Many guests on my food tours of America’s Greatest Chinatown—aka downtown Flushing—have had soup dumplings. Xiao long bao virgins get a quick tutorial. Since the wrappers at my favorite spot in New York Food Court are super thin, I encourage people to avoid using chopsticks and gingerly pick up the package from the top with their fingers and place it on the spoon.
They may or may not choose to cool their dumpling in the accompanying black vinegar, but the next step is always the same: “Bite a tiny hole in the side like a vampire and slurp the soup out.”
“You see a lot of goons poking holes right in the top,” Eddie Huang once declared. I’ve personally never done that, but the other day I did sheer off the entire top of an XLB at Shanghai Zhen Gong Fu, a newish spot in Elmhurst, to see why its pork and crab dumplings were so delicious. I was rewarded with a lovely view of the crab-enriched innards.
Huang maintains there’s only one proper way to eat an XLB, cool it in the vinegar and then eat the entire thing. I enjoy doing it that way once they’ve cooled down, but usually take the soup dumpling vampire approach. I’m of the opinion that there’s no one right way, but there are two wrong ways to eat XLB: spill the soup and/or burn your mouth. Let me know your favorite method to eat XLB in the comments.
Thanks for posting on this topic! This is another good opportunity to set things straight regarding eating XLB. The recommendation that you slurp all the soup out before eating the rest of the dumpling is something that emerged when XLB became popular in America, akin to dim sum being commonly available all day (rather than just for breakfast) or ramen being a sit down waiter service affair (rather than quick counter service fast food). My speculation is that this has something to do with a lot of people in Asia seeming to be able to tolerate eating liquids at much higher temperatures than Americans generally do (I’m amazed how my mom can dig into a bubbling cauldron of soup without the skin of her mouth peeling off the next day, as happens to me).
The soup is in the dumpling so that one can enjoy the juicy soup and the meat in one package. People often do nibble a hole in XLB to allow it to cool and allow sauce to enter, but you really are “supposed” to eat the whole thing in one go. “Supposed” is in quotation marks because of course one can eat anything however they like, but think of it like Oreo cookies: as a kid, I liked to separate the two halves and eat the cream first because I didn’t like the drier, more bitter wafers, but it would be silly to say that Nabisco intended for the cookie to be eaten any other way than with the cream and wafer together. If they were supposed to be eaten separately, they probably would have been packaged separately like Dunkaroos or Handi Snacks. Do we not consume the Jucy Lucy as complete assemblage rather than suck out the cheesy center first?
If one believes, as I do, that XLB are supposed to be eaten with all the components together, then these dumplings are an ingenious invention that has been engineered to integrate the dumpling and “sauce” (i.e. the soup, although we of course add an additional vinegar based sauce as well) in one self contained package. On the other hand, if one believes the soup should be eaten separately, then XLB is a mere presentational novelty, akin to a tomahawk steak or stacking food; something conceptually or visually interesting, but in the end, something that does not add to the taste and textural experience once it’s in your mouth. These novel presentations may even make the eating experience more inconvenient or awkward.
I say we give the creators of the XLB credit and assume that they weren’t the antecedents to the rainbow bagel and that they intended for their invention to be eaten as its form suggests; as one complete parcel.
Anyway, love the site and hope you’ll start posting more frequently; I check it every day and new content is always a nice surprise.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I suspect your theory is correct. I counsel folks to nibble the whole in the inside but really I’m like your Mom and have a teflon tongue so for tour purposes I eat them that way. Glad you like the site!
Which is your favorite soup dumpling spot you’re referring to at the New York Food Court? I’ve got a dining companion who is averse to thick wrappers, so I’m intrigued by your spot’s “super-thin” wrappers. Thanks and I also lover the site!
Thin wrapper lovers unite! It’s stall No. 12, which goes by the odd moniker “Diverse Dim Sum.”
I kinda love to put the bao in the spoon, nibble a little hole in one side, then lift the bao up, letting the soup drain out of the dumpling and into the spoon. This cools off the soup very quickly, allowing it to be slurped down almost immediately. It is also true that I am a weirdo.
You are in good company Howard! That is the preferred method of Singaporean street food guru KF Seetoh!
I bite a small hole into the roo while still hot, spoon in a bit of the vinegar then bite another hole in the upper half tonslurp out the contents.
Interesting approach, not quite a xiao long bog, but close!
Dumplings #1-3 – Internal temperature: surface of the sun through napalm. Method: Bite off top knot, allow to cool slightly, drizzle in a little vinegar, consume in one bite.
Dumplings #4-6 – Internal temperature: hot soup. Method: Dip in vinegar, consume in one bite.