Sunday, October 18, 2009

Din Tai Fung, 10/17/2009

Yesterday was the first piano recital for my two nephews Seiji and Kenzo ... Since it was at an auditorium in Arcadia, we had to fit in a pilgrimage to that mecca of dumplings, Din Tai Fung. A visit to the shop on Baldwin Avenue, which is the only North American location of the Asian chain, is a rare treat along with the dumplings because a) of the great distance from anywhere and b) because of the minimum hour-long wait that is the hallmark of a trip to DTF...

The various types of dumplings are filled with typical dim sum fillings: ground pork, crab, sweet red bean paste. But the restaurant's popularity lies within the explosion of soup in each dumpling. Explicit directions are printed on the chopstick wrappers, warning the diner of the hot liquid that oozes out of each thin skinned dumpling when it is bitten. Eating these is a ritual. First, you pick up a dumpling, dip it in a sauce of shredded fresh ginger and black vinegar, place it in the large bowl of a melamine soup spoon, and then carefully take a small bite to slurp out the soup before gulping the whole thing down.

If one has waited a polite amount of time before diving into the tray of dumplings, as I did while dining with others (parents of the other pianists), then it is probably safe to simply take in the whole mouthful after the preliminary steps. Many of the group had never been to DTF before, and thought that they ought to try some of the other menu offerings: textbook dishes of fried rice and preternaturally green sauteed vegetables, their emerald perfection no doubt enhanced by a little MSG love.

But those of us who had been there before and the inhabitants of the spirited "kids' table" knew what the priorities were. Six kids each ordered their own tray of ten dumplings apiece, which even I know is a lot of food for a five- to seven-year-old. Their enthusiasm for this exotic yet comforting cuisine - when you're a kid, everything wrapped in dough is good - was evidenced by their happy shouts of "We're full!" This announcement preceded an orgy of running in circles and wrestling on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, to the horror of their parents and passerby - and one highly amused aunt.

At the end of the highly-detailed directions on the chopstick wrapper, it blithely instructs one to "Now enjoy it." It seemed the final benediction to those of us who had anticipated the recital for weeks, after hours of coaxing the kids to practice their songs, the donning of uncomfortable but photogenic clothing, and the hideous traffic endured to get to a venue that seemed to be at the ends of the earth.

Despite all this I hope that next year's recital will be in Arcadia. DTF - and watching S + K reach another milestone in their musical training - is worth the wait.

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