Ding Tai Feng in Seoul 鼎泰豐在首爾
Recently, I went to Din Tai Fung’s branch in Seoul. I was curious how it compared to branches elsewhere. According to some past posts on Chinese-forums.com, Seoul was the only city where Din Tai Fung (from Taipei) and Nanxiang 南翔 (from Shanghai) competed directly. The consensus several years ago was that Din Tai Fung had better food, while Nanxiang had better service.
The Din Tai Fung in Seoul is the most different to the original I have encountered. Upon sitting down at my table, I noticed that they only had chili oil and soy sauce. They did not have vinegar at the table. I thought they might bring some along with the vegetarian dumplings I ordered. They didn’t. After the dumplings I arrived, I tried to ask for vinegar. The waiter did not speak Chinese. In fact, it seemed none of the wait staff did. The English level was also quite poor. Maybe this poor level of language ability, particularly at a restaurant located in an area many tourists frequent, helped carve the impression Din Tai Fung did not have very good service.
I was lucky to sit next to some Korean people that understood dumplings should be eaten with vinegar, and explained to the waiters that in Taiwan, each table has a bottle of vinegar, a bottle of soy sauce, and a bottle of chili oil. The waiter then disappeared for awhile – long enough that he very well could have gone to the supermarket to buy a bottle of vinegar. I suppose the situation is analagous to a McDonald’s that does not have ketchup or salt for their potato chips – very embarrassing.
The dumplings themselves were tasty, but overpriced. In addition to costing double that of the original Taipei location, the amount of filling inside was lacking. I found it quite annoying that the “Gimchi” dish I ordered as an appetizer was by far the largest dish of my entire meal.
Another interesting thing about the “Gimchi” – the Korean word for pickled vegetables, was the translation in each language. In Chinese, it was written as 泡菜 on the menu, as would be expected. In Korean, it wasn’t kimchi, but paochai, like a Korean transliteration of the Chinese pronunciation. For some reason, the English translation took the Korean word at this particular Din Tai Fung location.
For dessert, I had Pumpkin Baozi. The Chinese had a word for pumpkin I hadn’t noticed before – 面瓜 (normally pumpkin is 南瓜). My dictionary didn’t even recognise that as pumpkin – it translated it as “good for nothing.” I enjoyed it, thinking it was the best part of the meal. I was still hungry when I finished though.
I did go to Nanxiang to check out their menu, but they didn’t have anything appropriate for vegetarians. Their prices were also 3-4x that of Din Tai Fung. They might have given more food, but I wasn’t going to chance it. I already spent nearly 30,000KRW at Din Tai Fung only to walk away slightly less hungry than when I came by in the first place.