There are dumplings, and then there are shouronbo. Literally translated, their name means simply "little steamer bun" but when done well, these dumplings are technical and gustatory marvels. Just bite into one - after first draping it with a few wisps of ginger drenched in fruity black vinegar - and what makes them so special flows, if not squirts, into your mouth. Besides meaty filling, each wrapper encloses a good shot of sweet, hearty broth that can scald you if you're not careful.
Few other dumplings evoke such devotion in their fans, and few dumpling houses command as many fans around the world as the original Din Tai Fung in Taipei. Fortunately for those of us living in Tokyo, Din Tai Fung has brought its dumplings to town, with a branch in the Caretta Shiodome complex.
There are consistently long and daunting lines to get in, particularly on weekends. But the line moves fast, and while you wait you can watch the dumpling makers show off their skills. One cook rolls out slender ropes of dough, and slices thin disks off with a knife. Another rolls each disk into a thin round before tossing it to the next station, where yet another person puts a generous smear of filling on the wrapper. The filling contains generous amounts of chopped aspic, which will render out into broth as the dumpling steams. The last person on the production line deftly seals in the filling, closing the dumpling with 18 tiny pleats. Then they all do it again. And again.
The fruits of their labor arrive at your table about five minutes after you order them, and each one is a representative of Din Tai Fung consistency. Every tender pouch arrives screaming hot with its precious load of soup and tender filling intact, quivering like little water balloons when you pick them up (carefully!). Regular pork shouronbo come six to an order, and cost 580yen.
Also of note is paigumen, a delightfully salty, five-spice fragrant fried pork chop served over thin egg noodles in soup. Another house specialty is noodles with chicken soup (1000 yen). These are egg noodles cooked until just tender then drained and dipped into oily chicken broth to prevent them from sticking. These are served alongside a little crock of light, long-simmered chicken broth.
The menu also features several non-soupy dumplings and other snacks such as fluffy steamed buns (both savory and sweet), and chimaki - seasoned sticky rice wrapped in bamboo. Lunch sets featuring noodles or fried rice plus a basket of 4 shouronbo start at 1200 yen. But if you brave the wait, why restrict yourself to just 4?
There's also a branch of Din Tai Fung on the 10th floor of Takashimaya in Shinjuku, with a slightly bigger menu but even longer lines.
by I-han Chou
This book will introduce you to more than twenty of Japan's favorite specialty foods that are less well known abroad, along with a guide to the best places in Tokyo to try them and expert tips on what to order. From Bento.com.