If you’re a dumpling fan, then there is no way that you haven’t tried the Xiao Long Bao or soup dumplings. And, if you’re new to the world of dumplings, then you should know about these mouthwatering, belly and heartwarming little pockets of dough filled with broth.
Xiao Long Bao (XLB), or soup dumplings, are probably the most famous of Shangai’s steamed dumplings, and rightly so. These are delicately pleated balls of dough with broth and pork meat filling. Yes - they don’t float in the soup. Instead, they encase the yummy warm broth inside the dough wrapper.
There’s no doubt that eating the soup dumplings is a complete experience, but do you know where these delicacies come from? That’s what we’re going to talk about here:
The Origin and Story of the Xiao Long Bao
Despite being featured in Michelin-star restaurants today, the XLB comes from humble beginnings and is famed to have originated in 19th-century Shangai when the steam bun market had become competitive.
A small restaurant owner Huang Mingxian accidentally created these soup dumplings when he added aspic (gelatin) to his pork filling and steamed it. He quickly realized that the dumpling had filled up with soup.
Once he got the taste of the soupy dumpling and realized how yummy it tasted, he immediately knew he’d invented something great and that the masses would love it equally. He added them to his restaurant Ri Hua Xuan’s menu.
Aspic (jellied pork meat) was the magic ingredient in the XLB, but it was very labor-intensive in the 19th century. It was created by slowly boiling animal bones and letting the broth simmer for hours. Once cooled down, it turned into aspic, so only a few people ventured into making these dumplings, and Huang had little to no competition.
He originally named these dumplings nanxiang da rou mantou, which literally means sizeable meat-filled bun from Nanxiang. It was no surprise that the name didn’t become famous, but what did catch on was the yummy taste of the buns, and that made people queue to get a bite. Over time, the name became much shorter than what it is today Xiao (small) Long (basket) Bao (bun).
Xiao Long Bao’s Journey As a World-Famous Snack
In 1958, when the first Din Tai Fung restaurant opened in Taipei. The restaurant was a humble cooking oil retail business at the time, but the owner had the vision to transform it into something more. With the help of a chef from eastern China, they began to experiment with making steamed dumplings – and the rest is history.
What made Din Tai Fung's xiao long bao so special was that the chef didn't follow a recipe – he simply had a knack for making them perfectly. He went on to train apprentices in dumpling-making, but it wasn't an easy process. According to the restaurant, apprentices would spend weeks observing how the dumplings were made before being separated into groups and tasked with perfecting every detail under tight time frames.
But this rigorous training paid off, and over time, Din Tai Fung became known for its generation of xiao long bao experts. As the restaurant's reputation grew, so did its popularity. What started as a ground-floor establishment, with the owner's family living above and renting out the other floors to students, eventually expanded to take over all four floors. The family even moved to a bigger building nearby to accommodate the increasing number of patrons flocking to their buzzing business.
United Dumplings’ Love for Xiao Long Bao
At United Dumplings, we have a deep love for all things dumplings, and when it comes to the XLB, we like to pull all the stops. Our Jumbo XLB is particularly loved and is enjoyed with a straw to help you slurp up the warm soupy goodness of the broth and the yummy pork meat filling. If you’re looking to try possibly the best-ever soup dumplings at a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, come check us out.