Saturday, January 25, 2014

Modern Shanghai's Guide to the Xiao Long Bao

The xiao long bao or soup dumplings, is a type of steamed bun or baozi from the Jiangnan region of China, especially Shanghai and Wuxi. It is traditionally steamed in small bamboo baskets, hence the name (xiaolong is literally small steaming basket).

Modern Shanghai has been rated the by as the top xiao long bao restaurant in the city, and with good reason: this place has one of the prettiest-looking soup dumplings I have ever seen this side of Manila! They have perfectly formed, medium-sized dumplings with the sought-after "hole" at the top for steam to pass through every single time. With the restaurant's owner in town, who else would be the perfect person to teach me the art of making and eating xiao long bao than Mr. Paul Kwow himself?

The Modern Shanghai branch in Glorietta has a big glass window that lets you peer into the busy kitchen. There, the chefs are hard at work churning out basket after basket of soup dumplings among other things. Paul let Jericho and I into the kitchen for a better view.

Just prepping the dumpling wrappers is an art form unto itself. A thumb-sized piece of dough is laid out on the table and quickly rolled into a perfect circle. This guy rolls out each wrapper in five seconds flat, which is pretty amazeballs to watch. No wonder a lot of martial artists work in Chinese restaurants - you really need on point hand-eye coordination and speed to last in there.

After the wrapper is rolled out, the chef scoops a generous amount of filling into the middle of the dough using the small spatula-looking device. I initially thought the soup of the xiao long bao was put in by freezing little balls of the stuff and placing it into the dumpling - as per TLC - but Modern Shanghai's version uses a sort of jelly that makes for easy melting when the dumplings are steamed as well as a richer broth.

The toughest part is sealing the dumpling which requires some precise crimping to form that perfect hole at the top. This art form takes years to master according to Paul, and he was very proud that the Filipino chefs here could make decent-looking xiao long bao that could put most dumpling makers in Hong Kong to shame - with only a little over six months of training! I'm still wrapping my head around the six months of training how to roll, stuff, and crimp a dumpling.

Back at our table, Paul showed us how to properly eat the soup dumplings. It is recommended to let the xiao long bao cool for a while to let the skin firm up just a teensy bit, which makes for better dumpling handling.

Pick up the dumpling with your chopsticks by pinching the crimped part up top. A good xiao long bao should be able to hold its form without breaking. Give it a good dip in the soy and garlic sauce and place it on your soup spoon so it doesn't roll off the table. The image of Nemo and his fishy friends escaping the dentist's office in plastic bags comes to mind.

To get to the soup without making a sloppy mess, bit off the top of the dumpling and drink up some of the broth. You can put in a bit of the soy and shreds of ginger inside the now opened dumpling if that tickles your fancy. It tickles mine!

After all that's said and done, there's nothing left to do but to eat the rest of the xiao long bao! You can eat it in one fell swoop or savor the experience and let the broth fall into the soup spoon, assisting the dumpling into your waiting gob with your chopsticks.

And there you have it, how to eat xiao long bao without embarrassing yourself in front of your Chinese friends!

Thank you again to Paul for being so accommodating! I have a newfound respect, not just for for xiao long bao, but dumpling in general. It's painstaking to make and takes years and years of practice for something we gobble up in a blink of an eye. All the dumplings go really well with Modern Shanghai's selection of Chinese teas, a must when enjoying your dumpling high!

When mucking around Manila this Chinese new year, check out Modern Shanghai in Glorietta or Mall of Asia and order a few baskets of xiao long bao for good luck! Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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Modern Shanghai
+63 2 556 4167
3/F Glorietta 2, Ayala Center,
Glorietta Complex, Makati
Open Daily: 10am - 10pm