The opening of Din Tai Fung (DTF) in the Philippines has been one of the most anticipated events of the year. DTF had its origins as a cooking oil retail business, founded in 1958 in Taipei by Bingyi Yang. It wasn’t until 1972 — when cooking oil became available in tin cans and bulk oil sales went into decline — that Yang and his wife, Penmei Lai, decided to transform the shop into a restaurant specializing in steamed soup-filled dumplings called xiao long bao (XLB).
It became such a hit that they turned it into a full-service restaurant. Since then, DTF has been accorded numerous accolades, including The New York Times naming it one of the Top 10 Restaurants in the World in 1993, and its Hong Kong branches (Silvercord at Tsim Sha Tsui and Yee Wo at Causeway Bay) having been awarded Michelin stars. Today, DTF has 119 branches in 14 countries, including the USA, Australia, Japan, Dubai — and finally, the Philippines.
Here are a few things you should know about the Philippine outpost of our favorite xiao long bao place:
1) Din Tai Fung was brought into the Philippines by The Moment Group. DTF is one of the most difficult franchises to acquire. According to a report published in Forbes in 2011, the DTF headquarters receives and rejects as many as 20 letters a week from prospective franchisees in places like Mongolia and Russia. The Philippine team, led by Eliza Antonino, flew to Taiwan to train at the headquarters for the required six months, both in culinary technique and customer service. “DTF in Manila will be just as DTF is across the globe — from the exactness of each XLB to the way the staff greets customers to the way the table setting is presented,” says Abba Napa. (The Moment Group, founded by Antonino, Napa and Jon Syjuco, are also the folks behind 8 Cuts, Manam, ‘Cue, Phat Pho Manila, Linguini Fini Manila, Bistro M, Ooma, Mecha Uma and Bank Bar.)
2) Yes, the xiao long bao are as we know it — with the same meticulous 18 to 21 folds and reasonable price points. Five different kinds of XLB will be available in the Philippines upon opening: classic pork (P160 for 5 pieces; P315 for 10 pieces), crab roe and pork (P285 for 5 pieces; P565 for 10 pieces), chicken (P160 for 5 pieces; P315 for 10 pieces), green squash and shrimp (P160 for 5 pieces; P315 for 10 pieces), and truffle (P135 per piece). By next year, they will be introducing another heady, very delicious indulgence — foie gras XLB.
Apart from the XLB, other dishes worth trying are the chicken wings in shrimp paste (P225), Taiwanese kao fu (P245) — a stewed spongy gluten with mushrooms, bamboo shoots and edamame — stir-fried Chinese broccoli leaves (P165) and stir-fried organic kale (P230) — the last two are great vegetarian options, too!
3) There are dishes available exclusively at the Philippine branch. Sweet and sour pork (P255), salted egg yolk prawns (P395), hot prawn salad (P395), crispy beef strips (P255), black pepper beef (P395), fried chicken cutlets (P220), golden lava salted egg yolk buns (P85 for 2 pieces) — and my personal favorite — chocolate lava xiao long bao (P115 for 3 pieces) are good reasons to visit this particular branch even though you’ve dined at DTF elsewhere in the world.
And PS: It is so wonderful to know that almost all the ingredients they use here are sourced from around the Philippines — from our local fishers and farmers, with the exception of truffles, seaweed and a few others.
4) Din Tai Fung Taiwan didn’t allow female chefs at the front of the kitchen… until this one particular Filipina who changed the game. Lysa Angeles, who was part of the Philippine team training in Taipei, did so well — she had a record of 1,240 xiao long bao a day! — that DTF chairman Warren Yang changed his mind. Today, there are female chefs working the front of the DTF Taiwan kitchen, and Lysa is now kitchen manager at Din Tai Fung Philippines, working alongside executive chef Rhey Huergas, who also happens to be the very first Moment Group chef and employee.
5) DTF will open to the public on December 8, 2015. And from then on, they will operate from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.