Postcards From China: Shanghai Xiaolongbao


Welcome to Postcards From China, a series of delicious snapshots from my summer in China and Taiwan.

Location: Shanghai
Item: Xiaolongbao (XLB), or “soup dumplings”
Flavor: Sweeter soup than the Chinese-American versions

I took a weekend trip to Shanghai just for the food. It was an eight-hour high-speed bullet train ride from Xiamen–but well worth it.

I craved the saucy braised pork, egg sautéed with tomato, and of course–the xiaolongbaos. In America, we tend to refer to them as “soup dumplings,” but I avoid that term because soup dumplings, or tang bao, is an entirely different type of dumpling.

The history and “what is a real XLB” debate has been dragged out on plenty of articles and food forums already. The technicalities are complicated and can encompass everything from the thickness of the skin to the number of XLBs served (traditionally 10). But according to CNNGo: “In a tangbao, the dumpling will sag between your chopsticks because of the soup. For a Shanghainese xiaolongbao, the filling should be like one big meatball with a bit of soup. The skin should be a bit thicker than tangbao, but not as thick as in shengjian (pan-fried dumpling).”

I hit up two “authentic” locations in Shanghai, and compared to a lot of the XLBs I’ve sampled in New York, the soup is much more flavorful (a hint of sweetness), and the skin is much thicker. We tried the pork and crab varieties.

Unfortunately, there were no spoons provided. But after a couple of awkward tries and dealing with scalding hot soup in my mouth, I figured it out. Either wait for the XLB to cool down and pop the entire thing in or for those who are less patient: Bite the skin, suck the soup out, and then eat the entire thing.

Now unlike previously featured dishes, xiaolongbaos are easy to find in the city. But the closest you can get to the Shanghainese versions is probably at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao (named after the area in Shanghai where XLB apparently originated).