Shi Lin: A worthy alternative to Din Tai Fung

I have made my love for Xiao Long Bao known on this blog. And until Din Tai Fung arrives here in Manila, I had to make do with Crystal Jade. That was, until Shi Lin came along.

I first read about Shi Lin in Chuvaness, then read about it again in Desserts Come First. Both bloggers gave the food glowing reviews, so I was excited to try it out, to see for myself if the Xiao Long Bao is, indeed, close to Din Tai Fung’s.

So last Saturday, I dragged my whole family to the Podium to try Shi Lin, finally. I was paying, so I had first choice as to where we were eating. We arrived at a little past 7:30 pm, and were second on the waiting list. The restaurant looks tiny from the door, but it’s in one of those oddly shaped spaces in the Podium that curves to an L-shape out of sight. And the food comes out pretty quickly, so the wait shouldn’t be too long, unless you’re a ridiculous # 14 on the waitlist or something like that. As with Crystal Jade, though, you need to keep watch that no one just walks through the door and takes the table meant for you (as my sister said, “What is this, a McDonalds?”). A woman stole our table, and she better thank her lucky stars that a couple of tables were freed up at the same time, or there would’ve been hell to pay. I don’t understand people who cut in line, whether it be in a restaurant, or the queue for taxis or the MRT.

But enough harping about bi***es who don’t know how to wait their turn. Let’s get to the million dollar question. How does Shi Lin’s Xiao Long Bao compare to Din Tai Fung’s and, as its direct local competition, to Crystal Jade’s? While I sang praises of CJ’s, Shi Lin wins it for me. The broth tastes lighter, cleaner and does not have the slight aftertaste that Crystal Jade’s had. The dumpling wrappers are also much closer to the standard of thinness and consistency that DTF has set.  But the ultimate test, of course, is how close they are to Din Tai Fung’s?

Heaven wrapped in a wanton wrapper

I am extremely delighted to report that these are as close to Din Tai Fung as you can get without actually going to Din Tai Fung. The broth, as I already mentioned is light, clean and filled with the flavor of the pork. The pork is tender and the wrappings thin and delicate. Shi Lin also lets you blend your own dipping sauce of ginger strips, black vinegar and soy sauce (Crystal Jade gives you the dipping sauce ready-made).

It's quite embarrassing how happy this little dumpling makes me

We also ordered the pork chop rice. The rice was lovely. The pork chop had similar flavors to Din Tai Fung’s but falls disappointingly short of expectations. Compared to DTF’s flavorful version, Shi Lin’s is rather bland. Maybe they should go heavier with the seasoning?

This was alright, but disappointing compared to Din Tai Fung's

On the other hand, I was definitely NOT disappointed with Shi Lin’s taro dumplings. These piping hot bundles of sticky goodness were as delicious as I remember them from Din Tai Fung. I daresay even yummier than DTF Singapore’s. No picture though, because the dumplings were gone the moment they landed on the table.

But even if the taro dumplings were a bust, I would’ve been happy. I have found a worthy alternative to Din Tai Fung to tide me over until the time the king of Xiao Long Bao finally comes to our shores.

Shi Lin is located at the 3rd floor of The Podium.

Din Tai Fung: Dumpling Heaven!

I was in Singapore last week, and what I ate of my own discretion (as opposed to work-sponsored lunch and hotel buffet breakfast) could be classified into two major food groups: Din Tai Fung and chicken. I’ll get to the chicken soon enough, this one’s about Din Tai Fung.

Although Crystal Jade has finally come to Manila and, to some extent satisfied my cravings for the world-famous soupy dumplings, there’s nothing like Din Tai Fung Xiao Long Bao. So much so that we went to DTF twice over a five-day period.

Din Tai Fung at the basement of Paragon Orchard

And the Xiao Long Bao was as good as I remembered. The dumpling wrappers were so thin, you could see the broth through the skin of the dumpling.

Little pockets of soupy heaven. Yummm...

The pork meat inside was juicy, flavorful and tender. But anyone will tell you that it’s the broth that makes or breaks a Xiao Long Bao. And though I sang praises of Crystal Jade’s, the broth in DTF’s dumplings tastes purer, cleaner and more flavorful.

Inside the DTF Xiao Long Bao

It’s hard to make the comparison if you’re not having the dumplings together, but with one sip of that fragrant, steaming hot broth, I knew (drama! Haha): that DTF’s Xiao Long Bao are the best I’ve ever had. I was actually even nodding my head while going “mmmmm…” with that first slurp, as if confirming to some invisible higher being that, yes, DTF if the king of Xiao Long Bao (consequently prompting a raised eyebrow from my mom).

I even prefer their ginger, vinegar and soy over Crystal Jade’s, where they give you the sauce ready-made in those small sauce bowls. In DTF, you get to blend the soy sauce, black vinegar and chili sauce to your own preference.

Sawsawan heaven!

Their soy sauce is really mild, and the ginger is cut into such thin strips, the taste does not overpower the soup at all. Add a touch of chili sauce, and I’m in sawsawan heaven.

Salty sour ginger-y goodness...

We also had their beef noodle soup, which was good, warm and comforting, although it has to be said, Crystal Jade’s noodles win the noodle battle.

Perfect for a rainy day

I also ordered their steamed yam dumplings for dessert, which weren’t bad but were still disappointing, given how good I remember the ones I had in Taiwan were.

Definitely not disappointing, on the other hand, was DTF’s fried porkchop. I wanted to order this with rice (apparently, the rice is very, very good), but my mom wanted noodles, and it didn’t make sense to order both. It’s a good thing you can order the porkchop alone, because I really had my heart set on finally trying this. It’s perfectly tender and juicy, and they trim the fat from the chop, so it’s not oily at all.

Next time, I will order this with the rice!

I don’t know how to describe the flavor, because it’s not something I’m used to, but there was definitely a little spice to it, and a lot of very Chinese flavors. Not very helpful, I know, but take my word for it and order the porkchop rice the next time you’re in Din Tai Fung.

But it’s not like I need the porkchop as further motivation to eat at Din Tai Fung. If they only sold Xiao Long Bao, I’d still go and come back again and again.

Can I go back to DTF tomorrow?

Now who do I talk to to finally get DTF to the Philppines?