Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Shanghai - The Xiaolongbao

Lin Long Fang
Just after Christmas, I did an annual holiday/food vacation with my two bestest friends (I sound so high school - wait - we did meet in high school) to Suzhou and Shanghai. We ate lots, of course, but let's begin with the elephant in the city - xiaolongbao. These little mounds of pork steamed in a basic flour-water veil of dough sound like the easiest thing in the world to put make, but as with all things deceptively simple, they can drive people crazy in trying to perfect them, taking over the world with them (hello, Din Tai Fung), or in our case, trying to taste them all.

Lin Long Fang
Lin Long Fang
Lin Long Fang Xiaolongbao 麟笼坊特色小笼包
10 Jianguo Dong Lu, between Zhaozhou Lu & Shunchang Lu
建国东路10号, 肇周路和顺昌路之间

Let's start with the winner - thin wrapper, but most importantly, subtly sweet and clear pork & soup, you feel like you're almost drinking a tonic (and makes you wish there was more of it). Before I forget, I must thank Jenny of the brilliant Jing Theory blog for this rec - in fact, you'll find all of the XLB places mentioned in this post (and one more) on her Essential Guide to Xiaolongbao in Shanghai.

Lin Long Fang 

They probably look the sloppiest out of all the places, but that's because of the thin wrapper (and the dumpling that was hastily left rolled over on the far left). An unfortunate thing we noticed is that the Shanghainese seem to like their vinegars quite sweet. In fact they seem to like a lot of things sweet. Anyhoo, if you're super picky, byo vinegar.

Jia Jia

Jia Jia Tang Bao 佳家汤包
90 Huang He Lu, just past Feng Yang Lu (close to People's Square)

There are several Jia Jias around town, but I like this one because it's opposite Xiao Yang Sheng Jian (aka Yang's Fried Dumpling), a potsticker in bun form, not totally unlike xlb - with that same juiciness, only times 3, because the bun is about 3 times the size of a dainty xlb.

Pork's blood soup, a Jia Jia specialty. Was alright, didn't knock my socks off

Jia Jia is no longer a local secret - on any given day, almost any given time, you'll see a line of people outside. If you miss Hong Kong and long to hear some Canto, this line is the place to be. Bumping into your "own kind" usually makes me cringe, but it's kind of worth it for Jia Jia. The wrappers here are consistently thin, the soup is fairly tasty and their julienned ginger is thread-like (pliability is important when you're trying to quickly stuff them into the hole you've just bitten at the top). Also note that their plain pork xlbs sell out by about 2.30pm daily. They're not really sold out, but they decide not to sell them to you anymore, and insist on mixing crab roe into the pork to sell it for a higher price. The crab roe ones are okay too, but I find the mixing a little inconsistent - the first time I had it, I could hardly taste roe, this time, it was quite evident. (By the way, we also bought some frozen ones from them before we got on the plane. They provide flimsy insulated bags for 10 yuan, and one of the old waiters was kind enough to tell us how to steam them, step by step. Cute).

Julienned ginger doused in vinegar at Jia Jia

Shangweiguan Nanxiang Xiaolongbao 上味馆南翔小龙包
10 Guizhou Lu, near Tianjin Lu
贵州路 110号,近天津路

Shangweiguan Nanxiang Xiaolong is rated very highly on Dianping (China's Yelp), and one of us saw a HK TV show in which they recommended this place for its sweet, clear soup inside the xlb - there was a lot of it (kudos), but taste-wise it was pretty average, neither refreshingly consomme-sweet nor gratifyingly oomph-giving porky essence.

1 liang (6 xlbs) normal pork on the left/top, 1 liang pork with crab roe on the right/bottom - Shangweiguan Nanxiang
The wrapper wasn't the thinnest either - there are some places that pride themselves on a thicker wrapper (see Fu Chun, below), but this was the kind where they seem to have wanted to make it thin, but couldn't be bothered/weren't good enough. Actually this can't be bovvered attitude is very evident in the thick ginger shards we got...

Fu Chun

Fu Chun 富春
650 Yuyuan Lu, near Zhenning Lu

These are more bun-like xlbs, with a thicker wrapper (seems to be on purpose, for that more substantial "bun-ness") and a richer, fattier, heavier-flavoured pork to go with it, that might also make good shenjianbao material. Depends on what you feel like that day - think congee vs. fried rice with salted fish and shrimp paste; or steamed sweetcorn on the cob vs. extra cheesy Doritos and if you're erring on the extra cheesy Doritos end, this is your dumpling.

*Some of the nicer looking photos were taken with my friend's Sony Nex-5, or taken by her. I'm now seriously considering a micro four-thirds :O


  1. LLF looks really good - wish I had heard of that one before.

    Definitely one for the list!

  2. Well Shanghai's not far! I just found out that LLF and JJ are owned by the same people/person - but they definitely taste different. Wonder why...

  3. Jen's actually going there for work mid February. I should probably escort her.

  4. Indeed. That would be the gentlemanly thing to do :P

  5. if you go back to Shanghai yo must go to Guyi Garden restaurant, credited with inventing the XLB 100 odd years ago.