Dumpling Heaven: Jin Din Rou, Honolulu

John Heckathorn
The Xiao Long Bao at Jin Din Rou, both regular and green tea. If you're not careful, you squirt hot soup all over yourself.

It’s the first restaurant I’ve ever eaten where the food came with instructions—and a caution label.

Jin Din Rou occupies a glassed-in two story space at the corner of King and Kaheka Streets. It’s remarkably stylish for a Chinese restaurant. Perhaps because it isn’t one. It’s a Japanese take on a Taiwanese eatery serving a dish that Shanghai made famous.

The dish is Xiao Long Bao, better known as Shanghai Soup Dumplings. 

The dumplings come with instructions. Because they squirt hot soup when you bite into them.

Here’s the drill. You pick a twirled-top out of its bamboo steamer basket (xiao long bao literally means "little basket bun").

Then you dip it.  Each place gets a little ramekin of shredded fresh ginger. You are supposed to add black vinegar.

Then you place your dipped dumpling in the ceramic spoon and wait a minute. "Warning! The soup is very hot," say the instructions.

Pierce it, let the soup run into the spoon, slurp it up, then eat the dumpling.

Got it?

The dumplings at Jin Din Rou are remarkable, light wrappers, fillings packed with pork and chicken and flavor, and a broth that transports your taste buds.

They come in eight varieties, many of which weren’t available when we asked. Original is great.  Green tea dumplings, although colorful, taste remarkably like the original. 

Finally, there are foie gras dumplings, that tasted, to our surprise, powerfully of foie gras.

You can’t get careless here. After following instructions for my first few, I got engrossed in conversation, bit one and squirted soup 12 inches across the table.

How do they get soup inside the dumplings?  Simple. It’s an aspic, which turns back into soup when the dumplings are steamed.

There’s a larger menu. The noodles and other Chinese fare comes in remarkably small portions, at least by Honolulu Chinese restaurant standards. Your key here is dumplings, dumplings and more dumplings.

Oh, and dessert. There’s housemade ice cream with fresh fruit, and I’d be tempted to go back just for the mango.

One caution: This is weird for a Japan-based chain but the "Japanese sake" here is brewed in Oregon, and at $28 a 500ml bottle, it’s priced like it was the dai gingo sake from a high-end Japanese kura. To their credit, when Biting Commentary complained, they took the charge off the check.

Otherwise you could eat dumplings all night here for $15 to $20 a person, and you very well might want to.

Jin Din Rou, weekday lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner 5 p.m. to midnight; Saturday to Sunday lunch 10 a.m. to 3:30p.m., dinner 5 to 10 p.m.. 1491 S. King St., 947-1133.