I’ll admit that it’s only at 23 years of age that I have really truly begun to appreciate Chinese New Year and Chinese culture. As a child, I remember how negative I was towards this time of the year – all the times I got scolded in front of the whole extended family for spinning the lazy Susan just a bit too quickly, how annoyed I would get when people beside me kept serving me food that I didn’t want, how a home-made feast went cold on a table by the front door as prayers were made to ancestors, and the vast amount of excess food that was slowly picked at and re-heated over the following week.
Growing up in Australia and living on the North Shore, I’ve attended schools where I was often the only Asian kid in the class. If you spoke Mandarin in front of your peers, you were laughed at. I was often embarrassed about the lunchboxes mum would pack for me, and declared that I wanted white bread sandwiches like everyone else. Things that were different were shunted – it’s human nature for people to enjoy familiarity and to want to blend in.
How times have changed. The change that Sydney has undergone in the last two decades has really been spectacular. I no longer have to head to Haymarket to get my Chinese broccoli as it’s now at my the local Coles, people now think getting tattoos of Chinese characters (that they can’t understand) are totally rad, and a Chinese restaurant, Din Tai Fung, is one of the most raved about establishments in Sydney.
I visited the World Square Din Tai Fung restaurant on a gloriously picture-perfect Sydney summer day. The Din Tai Fung restaurant is located on Level One of the open air plaza.
Before lunch began though, I was fortunate enough to witness my first lion dance of 2013 by the Australia’s premier stilt jumping lion dance troupe, Jin Wu Koon, down in the main atrium of World Square.
I absolutely love lion dances! I find the whole performance just so much fun – from the loud instruments to the gaudy, bright colours and the breathtaking moment when the lion leaps up to grab the bunch of green vegetables (to which a red envelope of money is attached). I also love how the lions blink and bat their eyelashes – quite adorable!
The symbolic reason for all the noise is to ‘break the silence’, and of course the presence of the lion in front of a store will bless it and bring it prosperity and luck for the incoming year.
Anyway, time for lunch! After visiting Din Tai Fung in Taipei on not one, but two occasions, I was very eager to see if there was any difference. The menu essentially looked the same, with variations in numbers of dumplings per steamer depending on the dish and of course, variations in price! It’s a very easy way of ordering – simply find the dish you want and fill in beside it how many you want before giving it to one of the staff. Quick, easy, and almost no chance of order mix-ups from using this method.
Service was speedy through most of lunch, and while there was the odd occasion where it was a bit hard to get the staff’s attention, it was clearly understandable from the size of the lunch time crowd.
But if you do find you’re waiting, while away the time by looking into the open kitchen and seeing the dedicated chefs at work.
They truly have amazing hygiene standards – not like a lot of restaurants where you see chefs with long hair and beards all out. It was time to witness their work. Oh, and random fact – do you know that Shanghai dumplings have at least 16 folds per dumpling??
Our table had ordered a selection off the menu – first to arrive was the traditional pork xiao long bao:
Hmmmm, pork broth goodness. I’m happy to say that the quality of the xiao long bao was exactly like the ones I had in Taipei – silky and transparent skins, the mince tender and not the slightest bit over-cooked.
Interlude – my orange juice arrived and I was surprised to see that it was freshly squeezed. I will admit that I had been expecting something out of a bottle, but this was divine.
When the shrimp and pork wonton noodle soup arrived I couldn’t help but gape at the amount of chilli oil floating on top – it looked verrrry hot. Upon spooning a measure into a small bowl, I was surprised that it wasn’t as hot as it looked – while it did leave a warm tingle on my lips, the soup was primary black bean sauce based. Inside the wontons were a light, creamy, well-blended mixture of shrimp meat and pork mince – divine.
The noodles were silky and cooked well, although a lot of care had to be taken when transferring them to your bowl to avoid a splattering of chilli oil! And make sure not to cut your noodles; while you can bite them, you absolutely cannot cut them with chopsticks or a knife. Noodles are a symbol of longevity in Chinese culture and you’re pretty much cutting off your lifeline when you cut them.
The shrimp fried rice was surprisingly good. I usually tend to avoid eating fried rice out as, let’s face it, I’m Asian – I can make fried rice at home!
The prawns were perfectly tender and the texture of the rice was as it should be – oil lightly coating each grain so that you could taste each separate grain of rice. So many places don’t heed the golden rule of refrigerating your pre-cooked white rice first and then it all becomes a soft, sludgy mess. Kudos.
Some green beans? Oh ok, only because I feel obligated to eat something green and healthy haha.
The black pepper beef was, well, peppery haha, what did you expect?? Juicy and tender chunks of beef with just the right amount of gravy and black pepper, with no gristle to speak of.
And I was delighted to hear that something very special had been ordered – the pork and truffle xiao long bao. I had seen them in the Taipei Din Tai Fung menu but neither of my parents are fans of truffles despite my continuous attempts to introduce them to its wonders, so I hadn’t ordered it then.
I actually let out a very satisfied and un-ladylike ‘Mmmmmmf’ when I bit into it. As soon as you did, the truffle-scented pork broth burst out, and that SMELL is just one of the most amazing things in this world. Oh, and you get a slice of truffle in it too. There is a God after all.
We were all sitting at our table, straining ever so slightly and debating whether we had room in our bellies for dessert when I heard the faint clash of cymbals and immediately leapt up out of my seat to race to the front of the restaurant – the lion dance troupe had arrived!
The two lions split up in the restaurant and proceeded to make their way through the tables, cheekily flirting with the customers and getting the waitresses in a fluster
When they made their way back to the doorway to the restaurant, it was time to bring down the cabbage!
And awww… a sweet kiss between the two! Right before…
…I got sprayed in confetti! An amazing spectacle, I’ve never seen one up that close before Then I remembered the others had ordered dessert. Back to the table, post haste! And wow…someone had selected well.
Hellooo volcano of shaved ice!! I had had shaved ice back in Taipei before, but not in proportions such as this! It was a massive mound of shaved ice, drizzled in fresh cream and mango syrup, topped with a generous scoop of mango ice cream and with sweet, gorgeous chunks of mango circling the outside of it. I had great fun chipping away at the ice, as it seemed to have frozen solid straight in the middle, but was no less yummy. It was a dessert that truly just captured the essence of summer.
Ice cream had also been ordered – a scoop each of the green tea, taro, and black sesame, all of which were creamy and smooth. Despite everyone’s declarations that they simply could not eat any more, it was quite amusing to see them literally eat their words as they savoured the mango shaved ice and the ice creams. Hey, ice and ice cream – they both melt away to nothing, right?
A lovely meal, topped off with the best lion dance performance I’ve ever seen. I really can’t wait for the other Chinese New Year festivities coming up in the next couple of weeks! Make sure you get on out there amongst it – you’ll probably bump into me
Happy Chinese New Year and enjoy your weekend, m’dears! xx
Din Tai Fung
644 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9264 6010