If you’ve never eaten a soup dumpling before, you should seriously consider seeking it out. A dim sum staple, soup dumplings (xiao long bao) look like any other steamed round dumpling from the outside, except for the fact that they’re filled with hot, savory, umami-rich soup. Not only are soup dumplings delicious, they’re a whole lot of fun to eat (as long as you don’t burn your mouth). They’re also one of the more mysterious foods out there: How exactly do they get the soup into the dumpling?
As it turns out, it all comes down to gelatin. Have you ever stored homemade stock in the refrigerator only to discover that it had solidified into Jell-O? It’s a similar process to make soup dumplings, except for the fact that the gelatin factor has been kicked into overdrive in order to get the right texture, both before and after steaming. Soup dumpling stock usually contains the parts of the pig that contain the most gelatin and lip-sticking collagen, including the feet and skin. After the stock has boiled to the point where all of its goodness has been extracted, it’s poured into a dish and allowed to cool.
Once the gelatin has cooled, it’s cut into small cubes and combined with a ground pork mixture that usually also contains garlic, ginger, and other spices. This is then spooned onto the dumpling skin, which is then steamed and typically served right inside the steamer basket.
The best way to eat a soup dumpling, by the way, is to transfer it onto a spoon, take a small bite out of the side, and suck out as much of the soup as possible before downing the whole thing in one bite.