Shanghai Dumplings

A traditional breakfast in Shanghai is dumplings and the Shanghainese take their dumplings very seriously.  Dumplings of all varieties are a quick satisfying breakfast or snack.  The most famous dumpling in Shanghai is xiao long bao, a soup dumpling.  The fillings vary from place to place with pork, crab and salted egg being local favorites.  The joy of eating these dumplings comes from the surprise, pleasure, and challenge of slurping the soup from within.

Eating soup dumplings requires a bit of practice and it’s not uncommon to have a few explode on you before you get the hang of it.  The xiao long bao have a thin delicate skin which can tear easily.  Lift them directly out of the steamer basket;  then carefully bite a tiny hole at the top of the dumpling and slowly slurp the soup.  On this particular morning I ordered pork and crab xiao long bao.  I like to eat these dumplings with some chili sauce since they are already sweet  from the combination of pork and crab and they go wonderfully well with some spiciness.  A typical serving is a basket of 12 freshly steamed dumplings.

Shanghai Dumplings (8) Shanghai Dumplings (6)

The next dumpling I sampled was sheng jiang bao.  The sheng jiang bao are more substantial than xiao long bao.  They have a thicker wrapper, which is necessary to hold up to the pan-frying they undergo after steaming.  They’re extremely appealing, as they beckon to you with their toasted bottoms and sesame seed and scallion garnish.  Use the same technique to eat them as the xiao long bao.   Once it’s drained of the broth dip it in the black rice vinegar, also known as Zhenjiang Vinegar, which is the ubiquitous accompaniment.   The vinegar cuts the richness of the dumpling skin and pork beautifully.   I find the hazard with these to be that if you aren’t confident with chopsticks you might drop them due to their heft and be left freshly splashed with vinegar.  I find that 4 make a good snack and 8 can be a meal.    For a truly authentic experience head to Yang’s dumplings, they are a Shanghai institution and have locations across the city.  It’s hard not to stop in when you’re feeling a bit peckish.

Shanghai Dumplings (3) Shanghai Dumplings (1)

The last dumpling I sampled on this day of dumplings was tang bao – the king of soup dumplings.  This dumpling required a straw to drink the molten hot crab broth out a hole on top of the dumpling.  These are by far the most difficult dumplings to eat.  You must be certain that the dumpling packets are fully drained of broth or you could end up with spillage of liquid all over the table.  Although these dumplings are mainly broth with a few scraps of meat left clinging to the inside skin they are quite filling.  Maybe it’s because I was gorging myself on dumplings all day, but I was stuffed after just 2.

Soup Dumplings (1) Soup Dumplings (3)

Dumplings are a love, passion, and obsession in central China.  If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Shanghai or the surrounds.  Try all the dumplings on offer and you won’t be disappointed.

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