I was avoiding writing a review of this product from Trader Joe’s, but fate has pushed me to it! My wife and I were running around shopping for the kids a few days before Christmas and we had to run into Bellevue, WA to the Bell Square Mall for some particular item and she said she was hungry and did I want to finally try Din Tai Fung dumpling house? I said sure! A little background here, Din Tai Fung is a legend in Asia for it’s most excellent dumplings. Their reputation is such that they have restaurants all over asia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan and they just recently opened two locations in Los Angeles and Bellevue.
We get there pretty early, like 11:15 and there is already 1 hour wait to get in! But there is a little trick to get past that long line if you don’t have a large party or kids. They have a bar right near the entrance and it’s always open and since they move people through pretty quickly, the bar turns over fast. We waited about 10 minutes before someone got up!
I don’t usually get buns when we go out for this type of cuisine (kinda like Dim Sum, but more like a restaurant than fast food), but my wife insisted that I try the Steamed Pork Bun (bao) and in the back of my mind I thought, “hmmm I see a review that might need to be written here!” Thinking of the Spicy Shrimp Bao I had seen up at Trader Joe’s in the frozen section. Which I had avoided reviewing because those things can be pretty hit or miss sometimes.
Anyway, we tried the Pork Bao and thought it was excellent! So if that is the benchmark (9 or 10 on the scale) then I really know what to look for when I try the Trader Joe’s Spicy Shrimp Bao! So on the way home from shopping and eating (boy was I stuffed! The pork and shrimp shaomai were my favorite!). I also learned the authentic dipping sauce is a combination of shredded ginger, soy sauce and a dark rice vinegar. Have to make a trip to Uwajimaya for that dark rice vinegar because I know that Trader’s doesn’t carry something like that.
After I got hungry again later that day (these things fill you up!), I fired up the steamer (I knew microwaving these suckers would render them inedible) and put the Trader Joe’s spicy shrimp bao in the steamer and waited for the recommend amount of time. They sure looked authentic there in the steamer, just a shade whiter than the ones from Din Tai Fung. I slowly cut into one so I could look at the filling and dumpling texture and the one obvious thing is that the Din Tai Fung one was more like bread and the Trader Joe’s was a little on the gummy side and was hard to cut into without the knife sticking to the dough. I know they aren’t really meant to be cut, but just picked up with chopsticks and eaten, but I wanted an interior shot of them filling and I was pretty crappy (from the dough sticking to the knife) so I didn’t include a photo of the filling.
How do they compare to some of the best bao in the world? They kind of hold their own. I thought Trader Joe’s skimped a little of the filling and the dough was a little gummy, but I didn’t have any problem with the thickness of the dough which was on par with the Din Tai Fung buns. The filling was a nice concoction of tiny shrimp, basil and hot sauce. I wish there had been more filling. It was actually pretty good. I dipped them in Trader Joe’s soy sauce to give them that soy kick. They come on individual pieces of paper that help when you steam them, just like the restaurant.
They are clearly made with a bow towards Thailand with the shrimp/basil/hot sauce filling and in fact it says Made In Thailand on the back. Would I serve these to guests? Probably not, I could probably go down the road and get better ones in my town. Again I applaud Trader Joe’s for bringing the world to their shops all over the USA.
So, I thought the Din Tai Fung was a 10 in the dumpling world, then I rate these Trader Joe’s Spicy Shrimp Bao a solid 7 Bells!