Xiao long bao (soup dumplings), those amazing constructions of delicate dumpling wrappers, encasing hot, tasty soup and sweet, fresh meat, are far and away my favorite Chinese street food. The dumplings arrive steaming and dangerously hot. To eat one, you have to decide whether to bite a small hole in it first, releasing the stream and risking a spill (溢出), or to put the whole dumpling in your mouth, letting the hot soup explode on your tongue.
Shanghai may be the recognized home of the soup dumpling, but food historians will actually point you to the neighboring canal town of Nanxiang as Xiao long Bao’s birthplace. There you will find them prepared differently — more dumpling and less soup — and the wrappers are pressed by hand rather than rolled.
Nanxiang aside, the best Xiao long bao have a fine skin, allowing them to be lifted out of the steamer basket without tearing or spilling any of their contents. The meat should be fresh with a touch of sweetness, and the surrounding soup hot, clear and delicious.
No matter where I buy them, though, one steamer is rarely enough, yet two seems greedy, and so I am always left wanting more next time.