The soup dumpling, also known as xiao long bao, is the complete package; it’s everything good you could possibly want rolled up into one bite. A sweet and salty broth to slurp up as you bite into it, a soft filling enhanced by a gingery black vinegar… all encased by the lovely texture of a paper-thin pasta.
But because there are so many elements to this coveted dish, the question is how exactly do you eat these Chinese morsels in order to get the maximum possible flavor and enjoyment. Well, myself and a fellow food blogger scoured the soup dumpling hubs of New York City to get some authentic feedback on what exactly is the correct method of consumption.
We found ourselves at Little Alley in Murray Hill where we spent an afternoon testing different techniques. There are a couple of different approaches. Some folks like to pierce the top of dumpling with a chopstick, let steam escape and slurp up all the wonderful broth out of the opening. Others prefer to take a smaller bite from the side of the dumpling allowing the broth to drain into the spoon so that it can be sipped delicately. Others simply let the steam escape to cool the broth and then slurp down the entire thing in one go. Each to his own, but we decided this was the most satisfying technique:
Place the dumpling on your spoon.
Now this sounds easier than it is. You want to make sure you get the delicate little thing onto your spoon without letting it rupture. If it is sticking to the rice paper, the best thing to do is peel it off the paper slowly using your hands.
Take the perfect first bite.
Next you want to take a tiny bite out of the side of the dumpling and let all the juices drain into the spoon. Sip up about three quarters of the delicious liquid and forget everything negative that’s happening in the world. I prefer this method as opposed to the one-bite-with-sauce approach, because you can appreciate the pure, luxurious broth on its own.
It’s always tempting to doctor one’s food, but these perfect specimens need minimal enhancement. The gingery black vinegar dipping sauce is there to slightly offset the heaviness of the meat — not to drown the damn thing. Too much ruins the broth, and too little will result in a bite without much of a pop. Nonetheless, two or three drops added to the inside of the dumpling will no doubt excite your taste buds. Be sure to add a few strands of the mild ginger to the spoon too.
Bask in dumpling heaven.
Proper Chinese etiquette is, at this point, to pick the dumpling off of the spoon with chopsticks and place it into your mouth, but I’m more of a full-fat milk kind-of-a-gal, so I recommend sticking with the spoon and committing to that wide-mouthed bite you know you want. Don’t let your dumpling obsession stop here — find out how 14 countries make stuffed dumplings.
Natalie Lobel is a Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal who enjoys navigating the food space with a compass and a wooden spoon. You can follow her food adventures and diet experiments on her Instagram @natlobel. Special thanks to Little Alley and Jay Zygmunt of @thedishelinguide for indulging my dumpling obsession.
In the video below Esther Choi, chef/owner of Mokbar in New York's Chelsea Market, invites us into her home and makes a pork dumpling soup.