Xiao Long Bao: everyone who’s tried them loves them, the little soup dumplings with humble origins. The brilliance of the dish is in its simplicity. It’s hard to mess up Xiao Long Bao, but some chefs elevate the food to the status of art with their attention to the delicacy of the wrapping and the addition of only the freshest, sometimes gourmet, ingredients. Here are the best places to get these culinary masterpieces in Shanghai.
Perhaps the most famous purveyors of Xiao Long Bao in Shanghai, Jia Jia Tang Bao is little more than a hole in the wall, but it is an institution in the city. Lines are long and closing times are arbitrary. When they sell out, they close, so try to get there early. The chefs here have mastered the traditional pork filling and even offer crab roe-stuffed Xiao Long Bao.
Din Tai Fung is the restaurant that made Xiao Long Bao famous, so it’s only logical that they serve some of the best in the world. Like Jia Jia Tang Bao, Din Tai Fung offers pork and crab roe fillings and features an open kitchen in which you can watch chefs busy at work folding the wrappings into a precise 18-fold crown.
De Xing Guan has been serving up Xiao Long Bao since the Qing Dynasty, so they know what they’re doing. When the Michelin Guide came to Shanghai in 2016, De Xing Guan didn’t quite get a star, but it did get a special mention on their list, meaning that the Xiao Long Bao here are up to French tastes. The small restaurant’s Xiao Long Bao follow a Shanghai style with a thicker dough wrapping and a rich, fatty pork filling.
Fu Chun sells classic Shanghainese-style Xiao Long Bao, which are closer to the original recipe than Nanjing tangbao, a thin-skinned soupier dumpling that many people have come to accept as the real Xiao Long Bao. This makes Fu Chun the preferred bao-restaurant of locals accustomed to the meaty and savory form of the delicacy.
This unassuming store in Hongkou district started as part of a state-owned food company but split off more than ten years ago to have more freedom to create its smaller than average Xiao Long Bao. For being located in a non-tourist area, Wan Shou Zhai certainly attracts the crowds. An order of eight little dumplings goes for RMB6 ($.87), a near steal in Shanghai.
Paradise Dynasty’s eight-color Xiao Long Bao look more like Playdoh than food, but these fun little dumplings are colored with natural ingredients like red sorghum, carrot, and spinach. This chain started out in Singapore and is edging in on Din Tai Fung’s territory with their numbers and popularity. The chefs cook with only the finest ingredients, ensuring that the Xiao Long Bao taste as good as they look.
Husband and wife duo Guo Jinlong and Yang Huiying opened this flagship Xiao Long Bao restaurant in 1994 with no knowledge of how the dumplings were made. They had seen others gain success from selling Xiao Long Bao, and they decided to do the same. The two have come a long way in 23 years. They pride themselves on using quality ingredients (a special cut of pork from a US joint venture farm, flour from the Shanghai Flour Factory) while keeping prices low (RMB6 ($.87) per steamer).
Xi Yuan Wuxi-style Xiao Long Bao are sweeter – and larger – than your average bao. To get their dumplings to the perfect level of sweetness, chefs here add soy sauce, ginger, and sugar to the pork mixture. The staff are just as sweet as their product: expect a smile and “Ni hao!” no matter how many other people are in the restaurant at the moment, and there will definitely be other people. This place is very popular with locals.
There’s really nothing to say about Zunkelai’s Xiao Long Bao: they speak for themselves. Zunkelai, meaning “honored guests coming,” is a chain throughout Shanghai. The restaurant sells more than just the little soup dumpling, but the bao, which are delicate and perfectly formed in every way, are the highlight of the menu. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to Din Tai Fung, this is the place to go.
If you love Jia Jia Tang Bao but hate the long lines, Lin Long Fang is the place for you. The restaurant chain is backed by the same owners as Jia Jia and even has identical dumplings with some additional flavors on the menu as well. Egg and pork may sound like an odd combination to you, but the egg brings a creamy richness to the meat that it lacks otherwise.