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Welcome to the World’s Largest Din Tai Fung



Welcome to the World’s Largest Din Tai Fung

A week before opening, Din Tai Fung’s chefs were hard at work in a glass kitchen, one story below street level. For months, they had been pinching and pleating xiaolongbao, the soup dumplings Din Tai Fung makes with exacting standards. To get the pass, each one must weigh between 20.8 and 21.2 grams and have 18 folds. The technique can take thousands of tries to master. Starting this month, its chefs will do it over 10,000 times a day — more than any Din Tai Fung in the world.

On July 11, Din Tai Fung will seat customers for the first time in New York City. The Taiwan-based chain, which has been awarded a Michelin star five times at its Hong Kong location, is opening in Times Square at 1633 Broadway, between West 50th and 51st streets. The grand opening will take place on July 18.

The New York restaurant is unprecedented on several levels. While Din Tai Fung has 15 locations in the country — including in Downtown Disney and the Las Vegas Strip — this will be its first restaurant on the East Coast. When the company announced its plans to expand here two years ago, it practically set off sirens. Fans have done everything short of breaking in and opening it themselves.

Din Tai Fung will produce more than 10,000 dumplings a day at its New York location.

Across its 171 locations, Din Tai Fung is beloved for its consistency. The chain has perfected standardization, applying fast-food principles to handmade foods. Whether you’re in Seattle or Shibuya, the restaurant’s soup dumplings are folded between 18 and 20 times, the so-called “golden ratio” that ensures a thin, aesthetic wrapper, according to James Fu, a corporate chef at Din Tai Fung.

“The only difference [from international locations] is where the meat comes from,” Fu says. The pork for the American restaurants comes from a farm in Iowa.

At 25,000 square feet, the restaurant will be the largest Din Tai Fung to date. The sprawling underground space can fit over 450 diners at capacity, plus another 500 staffers who will work in its kitchens and dining rooms. Fu estimates as many as 3,000 to 5,000 people will pass through its doors each day.

To enter, customers pass through a glass cube and head underground using a spiral staircase or elevator, where they are greeted by a bronze sculpture of the company’s mascot, a smiling dumpling named Bao Bao. The space is one giant room divided into seating areas by wooden screens and panels of tempered glass.

The entrance to Din Tai Fung in Manhattan, New York.

The entrance downstairs at Din Tai Fung in Manhattan, New York.

A low-lit corner booth at Din Tai Fung in Manhattan, New York.

The cocktail bar at Din Tai Fung in Manhattan, New York.

Din Tai Fung can seat over 450 people at full capacity. The company estimates 3,000 to 5,000 people will pass through its doors a day.

The architecture firm behind the space, Rockwell Group, wanted to balance the company’s roots in Taiwan with its future in America. The heart of the room is a 16-seat cocktail bar, which will accommodate walk-in diners. Across from it, a team of roughly 30 chefs will prepare dumplings in a kitchen visible through glass walls, a signature of Din Tai Fung.

The opening marks a new chapter for the international chain. Albert and Aaron Yang, the owners of the American locations, have made several changes in recent years. Their restaurants now accept reservations — they were walk-in only before — and new items have been added to the menu to appeal to American customers, like espresso martinis and chicken xiaolongbao.

The openings have become more strategic, too. “The more high-profile, the more high-foot-traffic locations there are, the more we’re able to share our food and culture,” Albert Yang said last year. Including the one in New York, there are 16 locations in the U.S.

A bronze statue of Din Tai Fung’s mascot, Bao Bao.

Bao Bao, Din Tai Fung’s mascot, was cast as a bronze statue for the New York opening.

The original Din Tai Fung was opened in Taipei in 1958 by the late Yang Bing-Yi and his wife Lai Pen-mei. (The name was a reference to their oil supplier, Din Mei Oils, and former workplace, Heng Tai Fung.) Originally, the shop sold peanut oils for cooking. It became a restaurant in 1972 when noodles and steamed soup dumplings were added to the menu.

“The first store was a small, earthen house with red tiles,” Yang said on Taiwanese television. “We worked and slept there. I was on call all the time. I did not take one step away.”

The American obsession dates back to 1993 when the New York Times featured Din Tai Fung in a list of international restaurants. “We were the only Chinese restaurant to be picked by the big American newspaper,” owner Yang Ji-Hua told Taiwan Today. When Yang Bing-Yi retired in 1995, his children expanded overseas.

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