Like many people, I first discovered xiao long bao in a famous Taiwanese restaurant called Din Tai Fung. I don’t usually eat in chain restaurants, but I do make an exception for this New York Times rated, Michelin starred eatery which is famous for its xiao long bao. And so after first experiencing the steamy, soupy, pork-filled wonders of xiao long bao for the first time, I became obsessed. Now, it is one of those things I must have weekly or somehow I feel deprived.Xiao long bao means “small steaming purse or basket” in Mandarin, which is a very factual description of a magical dish. These dumplings are traditionally filled with small pork meatballs (although you can find chicken, vegetable and seafood nowadays), and are encased in a thin, translucent dumpling shell with a savory broth within.
The protocol for eating xiao long bao is one of care. They are best eaten when steaming hot, but you cannot exactly just pop it into your mouth as you would most certainly end up with a scalded tongue. To begin with, you can dunk it into vinegar mixed with fresh ginger and scallion. I personally like mine plain as I love the unadulterated taste of the soup. The soup however, is a bit tricky to get to. The customary Shanghainese way is to pick up the dumpling with chopsticks and drop it onto a spoon. Then you bite a little piece off of the dumpling shell and sip the soup out while it is resting in the spoon. After drinking the soup, feel free to eat the rest of the dumpling whole – I generally whole-heartedly devour them in one bite at this point. Careful, these are addictive! I can eat a whole steamer tray all on my own, and in fact I often do.
While xiao long bao are typically part of dim sum or xiaochi (“small eats”– kind of like a Chinese tapas dish), I find that there is no bad time for soup dumplings. For me they are a true comfort food. Had a bad day? – xiao long bao is the answer! Hungover? Xiao long bao to the rescue. Visitors in town? Everyone loves xiao long bao.
Here’s where I go when I need my fix of xiao long bao:
Super Star Seafood
19-27 Wyndham Street
Tel: +852 2628 0826
Maxim’s Palace, City Hall
Low Block, City Hall, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2521 1303
Crystal Jade Palace
2/F, No.6-7 South Block Xintiandi, Lane 123 Xingye Lu
Tel: +86 21 6385 8752
99-1 Xikang Lu,near Nanjing Xi Lu
Tel: +86 21 6247 0101
Lan Zhou La Mian
19 Smith Street, Chinatown
Tel: +65 6327 1286
Din Tai Fung
there are many locations, but I like the one at Paragon Shopping Mall
290 Orchard Road #B1-03
Telephone: +65 6836 8336
About Joanna Hutchins
Joanna Hutchins is a culinary travel blogger based in Shanghai, China.. In 2009, Joanna founded Accidental Epicurean, a culinary travel blog focused on Asia. Joanna is also a contributor to CNNGo, Look East magazine, SE Asia Globe and Two magazine.