Xiao long bao is a kind of steamed bun thought to have originated in Nanxiang, near Shanghai. Commonly called “soup dumplings,” they are squat and round, made with a thin translucent dough that is swirled into a topknot that makes it easy for chopsticks to grasp.
The “soup” part of the name refers to the hearty pork-based broth trapped inside the dumpling. A pork meatball hides inside as well. The meatball is made with pork aspic, and it is the melting aspic that turns into the soup when the dumplings are steamed. Xiao long bao are a staple favorite in Chinese cuisine and have also gained popularity in Taiwan through the restaurant chain Din Tai Fung (which now has some locations in the United States).
There’s been a lot of chatter on the internet about the correct way to eat xiao long bao. Here’s how I was taught to do it:
• Use your chopsticks to grab the dumpling “by the hair” – the topknot, where the dough is thickest.
• Bite the topknot open and rest the dumpling in your spoon. Slurp out the soup.
• Alternatively, you can pour out the broth into your spoon or bowl first, then drink it by itself. Just don’t waste the soup, as it’s the best part.
• Eat the rest of the dumpling for the full experience.
Ready to try xiao long bao? Here are five Asiatown restaurants where you can order soup dumplings. A rating of five spoons is best.
GOLDEN DUMPLING HOUSE (3/5 spoons) 🥄🥄🥄
9896 Bellaire Blvd. in the H Mart Plaza, 713-270-9996
Hours: Monday to Sunday 11 am to 9 pm
Golden Dumpling House’s version is kind of a tease. Their xiao long bao include ground shrimp in their meatballs, and the kitchen assembles super-sized dumplings. But they have a doughy texture that detracts from the meat. Also, very little soup exists inside each dumpling, so the whole wrapper-broth-meatball balance is off. The doughiness is somewhat redeemed by the meatball’s home-style flavor.
Price: $7 for 10 dumplings
SARAH PLACE (4/5 spoons) 🥄🥄🥄🥄
9968 Bellaire Blvd. in the H Mart plaza, 713-995-0985
Hours: Monday to Thursday 11 am to 9:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 10:30 pm
As at Golden Dumpling House, Sarah Place’s soup dumplings (photo below) also seem extraordinarily massive in size. In this case, however, it’s the broth that shines. It’s decadent, with a bit of grease and fattiness, and there’s plenty in each dumpling. The meat tastes wonderfully tender, and the steamed dough sports thick topknots and properly saggy bottoms.
Price: $6.99 for six dumplings
XIONG’S CAFE (2/5 spoons) 🥄🥄
9888 Bellaire Blvd., #150, 713-771-8448, xiongscafehouston.com
Hours: Monday to Sunday 11 am to 10 pm
Sadly, these xiao long bao were disappointing. They looked like buns rather than dumplings, lacking any sagginess – which made handling them easy, but eating them rather dispiriting. The absence of soup and the tough meatballs created a challenge to find any redeeming qualities. Does it sound like a vaudeville joke to note they are, at least, a bargain?
Price: $6.95 for eight dumplings
ONE DRAGON (5/5 spoons) 🥄🥄🥄🥄🥄
9310 Bellaire Blvd., 713-995-6545
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 11 am to 9 pm
One Dragon is famous for the delicate, ultra-thin dough that gives their dumplings (shown above) the classic, slightly wilted look. The savory pork broth inside is piping hot – almost too hot – and the small meatballs make one easy bite. These were the most challenging to eat because they are almost too flimsy to grasp. Soup inevitably leaks out with these babies, so be vigilant.
Price: $6.99 for six dumplings
FUFU RESTAURANT (3.5/5 spoons) 🥄🥄🥄½
9889 Bellaire Blvd., #105, in the Dun Huang Plaza, 713-981-8818
Hours: Monday to Sunday 11 am to 2 am
FuFu’s skimps a bit on the quantity – just four dumplings for $5.99. But the soup pleasantly surprised us with a ginger-centric kick. The broth is light-bodied, and plenty of meat fills out the dumpling’s body. While the wrapper veers towards thick, it’s not to the point that the dumpling resembles a doughy ball. Note that FuFu is open late, so treat yourself to an order of soup dumplings (shown below) after a rowdy evening at the nearby karaoke bar.
Price: $5.99 for four dumplings