Yang Bing-Yi, patriarch of Taiwan's soup dumpling empire, has died
ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:
The co-founder of a famous chain of soup dumpling restaurants has died. Yang Bing-Yi was 96. He and his wife opened the first Din Tai Fung restaurant in Taiwan and grew their mom-and-pop location to more than 170 locations globally. NPR's Emily Feng reports on how he helped popularize the steamed buns.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: There is never not a line outside a Din Tai Fung, including in Taipei, Taiwan's capital, where the restaurant first began. I wait for my number to be called. Dozens of cooks clad in pressed white uniforms and chef hats deftly make the evening's meal behind glass, meticulously weighing each piece of dough and filling. This attention to detail was all due to Yang Bing-Yi.
KEN HOM: He's really obsessed with doing it perfectly.
FENG: American chef and writer Ken Hom remembers Yang's first Din Tai Fung location. He ate there in 1992.
HOM: Fantastic in its simplicity and taste. God is in the details, and that's where he excels. He took one thing, and he perfected it. And it's that obsessiveness that is at the core of Din Tai Fung's success.
FENG: Yang was born in 1927 in China's central Shanxi province and never lost his heavy Shanxi accent. He was 21 when he took a boat from Shanghai to Taiwan, part of an exodus of up to 2 million Chinese refugees who fled to Taiwan towards the end of a civil war in China. Yang started life over. He opened a cooking oil shop where he and his wife Lai Pen-Mei sold steamed soup buns, or xiaolongbao, on the side. That became so popular, they ditched the cooking oil and started Din Tai Fung full time in 1972. Here he is on Taiwanese television remembering the restaurant's first days.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
YANG BING-YI: (Through interpreter) Our first store was an earthen house with red tiles. We worked and slept there. I was on call all the time. I didn't take one step away.
FENG: Back at the restaurant, now finally seated, I ordered the classic pork and crab roe xiaolongbao. The bamboo steamer comes out studded with six soup dumplings, every one made by pinching the paper-thin dough around broth and filling. Proper xiaolongbao requires its cooks to pleat the dough 16 times. Din Tai Fung requires its cooks to do 18. And because of Din Tai Fung, foodies around the world now know this snack.
CLARISSA WEI: When the first Din Tai Fung opened in LA, most people had no idea what a soup dumpling was. It kind of blew everyone's mind in America.
FENG: That's Clarissa Wei, a Taipei-based writer and the author of "Made In Taiwan," a Taiwanese cuisine cookbook.
WEI: And watching the chefs make those folds and wrap meat in a very delicate, thin wrapper sort of gave people an appreciation that they never had before for something as simple and as basic as a dumpling.
FENG: Din Tai Fung's Hong Kong branch was awarded a one Michelin star rating five times. Yang made few public appearances, but he did appear once on television to teach people how to eat Din Tai Fung's piping hot steamed buns.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
YANG: (Speaking Chinese).
FENG: Bite first into the skin, he says. He delicately slurps up the hot broth that spills out. Careful, he admonishes. Don't scald yourself. And then he eats the bun.
Emily Feng, NPR News, Taipei.
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