There is such a strong fascination with dumplings and buns. Many restaurants are popping up with the pure intent to serve these starchy treats to hungry patrons. Pure joy gleams across people’s faces when the basket lands on the table. Boiling steam pours out, but the desire to wait for them to cool down seems unbearable in that moment. There are many varieties of dumpling, including, jiaozi, shumai, and char siu. Here, the focus is on xiaolongbao, or, simply, soup dumplings.
The dumpling itself has been around for over 2,000 years, but xiaolongbao has a comparatively shorter lineage. They were created just outside of Shanghai in the late 1800s. The dumpling migrated to the United States, and voracious crowds are now devouring them in Boston. You can order a round or two for the table, or enjoy them all by yourself. I feel the latter is sometimes necessary. The best dumplings of your life are just a short ride away.
Gourmet Dumpling House
Gourmet Dumpling House is a quaint place that cranks out dumplings like it’s their job or something. Don’t be fooled by the size of the restaurant — they can fit your party of six at a table for four. The mini juicy pork dumplings are the coveted item; you can have them with just pork or a mixture of pork and crabmeat, which is the traditional choice. Taking about 10 minutes to prepare, they come out piping hot with a side of vinegar and ginger. The dough is a bit thicker than what I’m used to, but it keeps the broth inside very hot. The order comes with seven, and the description of “mini” is false advertising. You can easily split one order between two people and be satisfied. But one lucky person is going to get one more dumpling.
Down the street from Gourmet Dumpling House is Taiwan Café, which is a bit less crowded on a Friday afternoon. Don't be fooled, though. Try coming at 9:00 at night and there will most definitely be a wait. The dumplings you want to order here are actually quite hidden in their extensive menu, under a section entitled “Mini Steamed Buns.” They come out in a pack of seven in the traditional bamboo basket. The dough is paper-thin and somehow still holds the broth and pork inside. Again, mini they are not. The pork is tender and has no gristle whatsoever — score! The broth inside is very flavorful, not overly salted, and actually at a great temperature to eat a few minutes after being served. The risk of you burning your taste buds off is slightly lower than normal, and the odds of you coming back here are very high.
Winsor Dim Sum Café
A staple in Chinatown for weekend dim sum, Winsor Dim Sum Café fills up at 10 in the morning and stays busy until 3 p.m. Dim sum is served all day. Before you go on a bender as you do at dim sum, remember to point to the pork dumplings on their picture menu. All made to order, the dumplings come eight to a basket and have the handmade look to them. The thick dough has a great bite and the soup tastes like a chicken-based broth; it’s definitely one of the more savory dumplings in the lineup. The comradery felt at this restaurant — you’ll see both families dining together and groups of friends nursing their hangovers — is palpable, and perfect for a weekend of dumpling demolishing.
While not directly in Chinatown, Dumpling House is a must-try for xiaolongbao lovers. Obviously, you are one, since you’re reading this curated list. It’s nice to avoid the chaos that is Chinatown and find yourself in sleepy Central Square in Cambridge. Just kidding; it’s just as chaotic. Nevertheless, the crowds are definitely worth braving for these delectable mini pork dumplings. Unfortunately, sometimes the soup to meat ratio is off, but when it’s on, it’s on. Also, these dumplings can be delivered right to your door. Let that sink in. It makes sense that the people behind Gourmet Dumpling House opened this restaurant last spring. Kind of like an overflow restaurant for people who don’t want to venture into Boston. If you want the Chinatown dumpling taste without utilizing Stratego-status thinking for parking, then head on over to Dumpling House.