What a Dumpling


There is discussion on egullet about where one can find the best xiao long bao, or Shanghai soup dumplings, the dainty steamed dumplings with a whorled top that release a flush of savory stock when you bite into them. They are most famously associated with the Nanxiang restaurant that lies near the Chenghuang Temple, in a touristy area of Shanghai that is like a Disneyland version of traditional China. I dropped in for lunch the other day, and sat with a mixed group of locals and Singaporean tourists in the hectic first-floor dining room. We poured vinegar from a teapot into dipping dishes, added slivers of ginger, and then tucked into the piping hot dumplings, served in a tower of bamboo steamers. It was fun, but there were minute morsels of bone or crab shell or something in the meat, and the pasta wrappers were stodgy. I couldn’t help comparing them with the xiao long bao served at the Din Tai Fung restaurant in Taipei. Din Tai Fung was founded by a Shanghainese civil war exile, and its current manager, Yang Chi-hua, is obsessive about perfecting the xiao long bao recipe. Their dumplings are magnificent: delicate, juicy, and flavourful. Long-established restaurants in mainland China often rest too much on their laurels.

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