Once a month I get a craving like no other. I need it. I have to have it. I can’t shake my hunger until it’s appeased. Xiao long bao (xlb), aka soup dumplings, is a Shanghai phenomenon that puts all other dumplings to shame. I have thought deeply about all types of dumplings. I once dedicated a car ride to brainstorming about all different cultural dumplings (ravioli, empanada, shumai, pierogi, etc.) and tried to engage my husband in such a conversation. His dumpling enthusiasm wasn’t quite at my level, but he can agree that soup dumplings are special. In fact, he lets me drag him to busy parts of Jersey, Chinatown, or even Flushing to satiate my obsession.
When made correctly, soup dumplings are a culinary experience. Imagine a very thin skinned, steamed dumpling filled with a light pork mixture, as opposed to the dense mystery inside most take-out dumplings. Add to that a savory, decadent soup broth inside of the dumpling, surrounding the filling.
Typically, restaurants that make xiao long bao will offer two types: pork and crab/pork mix. If you can’t handle fishy then I suggest sticking to the pork, I do.
How do you eat a soup dumpling?
First, try and control yourself when they present you with the basket full of happiness. They’re hot, so give them a minute. While you wait, put some of the vinegar accompaniment in your soup spoon. Use the provided tongs, or chopsticks, to grab the top, twisted part of the dumpling, and place the dumpling onto your spoon. Do this very carefully because if you break the dumpling you lose 90% of the awesome. Carefully nibble a small hole in the top of the dumpling, and sip some of the broth. Be present in this moment because nothing else will matter and troubles will fade away. Some of the broth will leak into your spoon (yay) and some of the broth will fall onto your plate (boo). Let the dumpling breathe for a moment, unhinge your jaw, and eat the best dumpling you’ve ever tasted. It’s blissful.
*Disclaimer, that is how I do it, and nothing about this process could be authentic.
Check out my husband, doing a decent job taking down a dumpling, here:
Here are my top 3 spots to eat xlb in the NYC area. Soup dumplings are best when the skin of the dumpling is thin, the meat inside isn’t heavy, and the broth is flavorful. I’ve tried these places out, and they fit the criteria.
- Petite Soo Chow, Cliffside Park, NJ
- Shanghai Cafe, Mott Street, Chinatown
- Nan Xiang Dumpling House, Flushing
In closing, if this post doesn’t make you rush out to try some xiao long bao, then maybe Anthony Bourdain can sway you:
*Editors Note: Here are a few places in other neighborhoods outside of the New York area to get xlb. Enjoy!
-Kelly Hecht, Chief Editor
Shanghai Lounge, Georgetown, Washington, DC
Shanghai Taste, Rockville, MD
ROC, Los Angeles, CA
Moon Palace Restaurant, Chicago, IL
Lung Gong Restaurant, Miami, FL
Dumpling Happiness, Austin, TX
Gourmet Dumpling House, Boston, MA