As you’re reading the title of this blog entry, you may be wondering exactly what is an “xia long bao” or XLB for short. While no expert, this is what I came up with in my initial research about this tasty dumpling treat.
To start, xiao long bao (literally “little basket bun”; also known as a soup dumpling) is a type of baozi (filled bun or bread-like item) from the Southern provinces of China, including Shanghai and Wuxi. Xia Long Baos are traditionally steamed in bamboo baskets, hence the name.
It can be filled with hot soup and meat and/or vegetarian fillings, as well as other possibilities. The fillings are wrapped in something like a jiaozi wrapper that turns almost translucent after being steamed. Also referred to as Shanghai steamed buns or juicy dumplings, they can be recognized by their unique design, as the filled wrapper is gathered up into fine folds at the top, prior to steaming.
One way to eat your XLB generally involves pouring Chinese black vinegar into the small saucer which contains ginger that usually arrives with your order. Gently dip the dumpling into the vinegar and than deposit onto a Chinese soup spoon. Take a bite out of the skin and sip the soup out. Then you can drizzle some vinegar on top along with the ginger and then enjoy the rest of the dumpling. Of course, there are may be other ways to eat XLBs, but in the end, just find the way that works best for you, keeping in mind that the soup coming out of the dumpling may be quite hot.
Those of you familiar with the San Gabriel Valley know that we are blessed with some of the best and authentic Chinese dining outside of China itself. What’s even more exciting is that there is quite a of variety of regional Chinese cooking styles reflected in the restaurants in the area, which is why I actually had to narrow my choices down to just 4 for the “Xia Long Bao” crawl that I set up for my dining group. Of the 4, I’ve already visited three on separate occasions, but this time I wanted to have more of a “side by side” comparison. The crawl started in a shopping plaza in the city of San Gabriel because there were literally three Shanghai restaurants right next to each other that served XLBs.
Our first stop was Mei Long Village where our group of 8 sat down and ordered an order each of their Crab and Pork XLBs and their Pork XLBs. When asked if we wanted anything else, I simply said No and believe me, we got some very puzzled looks from the wait staff during our short time there. Those puzzled looks basically followed us into the next two restaurants as well.
Soon both sets of XLBs arrive. By the way, as you’re looking at my photos, you may notice that I add black vinegar to my Chinese Spoon before adding the XLB. My personal preference is to sip the soup along with the vinegar. Anyway, back to the soup dumplings. First, I want to comment on the dumpling wrapper, which while not as thin as the ones at the famed Din Tai Fung or as thick as the ones at J&J, which we’ll be visiting later on, it still retained some delicate characteristics. It was a happy medium. As for the soup inside, it had a good amount, but while the pork filling was seasoned well, the crab/pork filling actually was literally a little hard and the crab flavors were not shining through, but for the most part, the soup dumplings at Mei Long Village were a good start for our crawl.