Chinese Soup Dumplings (xiaolongbao and tang bao) courtesy misoponia
In Atlanta, and many other cities across the states, the popularity of Asian cuisine seems to be growing. In years past, it was essentially relegated to take-out status whereby hurried families grabbed their nearest American-influenced Chinese food (see: Mongolian Beef, General Tso’s Chicken, etc…). Nowadays, we just can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. Thanks in part to the education doled out by blogs like Take Thou Food (website), Chow Down Atlanta (web), and Eat, Drink Man (web), foodies from all walks of life can’t seem to get enough of that far off cuisine that drapes Buford Highway.
Though the methods used to both execute and consume Chinese food are as varied as the people themselves, I see many a people anxiously dive into dumpling buckets in a fashion that might not be ideal for the task at hand. This habitual flocking of forks and hands leads me to ask and answer two questions: What are soup dumplings? and How do you eat them?
First things first, soup dumplings are a type of steamed bao (or baozi). The bread-like dough is made from yeast and flour and it is stuffed full of all sorts of goodies. Most American’s familiarity with bao is via its’ close cousins, the pot sticker (a.k.a. Peking ravioli). There are all sorts of nuances, but we’ll focus on two kinds here: xiaolongbao and tang bao.
Xiaolongbao, also known as a Shanghai Soup Dumpling, is what most Gringos think of when the word soup dumpling is used. It actually translates to something of the effect of “little basket bun.” They hail from Eastern China and are often associated with Shanghai (hence the white boy name). It’s eaten along with other dim sum, and usually comes in a little steamed bamboo basket.
To eat these little suckers, you definitely don’t want shove it in your mouth whole. That’s just asking for a scalded tongue. Don’t believe me? Witness! To preserve your ability to make out with your closes compatriots, I suggest a more subtle approach:
- Grab some chopsticks!
- Pick up the xiaolongbao by the ridged tip. The breading is denser at this part and should be a little stiffer.
- Hold your dumpling just over your big soup spoon and lift the two of them at the same time (sorry folks – no talking on the cell phone here … it requires both hands and your mouth!)
- Take a small bit of the dumpling at the side and let the broth seep out into your spoon.
- Drink the soup and eat the dumpling! I like to alternate bites … but others like to finish one then the other.
There are nuances (sometimes you can take your spoon and run it through the vinegar/ginger sauce that often accompanies your order), but that’s the gist and how most Chinese people do it.
Meanwhile, xiaolongbao has a Goliath like buddy … and it goes by the name of Tang Bao (not to be confused with this Tang Bao). These bad ass behemoths of Chinese cuisine are huge, as denoted by the big sucker up above with a gigantic straw piercing its skin. There actually a couple of kinds. They really shouldn’t contain anything but soup; however, there are variants. Anyway, the “older” examples (which might be called the traditional examples), are usually bitten open. After that, you use your spoon to drink the broth and then move on to the dumpling. Oh yeah – you don’t pick these things up!
The other type, which you see above, is eaten with a straw. It was introduced to Chinese culture later on in life, but my memory fails me as to the rough date. I also don’t have the patience to go googling for it!
Anywho, to eat these, I suggest a single, gentle push with the straw near the epicenter of the dumpling, where the nipple is formed. Slurp away and then move on to the bread. Alternatively, you can take your straw and pierce the bomb with a repeated and violent stabbing motion. This is bad, it will most definitely result in you (and anyone near you) being covered in broth. To boot, you’ll also look a little like this guy:
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!!!
Alright my fellow fans of food, off to a dumping fest for this guy!