Din Tai Fung Mourns The Loss Of Founder Yang Bing-Yi At 96

Xiao long bao have surged in popularity in the U.S. in the past decade, and a slew of restaurants specializing in them open, most notable among them being Taiwanese import Din Tai Fung, whose founder, Yang Bing-yi, recently died at age 96.

There are plenty of soups that feature dumplings swimming in them, from chicken and dumplings to matzoh ball soup. It's a match made in heaven, with rich broth the perfect backdrop for hearty, starchy dumplings made from an array of ingredients. But few dishes invert this order, with the most famous likely China's xiao long bao — "little basket buns" — which feature unctuous, gelatin-rich soup inside of a sturdy, chewy dumpling skin. They're so beloved that in 2006, the Chinese government took steps to protect them by naming them a national treasure.

As with many culturally significant foodstuffs, the exact origins of xiao long bao is difficult to ascertain. What is known is that in the 1800s, a restaurant owner named Huang Mingxian began to sell the dumplings to hungry Shanghai diners and they proved a hit. Mingxian perfected the art of xiao long bao by adding copious amounts of aspic, or gelatin, derived from slow-cooking animal bones. The aspic, when cooled, helps the dumpling's filling hold its shape at room temperature. When heated, though, the aspic melts and adds a pleasant mouthfeel to the soup. Diners carefully bite off the top of the dumpling skin and slurp the steaming soup that awaits inside. Here's how Yang Bing-yi build a legendary business.

From Taipei to the world

Born in 1927 in China's Shanxi province, Yang immigrated to Taiwan at the age of 20, eventually opening a cooking oil shop named Din Tai Fung in the capital, Taipei. When it became more common to purchase cooking oil in bottles, his business started to flag. At the suggestion of a colleague, Yang and wife began to sell xiao long bao out of the shop. Their dumplings proved to be a hit and quickly overshadowed the rest of the business, with the cooking oil segment shuttered in the early 1970s.

Yang opened more restaurants across Taipei, and moved overseas in 1996 with the opening of a Din Tai Fung in Tokyo. In 2000, the chain expanded even further when they opened their first North American location in Arcadia, California. Today, there are Din Tai Fung outlets in California, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon. While xiao long bao is still the signature dish, diners can also get noodle soups, stir-fried dishes, and more from the expansive menu.

Yang was known for his attention to detail and the meticulous approach that he instructed his employees to take when it came to serving the delicate xiao long bao, he told ABC News. "The timing is very important. If it's cooked too quick then it's underdone; if it's cooked for too long then it will break. If a dumpling breaks, it doesn't make it to the customer's table."