Profile: Ding Xin Di

Owners of the restaurant tell us about what's special about their dumplings

Take the owner of upscale Japanese restaurants and a chef who cooked for Deng Xiaoping during his sojourns, and you’ll get... a fast food restaurant catering to Zhongshan Park’s office workers. That is Ding Xin Di – the Shanghainese pronunciation of dianxin dian, or dim sum shop – a testing bed for a planned city-wide chain. Owner Yu Junyang and chef Gui Jianmin go way back, to when they both worked at the State Guest House in Hongqiao during the 1980s. Yu was a server while Gui was a dim sum chef. After many years in Japan, Yu returned to his native Shanghai, sampled the top 20 xiaolongbao places – as listed on – and decided he could make them better. Enter Gui, the standards of the State Guest House, his steamed-to-order dumplings, and tales about cooking for Deng.

Yu ‘We took the flavours from the ’50s and ’60s in Shanghai but added some creativity. When I was a kid, we used to go to Nanxiang [in northern Shanghai] to eat xiaolongbao. Looking back, they weren’t really that good – the skin was thick, the flour was yellow-ish, not high quality, the pork wasn’t that good either. China was poor then. Now, after trying so many, we know how they can be better. I’ve used my experience from Japan to really standardise things – our standard is the same as The State Guest House. For example, every dumpling skin has to be made using seven grams of dough. No more.’

"_MG_6877-crop"Gui ‘I was at The State Guest House from 1984 to 1992 and I learned from Jiang Haiqing, the head chef there. At the time, Deng Xiaoping would come to Shanghai once a year, around the New Year, and stay for a month or two at The State Guest House. We cooked dim sum for him every day. The xiaolong for Deng were definitely a bit different. All of the ingredients were supplied especially for government leaders. The pork was only used for him. The soup in the xiaolong was different too – we’d use an old hen to make the stock. But you can’t do that in other places. Too expensive.’

Gui ‘I didn’t choose to become a dim sum chef. When I graduated from school, The State Guest House picked me. They assigned me to the kitchen. You know how they assign you to different jobs in the kitchen? By height. The tall ones, they’d be sent to work the woks. The average ones, cutting. The short ones, like me – dim sum. Short people have small hands, good for doing dim sum.’

Yu ‘Our signature is the xiaolong. The best xiaolong need to have thin skin, a lot of soup, and be fragrant but not fatty or greasy. The top is very, very important. If it is too thick, that’s all you taste – dough. The biggest difference is that our xiaolong are freshly made. Also, we don’t use MSG in our soup for the wontons – we use katsuo, the Japanese dried fish. Our fresh pork mooncakes are better than Lao Da Fang – we make 300 or 400 and they sell out in three hours – but that’s only for this season. I’m going to do the classic wontons with sesame sauce soon. I’ve already got people wanting us to open stores in other places, but we are still tinkering. Once we get everything exactly how we want it, we’ll start expanding – probably early next year.’

Ding Xin Di is at basement, Zhaofeng Plaza, 999 Changning Lu, near Huichuan Lu. See full address details