Friday, 4 July 2008

Eating Xiao Long Bao (小笼包) in Shanghai and Singapore

Perhaps the most famous of Shanghainese cuisine (especially outside of China) is the Xiao Long Bao (小笼包), or Shanghai steamed soup dumpling. There are lots of different types of dumplings that varies according to the filling and whether they are steamed, fried or cooked in soup. The term 'soup' in its name should give you a clue as to why the Xiao Long Bao is so special. Other than having succulent fillings of minced pork (some varieties also include prawns or even crab) encased within a delicately opaque wrapping, the dumplings are also filled with delicious stock. The dumplings are arranged on cabbage leaves or muslin and then steamed in bamboo steamers. They are usually served with slivers of ginger and Chinese black vinegar in a saucer.


A well made Xiao Long Bao should have a good portion of filling and stock within each dumpling, and the wrapper must be thin and delicate enough so as not to taste 'floury' or sticky, but still strong enough to hold in the filling without bursting (what a waste of the precious liquid!). It was only when I read Steamy Kitchen's post on making Xiao Long Bao that I realised how that stock-within-a-dumpling is achieved - by making gelatinous stock! Mystery solved. Now that I know how it is made, I could theoretically make my own Xiao Long Bao (especially since they are next to impossible to get here in the middle of England). But honestly, it is one of the most labour intensive thing ever (as with most varieties of dim sum, which is why they are such popular restaurant food). It is definitely one of those food that you go out to restaurants for.

Shanghai Xiao Long Bao were originally from a town called Nanxiang, a suburb of Shanghai. The Nanxiang Bun Shop (Nanxiang Mantou Dian), which derives from the original store in Nanxiang but now located in the City God Temple precinct in Shanghai, is famed for its crab meat-filled dumplings and is traditionally considered the most authentic. The restaurant has more than 100 years of history and is always packed with hungry diners, curious tourists and dim sum connosiuers. One could eat in the restaurant upstairs, but there's a perennial queue on the ground floor outside the takeaway counter. Because Xiao Long Bao is so labour intensive, with each made by hand and then steamed, it takes much patience to queue at Nanxiang. I have done it in 45 minutes and just over an hour. You've got to want it badly!

The ever-present queue at Nanxiang Bun Shop.

Baskets of steaming dumplings at the counter

A gift-pack of 32 crab meat-filled dumplings cost RMB30 (around £2.10, or US$4.20). Yes, it makes me want to weep.

A simple take-away portion is less impressive in presentation, but no less delicious. This was pork filling, and I think it was either RMB10 or 15. The skin was a little thicker than I preferred, although not too floury, but the pork filling was the most delicious I have ever tasted.

At the back of the counter, there was a veritable factory of a kitchen, with an assembly line of staff working the dough, making the filling, wrapping the dumplings and steaming.



Rasa Malaysia recently wrote a post about Xiao Long Bao from Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese restaurant that is famous for its Xiao Long Bao and has branches in various countries AP and I personally prefer the ones from Crystal Jade (a Singapore-based restaurant group that also has branches overseas) but we were quite happy to eat Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung that last time we were back in Singapore.

Perfectly formed dumplings at Din Tai Fung. The skin was a lot thinner compared to Nanxiang. But I prefer the flavour of the filling at Nanxiang.

Chefs hard at work

The interesting part of eating at Din Tai Fung was that they had instructions for eating Xiao Long Bao printed on their chopsticks sleeves! It kind of makes sense. You don't want hot soup squirting all over when you bite into your dumpling, not to mention wasting the delicious stock. So how should one eat Xiao Long Bao?



Step number 6, which was cut off at the end of the above photo is simply to eat and enjoy your Xiao Long Bao!


didally said...

I like Xiao Long Bao. Love the savoury soup wrapped in this little gem.

VeggieGirl said...

Oooh, those steamed soup dumplings are so cute! :0D

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

It's amazing to watch people making xiao long bao. They're so fast. Of course, they have to be fast making them because we're fast gobbling these babies up. ;)

Little Corner of Mine said...

I love the soup dripping out from the Xiao Long Bao. Now you make me want to eat it again! BUT, we don't have it here! :(

chiara said...

I love reading your blog!!! I would really encourage you to try make xiao long bao at home, it's not as complicated as it sounds (you do need quite a bit of time but you can break up the steps). I also love Crystal Jade!!! I miss their deep fried durian ice cream :)

MrOrph said...

Those are some great looking dumplings!

I haven't tried my hands at it yet. I have a brand new bamboo steamer still in the shrink wrap! I need to get cracking.

Now if you could just post how to close them and make them look as good as yours, I'd be eternally grateful.

Les Wong said...

Thanks for the enlightenment regarding these great dumplings. Great write up, great pics.

Nilmandra said...

Didally: I crave this dumpling so bad!

Veggiegirl: They are very delicately made, and oh-so-delicious :)

Eatingclub Vancouver: Indeed, those flying nimble fingers!

Little Corner of Mine: I can't get them here either :( But soon, soon... when I get to Vancouver!

Chiara: Thanks! Haha, perhaps one day, when I am feeling particularly brave, or bored ;)

MrOrph: I have no experience making Xiao Long Bao myself, you've got to head over to Steamy Kitchen for that :)

Les Wong: Thanks for the kind comment :)

noobcook said...

hehe, I have tried the same one at Shanghai! Luckily I think I didn't have to queue that long, perhaps it was winter then. But somehow, I don't really like the Shanghai favour because the meat smell was quite overpowering for me. I love all your food piccies, whether they are indoors or outdoors :)

Nilmandra said...

Noobcook: Heh, coincidence! Although most people who go to Shanghai and had Xiao Long Bao are likely to have eaten from that shop. Theirs were quite meaty indeed.

mikky said...

hello... been there (shanghai) twice and i usually go up for the dine-in experience of eating their very famous and delicious xiao-long bao...

Nilmandra said...

Mikky: I did too, once with family. Definitely more relaxing to dine upstairs!

Aunt LoLo said...

Ooh...I've been there! That was the first (and only) place I've had Xiao Lung Bao (Siu Lung Bao in Cantonese)

Nilmandra said...

Aunt LoLo: Now I also feel like having Xiao Long Bao! *Craving*

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