by Steven Doyle
Few things rock my world as much as xiao long bao. The mighty dumpling power-packed with a meatball, (beef, pork, crab, the usual round up) supplied with a generous amount of broth and pleated into a package of steamed love.
Most agree that the xiao long bao’s story begins in the Shanghai suburb of Nanxiang over nearly 150 years ago. It is believed that Huang Mingxian wanted to create a dumpling that would surprise and delight the guests of his restaurant, Ri Hua Xuan. The elegant pleated dumpling was made by adding aspic – or a jellified meat stock – to pork mince, so that once steamed the aspic would melt, thereby filling the inside of the dumpling with a flavorsome broth.
The allure of the soup dumpling – then known as the Nanxiang da rou mantou – worked. People visited his restaurant in droves, keen to try this unique dish.
While the dumplings received much adoration, the name didn’t stick, eventually changing to xiao long bao, meaning ‘little basket bun’.
Although xiao long bao can still be found in Shanghai, it wasn’t until they featured on the menu at Din Tai Fung in Taiwan in the mid 20th century that they achieved global acclaim. The owner of the restaurant unknowingly hired a chef who knew how to make these dumplings without a recipe. As the restaurant expanded – first to Japan, then to Arcadia, California, and then to 19 other sites around the world – so did love for the meaty soup dumplings.
How to Eat Your Dumplings
Xiao long bao will always be served piping hot in a bamboo steamer. Don’t make the mistake of eating them in one mouthful straight away – the hot liquid will burn the inside of your mouth. Instead, wait for them to cool for a minute or two; any longer, and the dough could split and spill the liquid gold within.
Use your chopsticks to lift the xiao long bao onto your soup spoon.
Take a nibble from the pleated top to allow some of the steam to escape. The crown of dough at the top is important for many reasons, and a good xiao long bao will have a top made out of 14 crimped sides.
If you’d rather, drink some of the soup from the middle of the dumpling. You can add black vinegar and ginger to the dumpling or to the spoon beforehand. Once you’ve consumed the broth, you can pop the whole dumpling in your mouth.
Alternatively, if you’ve left the xiao long bao to cool for long enough, you can eat the dumpling in one bite.
Finding This Allusive Dumpling
We have run several stories on where to find this dumpling in Dallas including this article on Royal China. Jeng Chi in Richardson is a place to find them as well, billed as “juicy dumplings”. There are other places to find the dumpling, but they are difficult to make and often chewy and lacking the tell-tale soup. Check this list for a bit of stream-lined happiness. Please do not forget our friends at Monkey King!
One last entry into the soup dumpling saga, for today, is Trader Joes. Yes, mechanically produced, but this gives a decent skin thickness. Not the thinnest, but very good. Especially late night, early morning for a hang over cure, and just about any time you don’t want to leave the comfort of your own kitchen. Full of juicy goodness, and only made with chicken, the dumpling is extremely serviceable.