At 6pm, the famous line of customers was not beginning to back up through the kitchen as it normally does. Due to SARS, the food and beverage business is slower all over town, even at Taipei's most famous restaurant, the dumpling shop Din Tai Fung.
But in many ways, the slowdown also has something to do with the fame. Din Tai Fung has in recent years generated much of its business from tourists, with Japanese tourists alone making up one-third of the clientele, according to employee of 13 years Wu Chia-feng (
"There are fewer tourists," said Wu, adding, "Taiwanese customers don't like to line up. But more people are taking out."
The restaurant started out more than 40 years ago as a street stall selling steamed dumplings and 30 years ago it moved to its present location. The kitchen was put at the entrance, forcing customers to file past white aproned cooks on the way to upper floor dining rooms, a feature that has since become a hallmark.
In 1993 the New York Times named Din Tai Fung one of the world's ten best restaurants, and the decade since has seen expansion, with six franchises added in Japan and one each in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Arcadia, California. Ordering and seating systems are computerized and there is now a Web site.
For many locals, growth has changed the restaurant. "Ding Tai Fung isn't what it used to be," said a woman who works in the area identifying herself as Ms. Huang. "It's really expensive. The price is fine for Japanese, but I think the food is better and cheaper at Kao Chi or Chinchiyuan."
Address: 194, Hsinyi Rd, Sec 2, Taipei (台北市信義路二段194號)
Telephone: (02) 2321 8927
Open: 10am to 8:30pm, 9am to 8:30pm, on Sundays
Average meal: NT$300 to NT$500
Details: English and Japanese menus. Credit cards not accepted
Kao Chi, or Kao's Snack Collection (高記), and Chinchiyuan (金雞園), which are both within two or three minutes walk of Din Tai Fung, have similar menus of very good food, and are definitely cheaper (hsiaolungbao start at NT$100 at Kao's and NT$70 at Chinchiuan, compared to NT$170 at Din Tai Fung).
If you don't want to eat out, like many people recently, the entire menu is also available for take away. There is no delivery, but you can call ahead and your order will be ready in about fifteen minutes.