Xiao Long Bao defined
Chinese Soup Dumplings or Xiao Long Bao are not just a food item but an experience. Often only found in Chinatown neighborhoods or traditional Chinese restaurants, you enjoy these treats through a ritual of precise eating instructions.
A soup dumpling is similar to other dim sum. In other words, a wonton wrapper is filled with a little seasoned meatball. The ingredients may include pork, crabmeat, shrimp, or a combination. The unique element of these nibbles is the soup enclosed by the dough. Nicknamed juicy buns or soupy buns, the meat filling is nestled in a delicious broth.
An eating ritual
Firstly, to eat these, you must carefully lift the dumpling out of the steamer tray with chopsticks, being careful not to puncture the dough, lest all the juicy goodness be lost. Then, you transfer the bun into a ceramic spoon and intentionally pierce the skin. Allow the spoon to capture the steaming liquid. Above all, to do so with your mouth would result in scalding your palate. As the soup cools, you sip the broth from the spoon. Lastly, adding a bit of shredded ginger, you dip the remains into a traditional dipping sauce and enjoy in one big bite (or a series of nips).
Imagine my pleasure when I found a source to order these delicacies online.
Jen & Caleb Xiao are 2nd generation Chinese Americans. You’ll find their stories on their website, outlining their cultural heritage, family, and a love affair with each other and their food.
Their desire is to keep Chinese culture, history, and identity alive.
They founded Chi Jie – 小吃街 – a service that delivers traditional Chinese Soup Dumplings directly to your doorstep. They make the product fresh daily and ship it within one to three business days after your order is placed. This shipping setup ensures your dumplings remain safe and frozen while traveling with blocks of dry ice.
Once shipped, your dumplings arrive fresh at your home within two days.
A real treat
If you have never had Chinese Soup Dumplings, you are in for a treat. If you have, you know what you are missing. The selection includes just the buns or a complete kit if just starting out. The kit comes with a bamboo steamer, two bags of 50 dumplings each, and three dipping sauces.
I tried the kit. The unboxing was unceremonious, if not big. Moreover, the insulated shipper that arrived on my doorstep was a large white cube about twenty-four inches on each side. Opening the container revealed a Styrofoam insert. Inside were the products and the steamer surrounded by paper, plastic, and the required dry ice. I felt terrible for the environment, but there aren’t many alternative methods for cold-chain shipping.
The dumplings are in colorful red and white resealable plastic bags. In addition, three jars contain the sauces, and the bamboo steamer is secured with plastic wrap.
The instructions for cooking are easy enough. Line the bamboo steamer with parchment paper or a cabbage leaf and arrange the dumplings, leaving about an inch between them. However, I needed a big pot for the steamer. My standard pasta pot didn’t fit. So, I grabbed my big stew pot and put a colander upside down, placing the steamer on top. After that, I added a couple of inches of water, brought it to a boil, and covered it. Ten minutes later, my dumplings were ready.
Part of enjoying the Xiao Long Bao–XLB is creating a ritual at the table. The bamboo steamer takes center stage. When ready to eat, guests carefully help themselves to doughy pouches, beginning the culinary procedure I described earlier.
The three dipping sauces tasted authentic and were a choice of chili crisp, classic vinegar, and umami (ginger and scallion in light oil). My favorite is using both the chili and vinegar sauce at the same time.
These mail-order Xiao Long Bao morsels’ taste, texture, and experience were worthy of the best traditional Chinese restaurants. Most importantly, without burning my mouth, I delighted in sipping the savory soup, using my chopsticks to dip the doughy meatball in the sauce, and shoving it into my mouth. I smiled.
The encounter thrilled my senses. I could have XLB at home.
Chef Brian Yong
As Chef Brian Yong explains, these are No Ordinary Dumpling. He takes special care to ensure the dough has the proper consistency, creating a smooth texture–one that is elastic, tender, and workable. Therefore, it gives the dough its distinctive mouthfeel. Chef Yong achieves this through proper selection and sourcing of the Mondako flour. This flour is milled from a blend of winter wheat (typically higher in protein content) and spring wheat (typically lower in protein content).
Chef Yong’s alchemical magic is the result of significant testing and experimentation. Meanwhile, water, yeast, oil, and kansuin (lye water), are carefully combined in measured increments until the right outcome is achieved. In fact, he leaves out the kansui for the dumpling dough, which can result in a hardened texture, better suited to noodles.
I know where to get my fix of Chinese Soup Dumplings — right on my doorstep.
Where to Buy:
CUSTOMER SERVICE: (206) 495-6244
Note: The author received a complimentary sample of the XCJ Xiao Long Bao kit for evaluation. All opinions are his own.