Shang Fu Lou is a relatively new restaurant standing alongside a handful of other nice-looking restaurants on the 8th floor (called “Spice”) of the Tobu Department store–seemingly where most dim sum places are situated in Japan (atop department stores, that is). After living in Taiwan for a bit and becoming a devoted fan of Din Tai Fung, I was really in the mood for some good nostalgia food. (If you haven’t tried it yet, make sure you put Din Tai Fung on your list when you go to major cities or Kumamoto–the fact that I have more or less memorized all the locations in Japan with a branch–and my bitterness towards southern California for hogging the US branches–speaks for itself, I presume. This is where I run off to after I have official business in Tokyo.) While I agree that often local places in Taiwan can cook up mean xiaolongbao for cheaper, you can never go wrong with Din Tai Fung–they’re successful for a reason. Just go.
In any case, I was all prepped for my Greater China food–especially some xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), one of my top 3 favorite foods ever. I happened to run across a lady in my neighborhood on my way home before heading out to the restaurant, and as we stopped to chat, completely by chance in our conversation she happened to bring up Din Tai Fung; when I returned home, I found 2 post cards from my host grandma and cousin in Taiwan. The gods were just telling me to go–so good thing I had already made dinner plans to go there.
I had heard of going there for lunch specials (they have a few sets for a bit over 1000 yen), but I went for dinner–which originally intimidated me a bit since I couldn’t find anything besides 3000 yen+ courses on their online information. Never fear though–while dinner is of course going to be more expensive than lunch, my dinner partner and I each decided on a 1800 yen course (the cheapest option for the sets, honestly). Otherwise you can individually order items off the dim sum menu–which contains a lot of great items (although of course not as extensive as authentic specialty places) such as a few varieties of xiaolongbao, radish cakes, shrimp changfen (I guess the best way to describe it is like a rice noodle spring roll?), shaomai (shumai), char siu bao, as well as several sections of items containing a variety of soups, rice dishes, etc. I was really wanting some changfen and char siu bao, but I decided it was best to go with the set and see how hungry I was from there.
The menu for my dim sum set is as follows:
Which translates into:
- 3 xiaolongbao (regular, crab miso, and shrimp)
- Pork and vegetable steamed dumpling
- Pork and shrimp steamed dumpling
- Nuomi (sticky rice) shumai
- Shrimp dumpling
- Chicken congee
- Zhacai (pickled mustard plant to eat with the congee)
- Aiyu (a Taiwanese dessert)
- Chinese tea
First the tea (which we could get free refills on) came out along with the zhacai, followed very shortly by the baskets of xiaolongbao and the congee. The tea was nice, but not spectacular–I’m not entirely sure what type it was, but I’m glad it was there (like the food version of elevator music).
The congee was surprisingly nice–I’m honestly not a fan of it and don’t eat it too often, but it was flavored enough with the chicken, pieces of bok choy and egg–just the right amount of ingredients after you put the zhacai in. I think this was the main reason I actually got filled up by the meal (while the menu looks like it is a substantial amount of food, as you will continue to see, it really was like a sampler platter more than a full meal).
The xiaolongbao were good, but not great. Even though they were supposed to be 3 different flavors, they all tasted about the same, which my dinner date also agreed to (although I could definitely tell just by the texture which one had the shrimp). The dumpling wrapper was nice and thin–the worst ones are when the wrapper is too thick and stiff–but it wasn’t too durable; two out of the three xiaolongbao I ate broke as I tried to place them in my spoon, therefore spilling out the precious soup and flavor inside.
Next came 2 more steamed dumplings–the nuomi and the shrimp. The shrimp were cooked super well–they had the perfect soft but puripuri texture (once you learn how to use Japanese onomatopoeia, it’s hard to go back to speaking normally) and flavor. I’m not particularly a fan of nuomi dumplings, so it was just ok.
I also completely forgot to take a picture of the next 2 dumplings that arrived in about the same fashion (pork and vegetable, and pork and shrimp), but they get about the same evaluation. Pretty good.
Finally, the aiyu came. Aiyu is a jelly dessert you can find in night markets everywhere in Taiwan. It has a pretty bland flavor by itself and is apparently made from the seeds of a certain type of fig; therefore, it’s normally flavored with a bit of sugar and lime, and is very refreshing–but don’t expect it to be the full concentrated flavor of your jell-o packet jellies you find elsewhere. This aiyu was pretty good and more heavily flavored than the ones I had in Taiwan (meaning much more sugar and lime flavoring), but as an American loving my heavily flavored foods, I was okay with it (sorry world of authenticity). Maybe a little more lime, a little less sugar would be better, but I’m not going to criticize too harshly the place that actually serves this outside of Taiwan.
So all in all, Shang Fu Lou is good. Not great, and a bit pricey (although what else can you expect from dim sum in Japan), but good–a decent enough substitute until I can get to Tokyo (or Taiwan) again. Writing this really makes me want some changfen again, so I’m already mentally planning my order for my next visit. I might try the cheaper lunch deal and get a few things on the side next time. Bottom line: if you’re craving some teatime Chinese food, give this place a try!
Shang Fu Lou (上福樓)
Utsunomiya Tobu Dept. Store, 8th Floor
Hours of Operation: 11:00-9:30
Closed according to the department store schedule