Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao) vs Fried Dumplings (Sheng Jian Bao)
When you are visiting Shanghai, be sure to try both of these local snacks. Both of them are types of “bao”, or dumplings, which are typically meat wrapped in flour dough.
Xiao Long Bao 小笼包, or soup dumpling, got its name from the small, round bamboo steam that the dumpling is always served in. The well-made ones have very thin shells, almost translucent after steaming. These little pouches are able to hold soup inside because soup jello made of chicken and pork stock is mixed in with fresh ground meat or seafood as filling, so when steamed, the jello transforms into juice.
The most expensive type of xiao long bao is that made with pure crab meat/roe filling. I have to say they really taste completely different from the pork type. If you like crab and seafood, you should splurge and try it out. The taste of xiao long bao is enhanced when you dipped it in Zhejiang black vinegar with sliced ginger.
Places to try them:
[Jia Jia Soup Dumpling] Jia Jia Tang Bao 佳家汤包 – 黄河路90号(近凤阳路) The original shop is on Huang He Rd near the People’s Park (across from the Shanghai Art Museum off of Nanjing Rd). They sell only xiao long baos and a couple simple soups. The line is long everyday around noon and the shop closes when the baos are sold out (which is usually around 5-6pm).
[Din Tai Fung @ Xintiandi] Din Tai Fung 鼎泰丰 – 兴业路123弄新天地南里6号楼2楼(近马当路) Multiple locations in Shanghai with 3 in convenient locations: Xintiandi’s cineplex builing, near Yu Garden, and Superbrand Mall in Pudong near the Oriental Pearl Tower. Xiao long baos go luxury at this Taiwanese establishment. If you’re looking for nicer environment and service, and more delicate food and presenation, this is the place. The prices of the baos are 2x-3x the price at Jia Jia. This is a full-menu restaurant with noodles, wontons, and rice dishes.
There are also many neighborhood eateries that sell them but most of the time the look and taste are run-of-the-mill. Another famous place is the Nanxiang Man Tou 南翔馒头 shop in the Yu Garden – constantly mobbed by tourists but I’d say both the baos and service are mediocre. Go with the above 2 places if you will only try xiao long bao once.
[Xiao Yang Sheng Jian] Sheng Jian Bao 生煎包, or fried dumpling, has a thicker and chewier shell than xiao long bao. Ground pork, chopped cabbage, and/or crab roe are also the usual filling (pork is used A LOT in Chinese dishes). The dumplings are cooked a batch at a time in a big, round greased pan. Several rounds of water is added and evaporated as the dumplings are getting cooked, creating a golden, crispy bottom. Scallion and sesame seeds are usually added to enhance the aroma and look. When eating the dumpling, you can dip it black vinegar for taste.
Places to try them:
[Yang\'s Fried Dumpling] Yang’s Fried Dumpling 吴江路54-60号(近南京西路) – the original shop is on Wujiang Rd near Nanjing W Rd subway station. There’s always a long line of people waiting outside. They also opened a newer shop inside the InPoint Mall, which is also on Wujiang Rd but in the new building on the next block where KFC is located. There’s also one branch across the street from Jia Jia on Huanghe Rd but you might not have the stomach to eat all these dumplings at the same time!
Shanghainese restaurants also do good rendition of fried dumpling, two good places to try are Baoluo Restaurant 保罗酒楼 on Fumin Rd and Nanling Restaurant 南伶酒家 on Yueyang Rd, both of which are close to Quintet.