Who is your oldest friend? Someone whom you have known for a very long time, and with whom you still keep in contact? Someone who is so close to you, no amount of distance or time spent apart will break the bond between you?
For me, that would be Yu Jin (but let’s call her by her English name, Danielle, just to make it easier for you).
I’ve known Danielle since I was six. She is a year younger than me, and we got to know each other through our parents. Her father is a Korean pastor too, and at that time, both he and my dad were in the same church denomination. Even now, I can still remember her trailing after me, calling me “Unni, unni!” (That is Korean for “older sister”).
We weren’t the best of friends from the start. In fact, she annoyed the hell out of me at first. She kept asking me questions, snatching my things and running away as a game, eating my food, and talking incessantly. In return, I was nasty and snobby to her, treating her like a pest.
But because of our parents’ relationship, we were forced to meet each other, again and again…and she somehow grew onto me. My affection for her started to grow as I started accepting her quirkiness…and instead of finding her irritating, I found her fun, lovable, and adorable. And pretty soon, we became best friends and did everything together.
We had tons of sleepovers together, buying $20 worth of snacks for midnight feasts. We played mermaids together in the pool. We hung out every week after church to climb trees, play hopscotch, jump rope, and freeze tag. We shared a common love for violence— we reigned Queens of the Playground, picking fights with anyone who didn’t fit our fancy; we made up superhero characters and practiced Power Ranger moves on each other.
Oh, gosh…Danielle and I share so many stories together. I can sit here all day sharing our stories. And yes, we also got into tons of catfights, most of it over food. I can’t even count how many times I came home with scratches and broken glasses!
So when I met Danielle today for lunch…it was like meeting a long-lost sister. Danielle studies in University of Michigan right now, but she happened to be back in Singapore for summer vacation, too. Obviously, we had the most joyful reunion. We flew into each other’s arms, and talked a mile to a dozen. Yet at the same time, I felt like it was just yesterday that I had last seen her.
We decided to dine at Din Tai Fung in Tampines, a famous dumpling restaurant that originated from Taiwan.
If you’re a (real) Asian, I’m sure you’ve heard of this place before. They’ve got branches all over Asia, and even have a restaurant in Los Angeles. Well, we both happened to crave xiao long baos, so the decision to eat at Din Tai Fung was an easy one.
Now, Danielle is a faithful reader of my blog, so she was more than happy to let me click away. I wish everyone was like her! Sure will make food blogging much easier! Check out the interior of this place:
This place is usually always packed; but we came on a weekday, when it is much less crowded.
The neat thing about this place? They have an open kitchen, sealed off by clear windows so that you can see all the diligent chefs preparing your meal:
So interesting!! If every restaurant was like this, you need not ever worry about sanitation and servers spitting in your food again!
If I wasn’t so engrossed with talking to Danielle, I would have propped up my elbows by the windows and stare at them working all day. And is it just me, or do they look like doctors performing some kind of intricate surgery? Must be the masks and gloves and the serious expressions…
But making xiao long baos is a serious art. In fact, Din Tai Fung proudly states that they have at least 18 folds in their precious xiao long baos:
Apparently, that’s the perfect number in retaining all the juices in the bun or something, so that the soup and insides stay “plump and juicy within”…
Din Tai Fung has an extensive menu that offers other dishes like vegetables, noodles, and rice besides dumplings…
But I was here for their specialty, the xiao long baos. So we ordered a 10-piece crabmeat and pork xiao long bao:
It came hot and steaming. I had to wait awhile for the steam to clear off before I could take a picture!
Many, many people have given Din Tai Fung less than average ratings. They call this place “overrated”, “not that great”, “can be better”, etc…Well, you know what? They are arrogant peacocks who just want to have the satisfaction of turning their noses up at a popular place. Because you know what? I’ve never had a better xiao long bao.
The insides was hot and juicy, the dumpling skin just the perfect amount of thickness and chewability, and I didn’t know what I tasted more—the delicious pork and crabmeat filling, or my overflowing saliva. I’m sorry I couldn’t take a picture of the insides…I was just too busy stuffing my mouth. I was also too absorbed with the flavor to actually count the 18 folds in the dumplings. 18 folds or not, it was DAMN GOOD!!!! Worth every penny!
We also ordered a 10-piece vegetable and pork dumpling:
You know why I love dumplings? They are not only tasty—they’re also so. damn. cute. Look at the little pinches of dough! The green color peeping out of the slightly translucent skin! How pretty is that?
This was really good, too. The vegetables were bright and tasted really fresh and grassy in my mouth, with just minimal amount of pork to flavor it.
On the side, we also ordered the much recommended the steamed chicken soup:
It turned out to be a pretty small portion, but together with the dumplings and xiao long baos, turned out to be just the right size for the both of us. The soup was clear-tasting, with an intense, almost sweet chicken taste. Also one of the best chicken soups I’ve ever tasted!
The only complaint is the chicken skin. Ew. I HATE soft and chewy chicken skin, unless it’s fried up to a crisp with tons of seasoning. It also left a pool of grease floating on top of the soup, which can be kind of a turn-off.
Another cool thing about this place? They have a little basket beside your table to store your bags:
I’ve always detested having to hold on to my bag while eating. Such a simple solution! (The black one is Danielle’s, the cloth one is mine)
Oh, and one more word about the service: Freaking impeccable. Always smiling, always helpful, but without being cloying or officious. They were so efficient in refilling our tea that I am pretty sure they have a designated tea-refiller guy.
If you can’t tell already, I am in love with Din Tai Fung. Screw all the naysayers—I don’t care if I’m “following the crowd” or “jumping on the bandwagon”…I know good food when I see it!
I also know a good friend when I see one. Danielle and I…we’re bound forever—not just within this lifetime, but for eternity as sisters in Christ. I’ll be there in her wedding no matter how far away I may be at the time, and she damn well attend my funeral and say a nice eulogy for me when I die.
After our meal, we spent the whole day together basically just chatting and doing some half-hearted window-shopping. We came across an accessories shop, so I made Danielle do a pose for me:
The girl with the headband. Look familiar? (Psst, check out my avatar and facebook profile pic).
Oh, and I just absolutely had to take a picture of this for my dear avocado-loving bloggers:
How cool is that?!! Avocado coffee!!! I’m surprised this hasn’t hit California first. Or maybe it has, and I was just oblivious to that fact. I don’t even like avocados, but just thought this might interest you!
I’ll be seeing Danielle each week—so look out for her cute little face again!
Question of the day: Who is your oldest friend with whom you still keep in contact? How did you guys met?
And…what is one “overrated” restaurant that you secretly (or openly) love?