Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Xiaolongbao Workshop at Din Tai Fung

That's me on the extreme left, in green. I chuckled when I saw this photo at Julia's blog, since obviously, I have never seen myself in action. So, that's what we, the food paparazzi, look like while at "work". :)

This was a bloggers' event held at Din Tai Fung (313@Somerset). We got up bright and early on a Saturday morning to attend this workshop. As you know, Din Tai Fung is synonymous with Xiao Long Bao (and their famous 18 pleats). Needless to say, I looked forward to learning how this was done.

The restaurant was abuzz with action when we arrived, although it was only 10 in the morning. Staff were busy getting the place ready for the impending brunch crowd, but these 3 masked gentlemen were nice enough to pose briefly for the camera. Ha!

We were soon introduced to Chef You Zhixiong, who began by sharing some interesting Xiao Long Bao trivia with us:

- An apprentice would need about 2 years to properly master the art of making Din Tai Fung's Xiao Long Bao.

- Only right handers need apply (due to the direction of the swirl).

- It takes SIX different stations to produce ONE Xiao Long Bao.

- Every Xiao Long Bao is made to look and weigh exactly the same, as humanly possible. How's that for precision?

The next time you pop a Xiao Long Bao into your mouth, consider the amount of effort that goes into making it!

Using specially imported flour from Taiwan, Chef You worked up a sticky dough that was kneaded and left to proof.

As in all cooking shows, there would always be a sample that was already prepared. :) Tadah, here's a block of dough ready to be used!

The deftness and dexterity of the chef was amazing. Within minutes, we saw the dough cut into three parts, rolled into long ropes and pinched into small pieces.

An apprentice would have to weigh every single piece of dough, while a qualified chef every 1 in 5.

Chef You then pressed and rolled them into circular wrappers that must fit the circumference of a prototype (see plastic disc he is holding in the photo). That's not all, the edges of the wrappers must be thinner than the centre, giving it that slightly curved, frilly rim.

Next, contort your poor hand into this awkward position - which takes several months to a year to master - to hold the wrapper while you add the filling.

Now, give it the magic number of pleats - 18. No more, no less. By now, you should realise that this job is best suited for perfectionists.

I guess they must have experimented with 17 and 19 pleats, and found 18 to yield the best-looking Xiao Long Bao, with a wrapper that was neither too thick (too chewy) nor too thin (skin will break after steaming). You think? ;)

Foodgawking in session.

Beautiful Xiao Long Bao that is delicate yet sturdy. An art, if you ask me.

Now, our turn. We went back to our individual "work stations" to try our rookie hands. Gulp. Thankfully, red bean paste was used instead of meat for easy handling (also less messy, I reckon).

My rolled wrappers. My wrappers rocked because of all the practice that I've had. :) The chef was suitably impressed ... until I told him I had done this many times before. Haha! I think if I ever worked at Din Tai Fung, I would be sent to the "rolling" station, because ...

... I am hopeless at wrapping!!! I can't even get past pleat number 4, much less seal the Xiao Long Bao. FAIL! Haha!

After the "hard work", we were treated to lunch. However, I had to run off halfway because of another appointment, so my food photos are incomplete. To see the dishes that were served, visit Julia's blog. Look out for the Vegetarian Delight in Special Vinegar Dressing. It was my favourite ... simple but oh-so-good! SO GOOD!

Din Tai Fung (313@Somerset)
313 Orchard Road
Singapore 238895
Tel: (65) 6509-6696
Website here.

Many thanks to Din Tai Fung, for hosting this wonderful workshop and to Sixth Sense Communications for organising it. It was truly an eye-opener and my respect for Xiao Long Bao chefs just went up many notches!