Xiaolongbao is the wonderful soup filled dumpling from the Jiangnan region of China. They consist of a thin, tender skin wrapped out a meat flavored creamy soup. The filling can range from pork, to crab, to pork and crab. I assume there are several ways to eat these delicious parcels of heaven, but I put the dumpling onto my spoon (after giving it some time to cool down), use a chopstick to poke a hole into it the skin so that the broth spills out onto the spoon, dab some chili oil on, then slurp the whole thing up. A great XLB has skin thick enough to keep the soup contained inside, but also must be thin enough so that nothing tastes too doughy. The meat should be tender, while the broth is fatty and rich.
On a trip to New York City to visit my sister last year, she took me to Joe’s Shanghai, located in Chinatown for some XLB. It was around 98 degrees, and we had spent an hour profusely sweating while running around the unairconditioned subway system trying to get there. The last thing I really wanted to do was shove a steaming hot soup dumpling into my mouth, but AC insisted that it would be worth it. The XLB came out in large woven baskets, and as soon as we opened the top and the smell wafted out, I knew it was going to be a good lunch. We ordered two orders of pork dumplings and two orders of crab & pork. I am partial to the crab & pork, while AC prefers the simplicity of the pork dumplings. These soup dumplings were truly delicious, and I scarfed down around a dozen, ignoring the sweat pouring down my face and back (just looking like a vision).
This past summer, I returned to NYC to follow my sister’s recommendation for Shanghai Cafe‘s XLB. We waited in a long line that actually moved fairly quickly and we were seated within 20 minutes. The service is extremely efficient, but do not expect anyone to linger at your table or lavish attention on you (which is fine with me). The pork and crab & pork dumplings appeared at our table within a few minutes, and I eagerly began inhaling them. While these dumplings were very good and hit the spot, I actually prefer Joe’s Shanghai to Shanghai Cafe. The second order we put in came out very quickly, but unfortunately the skin was so thin that the broth had poured out for half of the XLB in the basket.
I have yet to find a place in the DMV that serves NYC quality soup dumplings, but of course I am willing to keep looking. Bob’s Shanghai 66 in Rockville, MD does have decent soup dumplings, although the dumpling skin is just a tad too thick for my tastes. Supposedly, House of Fortune in Mclean, Virginia, and Shanghai Taste in Rockville also have decent XLB. My search will continue on.