Yang Bing-yi, Who Brought Soup Dumplings to the World, Dies at 96

HONG KONG — Yang Bing-yi, the founder of Din Tai Fung, the Taiwanese restaurant chain whose signature soup dumplings have attracted crowds around the world and one of the rare Asian restaurants to win a Michelin star, has died at 96.

The company announced his death in a statement on Saturday. It did not say when or where he died.

Mr. Yang and his wife, Lai Pen-mei, opened their first modest storefront in 1958, laying the foundation for what would become a franchise that their children and grandchildren have expanded to more than 170 locations across Taiwan, mainland China and 13 other countries, including the United States, Japan, Australia and the United Arab Emirates, with a menu that includes such specialties as wontons in red chili oil, shredded tofu and seaweed salad, and steamed truffle-and-pork dumplings.

A Hong Kong branch has been awarded a Michelin star five times, most recently in 2022.

“What’s significant about Din Tai Fung is that really it was the first food brand out of Taiwan that introduced both Chinese and Taiwanese cookery to the world,” Clarissa Wei, a food writer in Taipei and the author of the forthcoming cookbook “Made in Taiwan,” said in a phone interview.

And although it did not invent the soup dumpling, or xiao long bao — delicate dumplings ingeniously loaded with succulent, soupy fillings — Din Tai Fung introduced it to a global audience at a time when few people outside China knew what it was.

Born in 1927 in Shanxi Province, China, Mr. Yang fled to Taiwan in the summer of 1948, when civil war erupted on the mainland. In Taiwan he found work as a deliveryman for Heng Tai Fung, a small shop that sold cooking oil. He later took charge of the shop’s accounts and inventory. When he was 28, he married Ms. Lai, a co-worker. The couple worked together until the shop closed, then opened Din Tai Fung as a cooking oil shop.

The name Din Tai Fung was a two-pronged tribute to their former workplace, Heng Tai Fung, and Din Mei Oils, their oil supplier. Together, “din” refers to a cooking vessel, while “tai fung” combines the characters for “peace” and “abundance.”

The original storefront, on Taiwan’s Xinyi Road, sold peanut oil in bottles until vegetable oils in tin containers overtook the market in the 1970s. In 1972, to diversify their offerings amid sinking profits, the couple converted half its storefront and began selling steamed soup dumplings, which became so popular that Din Tai Fung eventually focused solely on serving food.

“At first, I knew nothing about the skills necessary for making dumplings and other Shanghai snacks,” Mr. Yang told Taiwan Today in 1997, “but I set out to learn.”

While the labor of food preparation is tucked away in most Chinese and Taiwanese eateries, kitchens with large glass windows are a prominent feature in several of Din Tai Fung’s restaurants. From wide ledges and even “photo spots” illuminated by bright lights, patrons can watch cooks pat the filling and seal each dumpling with the trademark 18 folds, pleated nimbly by hand.

“For the first time ever, people were able to see the sheer amount of work and technique that goes into making a soup dumpling,” said Ms. Wei, the food writer.

The secret to the seemingly miraculous stuffing of soup in a dumpling is mixing a scoop of cold, gelatinized broth with the meat or vegetable filling. After the dumplings are placed into bamboo baskets and steamed, the broth melts, forming a rich, fatty soup within a pliant, paper-thin wheat skin. Biting into one delivers a piping hot explosion of flavors and textures.

In 1993, Din Tai Fung was included in a New York Times list of 10 “top notch tables” from around the world. A 300-word review by the chef Ken Hom described the restaurant as a “sparkling clean” eatery of simple foods, where “the cooks can be seen rolling out the dough to stuff the dumplings” in a small work area with billowing steamers.

The review drew such large crowds that, for a few years, the restaurant stopped serving dumplings on weekdays.

A few years later, in 1996, Din Tai Fung opened its first restaurant in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, at the behest of the owners of a department store chain, who financed the venture and sent chefs to train in Taiwan. In 2000, it opened its first American location in a strip mall in Arcadia, Calif. An outlet is expected to open in Midtown Manhattan this year.

Mr. Yang’s eldest son, Warren, has been the chairman of Din Tai Fung since the 1990s. His brother, Frank, brought Din Tai Fung to the United States.

Information about Mr. Yang’s survivors was not immediately available. Ms. Lai died in 1995.

Mr. Hom, the chef and writer, said in an interview that Mr. Yang’s drive for precision — down to the diameter of the wrappers and the weight of each soup dumpling — set a standard that has stood the test of time and transcended borders.

“It’s consistently good, no matter where I’ve eaten, in Singapore, Bangkok, L.A., London,” he said. He added that he had made a practice of eating the dumplings slowly, leaving some in the bamboo basket where they are served to observe whether the soupy filling would hold up within the thin skin. They always did.

“I could feel his passion to not only get it right, but — it’s almost pride — to make it absolutely perfect,” he said.

Mr. Yang kept a low profile in his later years, but when he did speak to the media, it was often to exult in the skill of his chefs and the quality of his food, and occasionally to deflect criticism that his prices were higher than many other noodle and dumpling shops.

“We don’t care if people say that Din Tai Fung’s food is expensive,” Mr. Yang told reporters at an event in 2003. “Compare it with anything else and you’ll know the difference immediately.”

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