolate lava xiao long bao definitely. The red bean once in a while. I also like the DTF house special, the salted egg yolk prawns I really like as well. My ultimate favorite is the sesame mochi.”
Jon’s faves? “The vegetables are very clean, they’re fresh, they’re crisp, they’re the right temperature, they’re not overseasoned. I also love the pork chop fried rice, I’m guilty of dousing it with a lot of chili sauce. Plus of course the xiao long bao.”
Even if you’re a regular at the Din Tai Fung branches abroad, Din Tai Fung Philippines still has surprises in store for you. There are dishes that will only be served here like the crispy beef, salted egg yolk prawns, sweet and sour pork and choco lava xiao long bao.
Another interesting fact? Din Tai Fung in Taiwan uses Philippine crabs to make their crab roe xiao long bao. That’s what they will use here too. Eliza said, “The raw ingredients mostly are local. It’s really fresh, everything is fresh. We get the crabs live and we make it himay, get the crab roe, get the crab meat and cook it in our central kitchen to make the crab roe xiao long bao. No shortcuts. Even the shrimp, no shortcuts. We peel the shrimps in the central kitchen and they’re sent here.”
Keep your eyes open for the little touches that make Din Tai Fung the great resto that it is. The no-drip soy sauce bottles. The bag holders. The space between the tables. The special chopsticks that are perfect for eating xiao long bao. Jon said, “All the small little things come together seamlessly… There are so many subtleties and we encourage consumers to come and experience it for themselves.”
Still not sure about the right way to eat xiao long bao? There will be a guide at each table to take you through the steps. “To enjoy eating the pork xiao long bao, we recommend that you pick it up using the chopstick on the top, put it on the sauce, put it on the spoon, poke a hole so the sauce comes out and then sip the broth and put some ginger on top and bite,“ said Eliza.
Make xiao long bao sauce by pouring soy sauce and rice vinegar over ginger. Make sure you pour the soy sauce first and that use you use one part of soy sauce and three parts of vinegar. Din Tai Fung’s soy sauce is brewed especially for the brand in Taiwan—it’s non-GMO. Daunted by the challenge of getting the ratio right? Don’t worry, the staff of Din Tai Fung can make the sauce for you.
But if you’re eating truffle and pork xiao long bao, skip the sauce. Eat it on its own so you can enjoy the truffle taste. “Use a different spoon and saucer for the truffle so it doesn’t mix and drink to clean your palate,” said Eliza. Or, better yet, start your meal by eating the truffle and pork xiao long bao. “Each truffle xiao long bao has at least one gram of real truffle but of course it still has truffle paste, truffle salt, truffle oil,” Eliza added.
The best part? Din Tai Fung Philippines’ prices are even lower than Taiwan’s. Eliza said, “We match Indonesia and Malaysia’s pricing.”
Jon added, “We are priced so our customers can get a great meal, good value, get full and satisfied without spending too much. We are priced very very competitively.” A five-piece order of pork xiao long bao costs P160 while a ten-piece order is P315.
Click to see the full menu:
The most expensive item on the menu: the truffle and pork xiao long bao which costs P135 per piece. But if you’re a truffle fan like we are, trust us, it’s worth it.
You won’t be paying for your meal at the table. You will do it the Taiwanese way—you’ll stop by the cashier and pay on your way out. And yes, Din Tai Fung accepts cash and credit cards.
Sorry, you can’t order your xiao long bao to go. It’s best eaten hot anyway.
There are no plans to open more branches… yet. “We only plan to open more if this branch does the brand justice. We want to make sure that we get the quality, consistency, reliability down as you would expect in Taiwan and other countries and only at that point will we look to expand. We’d love to make this brand and this experience available to everyone. But it’s all about quality, it’s not a race.”
Use the hashtags #XLBisDTF #DinTaiFungPH to join the conversation.
For more on Din Tai Fung Philippines, pick up a copy of Inquirer’s December 6 issue.