Chinese Breakfast Heaven in the Heart of Valencia: 天天大肉包 Tian Tian Da Rou Bao
Last year I wrote about the thrill of discovering Casa Tafu, a Taiwanese restaurant in Valencia’s Chinatown, adjacent to the train station Estación del Norte. I love eating lunch here - the fried chicken bento has become by go-to, featuring ethereally light, mysteriously savory fried nuggets - and the ladies who work are a joy.
Now I’ll let you in on another spot that I frequent: Tian Tian Da Rou Bao (天天大肉包), or Tian Tian Big Meat Bun! It’s more of a quick-serve affair where you order at the counter, and if the food’s ready you get it right then and there, and if it takes a couple minutes to prepare, the ladies will bring the food to you. And what is amazing is that they specialize in breakfast-y snack-y Chinese foods that I can’t really even find often in California. I probably come here even more often than Casa Tafu, because it’s just so easy to grab a couple things and to either eat in the restaurant or to snack on my way somewhere else.
They’re also located in the Chinatown, not far from Casa Tafu. You can see in the picture above that they actually expanded to an adjacent storefront (connected to the original one at the back), and put up another sign with Tian Tian Xian Mian Jiao Zi Guan (天天鲜面饺子馆), or Tian Tian Fresh Noodles and Dumpling House. But I’ve been told that the “noodles and dumplings” part is kind of on hold, because they weren’t satisfied with the food yet.
So you enter under the original Tian Tian Da Rou Bao sign, and come to a counter with a display of different food ready to go.
There are a few tables on that side, but more tables can be found walking around the back to the other storefront space.
And here’s an overview of some of their most popular items! The namesake Large Meat Buns (大肉包 da rou bao), honest-to-goodness fresh soy milk, crullers (油条 you tiao), and tea eggs (茶叶蛋 cha ye dan). You can also find bamboo steamers of xiaolongbao (小笼包), but while a lot of people associate that name with soup-filled dumplings with thin pasta wrappers, these xiaolongbao are smaller versions of the Large Meat Buns, so the wrapper is thicker and breadier, and the filling, while juicy, isn’t technically “soup.” Literally, xiaolongbao means small steamer buns, and that’s what these are.
Another popular dish is their glutinous rice (糯米饭 nuo mi fan), which is topped with a ground meat and shiitake mixture and bits of fried crullers. It’s a savory, filling dish!
But my most frequent order is their Large Meat Bun with savory tofu custard (咸豆腐脑 xian dou fu nao)!
So more about the Large Meat Buns. When they are freshly made, they are incredibly juicy. Even when they’re left sitting in a warm steamer, they’re still satisfying.
And very filling - just one of these will go a long way towards a filling lunch! And not only that, these cost only 0.70€. That’s right, only 70 cents! I think that’s probably because there is intense competition with another store a couple doors down, where they also charge only 70 cents. That other store is okay, I’ve tried it too, but it’s often crowded, often with people who don’t know what to order, slowing things down a lot. Plus that other store has dozens of different dishes, while Tian Tian Da Rou Bao focuses on a few things, and does them really well.
Another option, also for 70 cents, is the vegetable bun. This one boasts a hearty, savory filling of cabbage, pressed tofu, and shiitake. I like to order this one when I’m craving veggies.
Beyond the baozi, I am thrilled that they make their own tofu custard! Wow! I feel so lucky to live so close to a place that makes their very own tofu custard fresh every day. If you don’t know what it is, tofu custard is the softest, most delicate of all tofus. It can’t be cubed or cut like other tofus, instead it’s scooped up and ladled into a bowl. It’s like the coagulant is just barely holding the soy in solid form. My favorite way of eating it here is the savory version.
They scoop the soft, velvety tofu from a large vat, and then top it with laver seaweed, ground pork (the same as the glutinous rice above), scallions, dried tiny shrimp, and pickled mustard greens. It’s an umami-rich combination that imparts quite the meaty, robust flavor.
The other way of ordering the dish here is sweet. But unlike the Cantonese way of eating the delicate tofu custard, with a ginger simple syrup, there they just add on a scoop of sugar. I found this highlighted kind of a raw bean-y flavor of tofu.
So I sometimes order it plain, and bring it home to make my own ginger syrup! By the way, a bowl of this tofu custard is only 1€, whether you order it savory or sweet or plain.
The soy milk, I mentioned before, is also fresh, and you can taste it too. Together with tea eggs, it makes a protein-rich snack. In the picture below, you can also find their 清明饼 qing ming bing, something I’d never encountered before.
Here, it’s chewy, glutinous rice mochi-like exterior with salted vegetables and pressed tofu. Because that mochi layer is thick and dense, this is quite filling all on its own.
They also have savory 粽子 zong zi. These have a pork filling. And the glutinous rice also make them very filling! These you can find sitting in the mostrador, the display case at the counter.
Also in the mostrador are triangles of savory taro cake 芋头糕 yu tou gao.
Unlike the taro cake you find in Cantonese dim sum restaurants, these are a bit more stiff, perhaps because they’re deep fried. Since they’re sitting out in the display case, they won’t be freshly fried, either. This isn’t something I usually order.
One thing that I do order a lot is the sesame ball.
They’re really big! And these are good at any time of day. When I used to go to Spanish classes by Plaza España, I’d pass by Tian Tian Da Rou Bao and pick one of these up to eat on the way. I like that the red bean paste filling isn’t very sweet.
Another item in the display case (i.e. will likely be served room-temperature) are these 饼 bing. Honestly, I don’t know what they’re called, except bing (pancake).
They’re very thin, and contain an even thinner layer of salted vegetables and pressed tofu, like the green glutinous 清明饼 qing ming bing above.
One item that is made to order is the wonton soup. It’s the most “meal”-like of the dishes on offer here, since it has a few pieces of bok choy to make it more balanced. But my experience with the wonton soup is just okay. The filling is a bit meager in relation to the pasta.
Once, when I inquired if they had opened up the “noodle” half of the restaurant, they told me that while they didn’t make noodles yet, they did have potstickers 锅贴 guo tie.
These were piping hot, since they were also freshly made to order. But the pasta was a bit flimsy, and since there are so many other things that I love here, that don’t require a wait after ordering, I haven’t actually ordered the potstickers again (and am not sure if they still have them).
Tian Tian Da Rou Bao also has some seasonal items. This hexagonal cake is made from barely sweet steamed rice.
They also had a brown version of it. These have to be wrapped up and microwaved to regain softness, otherwise they’re kind of hard and dry.
A better seasonal offering are their pumpkin fritters 南瓜饼 nan gua bing!
These cute disks are pure pumpkin, i.e. no red bean filling. They’re a delightfully chewy, just ever so sweet treat to go along with the other goodies.
So you can see, I’ve tried just about every dish that Tian Tian Da Rou Bao offer! The only ones that I haven’t had, that I’m aware of, are the plain steamed buns 馒头 man tou, and I believe occasionally they have cups of sweet bean or grain soups.
But my standards are truly the Large Meat Bun (the Da Rou Bao in the name), and the savory tofu custard. Never would I have thought that living in Valencia would afford me this ultimate luxury of being able to eat fresh tofu custard (and fresh soy milk, and fresh meat buns) whenever I wanted!
Tian Tian Da Rou Bao 天天大肉包
Calle de Pelayo, 15