Chinese soup dumplings epitomise the romantic ‘rags to riches’ story. From humble beginnings, xiao long bao (or siew long bun in Cantonese) fast grew in popularity to become one of the most recognisable and popular dumplings in China – and, indeed, the world – appearing on nearly every dim sum menu across the globe.
While its origins are often debated, most agree that the xiao long bao’s story begins in the Shanghai suburb of Nanxiang over nearly 150 years ago. It is believed that Huang Mingxian wanted to create a dumpling that would surprise and delight the guests of his restaurant, Ri Hua Xuan. The elegant pleated dumpling was made by adding aspic – or a jellified meat stock – to pork mince, so that once steamed the aspic would melt, thereby filling the inside of the dumpling with a flavoursome broth.
The allure of the soup dumpling – then known as the Nanxiang da rou mantou – worked. People visited his restaurant in droves, keen to try this unique dish.
Whilst the dumplings received much adoration, the name didn’t stick, eventually changing to xiao long bao, meaning ‘little basket bun’.
Although xiao long bao can still be found in Shanghai, it wasn’t until they featured on the menu at Din Tai Fung in Taiwan in the mid 20th century that they achieved global acclaim. The owner of the restaurant unknowingly hired a chef who knew how to make these dumplings without a recipe. As the restaurant expanded – first to Japan, then to Arcadia, California, and then to 19 other sites around the world – so did love for the meaty soup dumplings.
The rest is history.
How to eat xiao long bao
Xiao long bao will always be served piping hot in a bamboo steamer. Don’t make the mistake of eating them in one mouthful straight away – the hot liquid will burn the inside of your mouth. Instead, wait for them to cool for a minute or two; any longer, and the dough could split and spill the liquid gold within.
Use your chopsticks to lift the xiao long bao onto your soup spoon.
Take a little bite from the pleated top to allow some of the steam to escape. The crown of dough at the top is important for many reasons, and a good xiao long bao will have a top made out of 14 crimped sides.
If you’d rather, drink some of the soup from the middle of the dumpling. You can add black vinegar and ginger to the dumpling or to the spoon beforehand. Once you’ve consumed the broth, you can pop the whole dumpling in your mouth.
Alternatively, if you’ve left the xiao long bao to cool for long enough, you can eat the dumpling in one bite.