For reasons unknown I go ballistic over soup dumplings about this time of year. There is no xiao long bao season that I am aware of, but perhaps this is typically the hottest time of year and I want to settle in for some lighter bites. Or perhaps I get my fill of the juicy dumpling then wait it out for a year before devouring thousands of them once again. Regardless of the reason, I have been on a self-inflicted soup dumpling tear.
Before we get started, I realize that Dallas is not the Mecca of the little dumpling. I have found better bliss in New York, Canada and of course, China. But this is where we live and I set out to find the very best in our own backyard.
Officially the dumpling is called xiao long bao, or XLB’s, which basically means a soup filled dumpling. The neat trick behind the dumpling is to have an ever-so-light dough that is thin to the point of translucence, fill it with a tiny meat ball and a flavorful broth in the form of gelatin or aspic. The skin should be soft and tender rather than thick and fluffy.
The tiny bun arrives at the table steaming hot, so it is necessary to nibble an end to release some of the heat, and slurp a bit of the juiciness waiting inside. You can replace some of the soup with several liquids, including flavorful vinegars. Then the bite-sized delicious ball can be popped into the mouth and eaten whole. This is generally followed with a smile and a slight orgasmic eye roll. Repeat.
There are a mere handful of places in the area that sell the dumplings, but to our finding only a smaller few that do the dumpling justice. We did the heavy lifting and ate all of these dumplings in two nights. If we left off your favorite dumpling, please, by the love of God, let us know and we will add them to this list within hours – after tasting, of course.
Royal China: This is actually our favorite dumpling. It is light, smooth skinned with an ever-so slight resilience to the steamed dough, a perfect bite. The meatball is high on flavor, a pork ball at that. the soup is strong, but not salty in the least. These bad boys are made perfectly right before your eyes with a side show of a cross-eyed and smiling noodle stretcher. You would be favored by sampling these today. Fun fact: Royal China is the oldest running Dallas Chinese restaurant.
Jeng Chi: Our second place dumpling made in wooden baskets stacked as high as you order. This kitchen is open with full view to the diner, but that is typically far from your perch Yet it is still reassuring that all can be seen should you so desire. It is a huge factory of a dumpling station, as they put out thousands of the XLB daily. These come in two sizes, but seriously I could not see the difference. The large are made both with crab and pork and come six to an order, with a fair amount of soup. Not nearly as much as there should be, or could be for that matter, but still a solid dumpling. The skin was well made, but not at ethereal as it could be. The small dumpling is actually the same size but made with only pork. You get eight to an order in the small, but the pork has a very strong flavor that could be slightly off putting. The dining experience more than makes up for the not-so-perfect XLB.
Yao Fuzi: At one time this was our very favorite dumpling. Perhaps there has been a change of the guard at Yao, or a different dumpling maker, but these were not as juicy as they once were. In fact, barely soupy at all on the visit this week. The skin seemed over worked and on the thicker side. The atmosphere is probably the best of all the restaurants we visited, and the food is truly delicious, but the dumpling is simply not the best it could be. You might ask the server to ensure extra soupiness on order as they are all hand made. This may work, but there is a bit of a translation difficulty with the staff at times.
Shanghai: This is a wonderful little hidden gem in North Dallas that when I mention to people they simply scratch their heads. The food is rock solid, inexpensive, and they make the dumpling of choice today. Look for the ‘juicy buns’. However, these are not as good as they should be. The night I visited, no, every visit, the dumplings were definitely abused. Overworked and tough, the skins have been overworked. There is barely enough soup to actually call them a juicy bun, and I almost demanded a re-wording. My dining partner for the evening only ate one of the dumplings, leaving the rest for me to care for. There were dumplings left in the basket at the end of the meal, something I have never witnessed. In addition to all this, the buns took a whopping 30 minutes to make, arriving much longer after our entrees.