What makes a good Xiao Long Bao? Is it a delicate pastry that houses the soup and farce? Is it the intensity, or complexity of the soup? Perhaps the flavour of the filling? Or is it the right ratio of soup to filling?
Good question. Fact is, a very good xiao long bao is a heavenly delight. Few delicacies have such a fascinating array of texures and flavours packed into such small parcels. When you lift it up you have to be careful, otherwise the soup will run out. But, if you manage not to pierce it and have dipped it with some vinegar and put a bit of ginger on top, the moment you put it into your mouth is quite sensational. The soup seems to literally explode inside you, coating your entire mouth with intense stock. The delicate, but fully flavoured filling provides a juicy, soft texture that contrasts with the pastry, which should have a bit of bite. No matter if you get them with crab, pork or pork and crab, xiao long bao is the big daddy of all of those fancy molecular exploding ravioli. And its been around for much longer than those.
Hailing from Shanghai, the best specimens can still be tracked down in the bustling metropolis on the Huang Pu. However, a Taiwanese chain, yes a chain, is said to produce some delightful xiao long bao pretty much all over Asia and beyond. Din Tai Fung, is the name of this chain, and dare one say they do know how to make a mean dumpling. It basically has all of the above speaking for it: Thin pastry with bite, complex and intense broth and a filling that is just perfectly seasoned. The best they do are crab and pork xiao long bao, which cost you a cool HKD 68 for six of the little buggers. Mind you, this is one of the many Michelin-starred eateries in town. Whilst this won’t be enough to fill your stomach, it’ll certainly make a fine start.
Because, apart from the xiao long bao, they cook superb vegetables here: Incredibly clean, laden with garlic you can order a number of Chinese vegetables such as morning glory, kai lan, pak choi and the likes. These are so well cooked that they would put many European fancy eateries to shame. After that, you can of course go with some of the other dim sum: Have a bit of a hearty vegetable dumpling, where you do not miss meat or seafood one bit. Or go for the siu mai, oozing with porky and shrimpy goodness. To cut a long story short, this is a fine restaurant. The service is polite, efficient and professional, the room simple and unpretentious and the atmosphere casual and relaxed. And, let’s face it. Where did you last have a Michelin-starred meal for that little money?