Xiaolongbao, or pork soup dumplings, are so delicious it’s almost crazy!! I was first introduced to xiaolongbao on my first trip to Taiwan many years ago. We went to the preeminent chain restaurant for these kinds of dumplings, Din Tai Fung, in the shopping area at the base of the building that one point in the early 2000s was the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101. It only took one dumpling to get me hooked. They’re that good. Now pretty much everywhere I travel that has either a Din Tai Fung branch, or is known to have xiaolongbao, I have to go.
Soup dumplings originated in the Shanghai region of China. Bao is literally translated as “package”. For example, there is a tradition in China and Taiwan called “Hóngbāo” (紅包), or Red Envelope, where monetary gifts are given for holidays or special ocasions via a red envelope. The “xiaolong” comes from the name of the small bamboo steam basket that is used to cook the baozi.
The art of making xialongbao is taken very seriously. And though probably overpriced, Din Tai Fung has really elevated the image of this simple, but difficult to make, food. Getting it just right is actually very challenging:
- The dough needs just the right consistency
- Then it needs to be rolled out to just the right thickness
- Then it needs to be stuffed with just the right amount of meaty filling
- Then getting just the right number of twists to close the top of the package
- And finally steaming it to perfection
Not as simple as it might appear. From my understanding, the men working behind the glassed-in showcase work area are highly-paid professionals who are highly sought after to create these little packages of soupy pork perfection. And actually, one of the Din Tai Fung branches was awarded one Michelin star not many years ago.
The xiaolongbao package itself is wonderful. But the challenge doesn’t end there. The trick at the table for patron is two-fold:
- Mixing the right amount of soy sauce and vinegar (everyone has their own philosophy and opinion about the right ratios), and then get the right amount of thinly-sliced pickled ginger for each baozi, and
- Picking up the baozi out of the steaming basked with chopsticks without breaking it and leaking the wonderful soup inside all over the basket and table
Once that is all accomplished (it’s really not terribly hard, but does take some practice – fortunately I’ve had lots of practice since I love this stuff so much!), you get to enjoy a truly delicious treat.
If you want to see a great video about eating xiaolongbao at Din Tai Fung at Taipei 101, watch here.