How to Eat Xiao Long Bao and Other Tips for Enjoying Soup Dumplings in Honolulu
It’s loved by many but a daunting task for dumpling freshmen. We share three methods for eating xiao long bao for National Dumpling Day, Sept. 26.
Xiao long bao at Fook Lam in Chinatown
Photo: Katie Kenny
First things first: I’m new. To Hawai‘i, that is. Certainly not to xiao long bao. Those glorious, slightly translucent parcels of steaming hot soupy goodness and I have a long history.
As an American-born Third Culture Kid (a child of expat parents who grew up in a culture different from their parent's and the country that issued their passport) who was raised in Hong Kong, it’s an unwritten rule to have an unhealthy obsession with going for yum cha (the Cantonese tradition of enjoying dim sum and tea for brunch) and overordering, due to each diner having a favorite dim sum dish. And like most dim sum-lovers, going to restaurants that specialize in xiao long bao is a priority during the winter months.
Since arriving here in Honolulu in March, I have been searching for my new go-to spot for dim sum. But while getting a list of strong competitors for the usual suspects—har gow, siu mai and char siu bao—has been easy, the search for the best xiao long bao (or “XLB,” a new abbreviation I learned here) continues. The only reason I can think of for the lack of xiao long bao recommendations is that the idea of eating a delicate pouch of boiling hot soup could be a little frightening for some. If that is the case, then I completely understand. So while I’m learning about the culture here in my wonderful new home of Hawai‘i, let me give back by sharing a little knowledge from my neck of the woods across the Pacific: three methods for eating the much-loved steamed Shanghainese soup dumplings.
Gif: Katie Kenny
SEE ALSO: First Look: Yum Cha Hawai‘i
Origins and Ingredients
The name xiao long bao means “little basket bun” due to the round bamboo basket the parcels are steamed in. Originally created in Shanghai, the dumpling is crafted by placing a ground pork-covered cube of gelatinous soup stock inside rolled-out dough, which is then tightly pinched closed at the top. Once steamed, the gelatin cube becomes the hot clear soup that makes this particular dumpling very special.
Tip: Be extra careful when scooping your dumpling out of the bamboo steamer. Lightly pinch low on the sides with your chopsticks and, if necessary, ask your dim sum buddy to hold the paper lining the bottom of the basket. Avoid fast movements or else you will tear the dumpling, releasing the point of why we’re all here: the soup.
Method One: The Souper Bowl
Hold your Chinese soup spoon in your nondominant hand and add a dollop or two of vinegar to it.
Carefully place the xiao long bao, with the flat surface facing up, onto your vinegar-filled spoon.
Gently bite a small opening on the edge.
Release the steam for a second.
Suck out the soup.
Finish by slurping up the vinegar and the rest of the dumpling in one mouthful.
Method Two: Hats Off to You
Carefully place the dumpling on your spoon with the flat side down this time.
Nibble the top off.
Pour the desired amount of vinegar into the hole you created using a small sauce spoon.
Bottoms up! Slurp it all up in one bite.
Xiao long bao at Yum Cha Hawai‘i
PHOTO: JAMES CHARISMA
Method Three: The Scorcher
Dip (or double dip) the dumpling directly into the vinegar.
Place the xiao long bao on your trusty spoon.
In one confident movement, throw your head back, tilt the spoon up and let the entire dumpling fall into your mouth.
Tell everyone after you can start to feel your tongue again that you prefer the other two methods of releasing the steam first.
Tip: Want more flavor? Add a thin slice of ginger to your spoon before placing the dumpling on top.
Photo: Katie Kenny
Restaurants Serving Xiao Long Bao: