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Shanghai Street Food #36 Wonton Soup: Huntun Tang 馄饨汤

“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” So goes advice for a long life from American writer and nutritionist Adelle Davis (1904-1974).

It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, to dine out often for breakfast, and I always think of Adelle’s quote as I do so, tucking into a steamer basket full of dumplings, or scrambled eggs and hot tea. If it’s a cold day or I’m very hungry, I usually have a bowl of comforting wonton soup at the breakfast shop Fujian Dumpling Soup King on Xiangyang Lu. I like Dumpling Soup King because it has proper tables and chairs and sometimes I just want to sit for breakfast, rather than standing and walking with my food. Can you imagine trying to eat a bowl of wonton soup while walking? Messy.

The other nice thing about Dumpling Soup King is they don’t mind if you bring food from any of the other breakfast shops alongside. Many customers like to eat something with crunch (like youtiao fried dough sticks, or crispy rice squares, or crisp-bottomed shengjianbao dumplings) with their soft, slippery soup. Continue reading “Shanghai Street Food #36 Wonton Soup: Huntun Tang 馄饨汤”

Shanghai Dumpling Wars: A New Contender Emerges in Paradise Dynasty

There’s an open battle being waged, probably for centuries now, over who makes Shanghai’s best xiaolongbao
Not sure what xiaolongbao are? They’re Shanghai’s famous soup-filled dumplings, small steamed dumpling miracles that defy the laws of nature by having hot soup held delicately inside them, along with a fragrant mix of pork and seasonings. And Shanghai locals feel very, very passionate about their xiaolongbao and who makes the best ones.
(If you’re still not sure you could check out Xiaolongbao – The Complete Guide)
The battle really comes down to what you, as an eater, prefer.
Do you crave authenticity or novelty? 
Do you like your dumpling skins rolled or hand-flattened?
Do Shanghainese people make the best xiaolongbao? Or can anyone do it?
Paradise Dynasty challenges all these assumptions. Coming from Singapore, where they are already an established brand, they have gone straight for the jugular by opening their flagship Chinese store in Shanghai and – wait for it – calling it Paradise Dynasty: Legend of Xiaolongbao. Cheeky. That’s like opening your first macaron shop in Paris, right next to Laduree, and calling it Fiona: Legend of Macarons
Just a little bit self-indulgent, but why shouldn’t you be when you have the behemoth Paradise restaurant group behind you?

Their signature dish is a basket of eight rainbow-hued xiaolongbao (RMB 68) with novel fillings:

Foie Gras (tan)
Black truffle (black)
Crab Roe (orange)
Ginseng (green)
Mozzarella (yellow)
Garlic (grey)
Szechuan (sic) (dark pink)
Original Pork (white)

The dumpling wrappers are very fine, soft, and strong, and the eight colours looked beautiful sitting on their linen cloth inside the basket.

I tried the original steamed pork flavour first, as a true test of xiaolongbao-ness. It was good – plenty of fragrant soup, a little ginger, a smooth pork filling. The ‘szechuan’ dumpling was an explosion of chili and flowery Sichuan pepper, although the pepper made the filling a little gritty. The foie gras and crab roe dumplings were rich and full of flavour, the garlic and ginseng dumplings more subtle but still tasty. I wouldn’t revisit the mozzarella dumpling though, with its very odd taste and texture, but my girls like it the best of all of them.

The stand out for me was the black truffle xiaolongbao, rich, dark, deeply truffley and intensely satisfying. After trying just one I ordered a whole extra basket of (RMB 65). Any flavour can be ordered separately as a basket of six or ten dumplings.

Paradise Dynasty serves other dishes too – la mian or pulled noodles, which seems odd (given that la mian originated in central China, a Hui Muslim dish, and xiaolongbao are from eastern China’s Nanxiang village, now part of Shanghai). But the menu tells us that Executive Chef Ge Sheng is a specialty la mian chef, and it’s the female sous chef, Yan Wei, who knows a thing or two about xiaolongbao.
While waiting for our table I watched the chefs in the kitchen making the dumplings, and was amazed to see that they weighed the filling for every single dumpling on a digital scale. That exactitude is rare and spoke of very high standards in the kitchen.

It’s a shame then that the same care and attention isn’t taken in the dining room – we waited 45 minutes for a table on a regular weekday lunchtime and when we did arrive at our table it was full of dirty dishes from the previous diners and took fifteen minutes to be cleared after three requests from me and one from a neighbouring diner. The restaurant is always this busy, so I’m told, so it should be staffed accordingly. 
The xiaolongbao were delicious, but hard to eat without chopsticks, a spoon, a dish for vinegar, or a bowl. These arrived on request, one at a time, five minutes apart, so by the time we had all the necessary eating utensils the dumplings were cold. A great shame.
So are these Shanghai’s best xiaolongbao? You’ll have to decide for yourself.
Paradise Dynasty: Legend of Xiaolongbao – Details
IFC Mall, Lujiazui, Pudong
Level Three, Shop 36
Ph +86 21 58342291
Open 7 days for lunch and dinner, last orders 9.30pm.

Shanghai Soup Dumplings: Xiaolongbao, The Complete Guide

For foodies, Shanghai is synonymous with xiaolongbao, savory and delicious soup-filled dumplings that seem to defy culinary possibility. With this guide you’ll become an overnight expert and discover where Shanghai’s best, oldest, and most secret xiaolongbao spots can be found, and how to order and eat xiaolongbao. Ready?

1. How do you say xiaolongbao?
2. What are xiaolongbao?
3. How to eat xiaolongbao
4. How to order xiaolongbao
5. Five Shanghai xiaolongbao eateries to try
6. Where to find more information – recipes, xiaolongbao classes, more restaurant suggestions

1. How do you say xiaolongbao?
First things first. This impossible looking word is quite easy to say. 
It’s shao(rhymes with cow)-long-bao(rhymes with cow). 


For those studying Chinese, the tones are: xiăolóngbāo.

2. What are xiaolongbao?
Xiaolongbao 小笼包, the soup-filled dumplings Shanghai is famous for, are a miracle of creation and construction – seemingly delicate, semi-transparent dumpling skins are wrapped and neatly pleated around an aromatic filling of pork and a mouthful of hot savory broth. 

The pork filling, seasoned with a little ginger and shaoxing wine, is mixed with gelatinized pork stock that melts on cooking, transforming into a delicious soup. The addition of crab meat and crab roe from the famous Shanghai hairy crab makes for a rich but equally traditional xiaolongbao.

Many wonder how liquid soup manages to get inside a hand-wrapped dumpling. Is it somehow scooped inside as the dumpling is wrapped? Or is it injected using a syringe? The secret, of course, is that the soup is actually a solid at room temperature, melting into a liquid only when the dumplings are steamed at high heat. The soup is essentially a flavoured pork stock or aspic, made with pork skin, chicken bones, ginger, scallions and shaoxing wine, simmered for hours and hours then cooled at room temperature until it sets. Every kitchen has their own secret recipe because the quality of the soup is paramount in a good xiaolongbao.

The word xiăolóngbāo 小笼包 literally means ‘small steamer basket buns’ and is the most commonly used name for these dumplings. More traditional restaurants may also use the term tāngbāo 汤包, meaning soup dumpling. The only accompaniment needed for xiaolongbao is dark Zhejiang vinegar, although a bowl of clear soup is often eaten alongside.

When you taste a xiaolongbao, the skin or wrapper should be fine and translucent yet strong enough not to break when lifted out of the basket. The meat should be fresh tasting, smooth and savory. Lastly, the all-important soup should be hot, clear, and fragrant of pork. Enjoy!

3. How to eat xiaolongbao: A step-by-step guide

Soup-filled dumplings should be handled with care – the contents are HOT.

You will be given a small circular dish to fill with vinegar form the bottle or teapot on your table, a pair of chopsticks, and a soup spoon. You may also be given a dish of finely shredded ginger to add to the vinegar as desired.

To eat a xiaolongbao, first lift it out of the steamer basket by its strongest part, the topknot (use your spoon for support if needed), and dip it gently into the dish of vinegar.

Resting it back on your spoon, nibble a small hole to let out the steam. Slurp a little soup.

Once it’s cooled slightly, eat from the spoon using your chopsticks or throw caution to the wind and put the whole spoonful in your mouth in one go. The savory soup will be scalding hot as you eat.

4. How to order xiaolongbao
Xiaolongbao can be ordered by the basket (long 笼) or serving (fen 份) in practical terms, everyone uses ‘serving’ or fen.

The number of xiaolongbao in each serving varies with the restaurant and the size of the steamer basket, but is usually between six and twelve.

Although there are countless variations in xiaolongbao fillings, the most popular are pork (zhu rou 猪肉) or a mixture of pork with the meat and roe from Shanghai’s famed hairy crab (xiefen 蟹粉). Small street eateries may only serve pork, traditional restaurants usually have both pork and pork/crab/roe, and fancier restaurants may offer novel and non-traditional fillings like chicken, foie gras, or mushroom.

How many servings will you need? That depends entirely on your appetite, but as a guide, four to six xiaolongbao per person is plenty for a snack, and eight to ten per person makes a meal.

Here’s an easy ordering guide in English, pinyin and Chinese:

English: pork xiaolongbao
Chinese: zhūròu xiăolóngbāo 猪肉小笼包
Pronunciation: joo-ROW shao-(rhymes with cow)-long-bao (rhymes with cow)

English: crab meat xiaolongbao
Chinese: xièfĕn xiăolóngbāo  蟹粉小笼包
Pronunciation: shee-EH-fun shao-long-bao

English: One serve of xiaolongbao
Chinese: xiăolóngbāo yī fēn 猪肉小笼包一份 
Pronunciation: shao-long-bao EE-fun

English: chopsticks
Chinese: kuàizi 筷子
Pronunciation: KWHY-zuh

English: spoon
Chinese: sháozi 勺子
Pronunciation: SHAO-zuh

English: vinegar
Chinese:  cù 
Pronunciation: TSOOh

5. Where to eat xiaolongbao
1. Jia Jia Tang Bao 佳家汤包
Having been in the soup dumpling business for years, Jia Jia Tang Bao is hands down the sentimental favorite of young and old Shanghainese alike. Expect to queue at all hours of the day, but once inside on your small orange stool you can experience what life is like in a goldfish bowl as those waiting outside intermittently press their faces to the glass to see whether you’re eating fast enough. Don’t rush! Savor the homely ambience and the excellent dumplings.
Jia Jia Tang Bao offer two main types of xiaolongbao, regular pork xiaolongbao, and hairy crab meat xiaolongbao. The former are similar to those found elsewhere, but the crab xiaolongbao are exquisite, stuffed full of tiny shreds of sweet crabmeat, they explode with the flavour of the crab roe.

Price: Crabmeat xiaolongbao 25.5 rmb per serve (12 pieces)

Jia Jia Tang Bao  佳家汤包
90 Huanghe Lu, near Fengyang Lu
+86 21 6327 6878
Open 7 days, 6.30am – 10pm
English occasionally spoken, English menu (no pictures)
Cash only

2. Loushi Tangbao Guan 陋室汤包馆 The Humble Room Soup Dumpling Eatery 

Tucked away on the working end of one of the French Concession’s most beautiful streets (that would be Nanchang Lu of course!), you could well walk past The Humble Room without noticing it amongst a slew of other noodle and dumpling shops. But this place is special – it’s where local workers come to tuck into a full steamer basket of xiaolongbao for breakfast, lunch or dinner at one of only six tiny tables.

The proprietor, surly on his best days, may need to be prodded awake to serve you but the xiaolongbao are top-notch. They also serve several noodle dishes.

The Humble Room’s xiaolongbao belie the restaurant’s name – they’re sophisticated little dumplings with strong thin skins, smooth pork filling and a satisfyingly rich broth. And at 6 rmb for a basket of eight, they represent incredible value.

Price: 6 rmb per serve (8 pieces)

Loushi Tangbao Guan 陋室汤包馆
601 Nanchang Lu, near Xiangyang Lu
Open 7 days, 6.30am – 8pm
No English spoken, no English menu
Cash only

3. Din Tai Fung Xintiandi 鼎泰震新天地店 

It’s impossible to write about Shanghai’s xiaolongbao without mentioning Din Tai Fung, where the humble xiaolongbao is elevated to a culinary art form. Don’t be put off by the fact that this chain comes from Taiwan – they have an impeccable pedigree and two of their Hong Kong restaurants were this year awarded a Michelin star. If the Michelin Guide ever makes it to China’s mainland, this branch will likely end up with one too.

For some diehard gourmands it’s sacrilege to admit you like Din Tai Fung’s xiaolongbao, as they pout “too expensive!” “too touristy!” “not Shanghainese!” but for me Din Tai Fung’s biggest drawcard has to be its consistency – consistently great xiaolongbao, consistently good service and spotlessly clean, it’s also the only place on this list where English is consistently spoken.
Din Tai Fung’s dumplings boast the finest wrappers, all rolled individually by hand so that they’re thinner at the edges and stronger in the middle, the smoothest pork filling and the most refined of all the soups. In addition, Din Tai Fung offers that rarity, a totally vegetarian xiaolongbao filled with assorted mushrooms, and some very non-traditional fillings like goose liver and chicken.
Din Tai Fung also offers a wide selection of more substantial hot and cold dishes, wine and beer, and desserts.

Price: 29 rmb for five, 58 rmb for ten pork xiaolongbao

Din Tai Fung Xintiandi  鼎泰震新天地店

2F, House 6, South Block Xintiandi,
Lane 123 Xinye Lu, Shanghai
+8621 6385 8378
Open 7 days from 10am – 12mn
English spoken, English menu with pictures
Cash, credit cards accepted

4. Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant 南翔馒頭店
With a history of over a hundred years in the xiaolongbao business, Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant now has multiple locations in multiple countries.  This restaurant is one of their nicest and its location, just a stone’s throw from the bright lights of Nanjing Xi Lu, makes it a perfect pitstop after a heavy morning of shopping.

Nanxiang is solid, clean and well-run, exactly the sort of place you might take your work colleagues or your parents-in-law for lunch.

Their crab xiaolongbao are exceptional, with the rich yellow roe clearly visible through the semi-transparent skins, and droplets of oily melted roe visible in the soup.

They also offer a full menu of non-dumpling dishes, including many Shanghainese specialties like fried glutinous rice slices with pork and ji cai vegetable – a chewy, delicious home-style dish.
Nanxiang Mantou Dian 南翔馒頭店
Branches all over Shanghai including:
2nd Floor, 269 Wujiang Lu, Jing’an District
+8621 6136 1428
Open 7 days from 11am – 8.30pm
English sometimes spoken, picture menu
Cash only

5. Song Ji Nanxiang Xiaolongbao 南翔小笼馆
Those small and miraculous soup-filled dumplings Shanghai is famous for probably didn’t originate in Shanghai. They came from a place called Nanxiang, considered by many to be the ancestral home, even the spiritual home of xiaolongbao. Once, long ago, Nanxiang was a happily separate little town south-west of Shanghai, but as the city sent out tentacles of roads, factories and apartment blocks in every direction it choked and then digested many smaller towns in its wake. Nanxiang was completely subsumed into modern-day Shanghai, and is now relegated to the status of an outer suburb. It even has its own stop on the Shanghai subway system (Nanxiang, Line 11).

But Nanxiang doesn’t feel like the outer something of somewhere, in fact it feels like the centre of somewhere. This is because Nanxiang holds tight to one important quality that sets it apart from all the other grey and gritty outer suburbs. It is still a major mecca for xiaolongbao lovers, who make the pilgrimage from all over China to get to the source. Whole streets are lined with dumpling shops rolling, stuffing and twisting xialongbao into shape. 

Outside Song Ji restaurant, stacks of steamer baskets full of plump xialongbao wait to be cooked in the giant outdoor steamer. Inside, round wooden tables are filled with people dipping their xiaolongbao in dark vinegar then slurping up the filling. The menu runs to two choices of xiaolongbao – pork, or pork and crab, and five extras, all soups.

These xiaolongbao are justifiably famous, but they have a simple, homemade quality. The skins are thicker than those at say, Din Tai Fung, because they’re hand pressed rather than rolled, and the filling is simpler and more rustic with less seasoning and more meat. The soup, particularly of the pork and crab xiaolongbao, is delicious and dangerously hot.

Take-away packs of pre-cooked xioalongbao are available too, packed inside two bamboo shells to protect them, like a giant clam. They re-heat pretty well in a steamer at home, but have less soup inside as it tends to absorb into the skin after the first cooking.

Song Ji Nanxiang Xiaolongbao 南翔小笼馆
210 Guyiyuan Lu, Jiading District

Approx 30 minutes by car from downtown Shanghai, or easily reached by subway Line 11 (stop: Nanxiang). The restaurants are less than five minutes’ walk from the subway.

+8621 5917 4019
Open 7 days from 8am – 8pm
No English spoken, no English menu
Cash only

6. More Information
For more Shanghai xiaolongbao eateries, or to find a xiaolongbao restaurant in other Chinese cities, try Dianping. In Shanghai, all Shanghainese restaurants serve xiaolongbao – try Old Jesse, New Jesse, or Fu Chun.

If you’d like to learn how to make your own xiaolongbao while visiting Shanghai, the Chinese Cooking Workshop runs a xiaolongbao class once a month, next on April 17th, 2013.

Xiaolongbao recipes can be found here and here and here if you’d like to try making them at home. My recipe for the pork aspic can be found here.

Got a favorite of your own? Share it in the comments below!

The Manchurian Dumpling Shop

Every dumpling lover, and there are many of us out there, should know a great local dumpling shop. A place devoted to the art of crafting plump little dumplings from dawn to dusk, where there is always a pot on the boil ready to cook a freshly-made batch at any time. A simple, warm and inviting shop no bigger than a single room, with tiny formica tables and plastic stools, and wisping tendrils of steam coming from the front door, where you can stop in anytime for your favourite kind of dumpling – pork and chinese cabbage breakfast dumplings, fragrant chive flower and shrimp afternoon dumplings, late night beef dumplings.  
The Manchurian Dumpling Shop is my local dumpling joint, sitting at the end of a long narrow lane near my house, a secret pedestrian walkway between Nanchang Lu and Fuxing Lu. It doesn’t look like much, with a single round sign outside bearing just two characters: 饺子,jiaozi or dumplings.
For months when I first moved back to Nanchang Lu I thought The Manchurian was a wholesale dumpling shop, because every time I walked past customers were purchasing entire silver trays, as big as tabletops, full of freshly made dumplings. 
Turns out I was wrong about that – The Manchurian is a regular dumpling shop where anyone can eat in or take away freshly made dumplings to cook at home, but with dumplings so good that for many customers, buying less than one hundred dumplings at a time is just a false economy. A dozen or so to eat now, the rest in the freezer for later.

The Manchurian belongs to a hard-working husband and wife, helped out by the husband’s aunt. Like so many small business owners in Shanghai they work seven days a work, long, long days, and live above the shop.
When you enter the tiny space, you walk right into its dumpling-making heart with both women wrapping dumplings at one end of a long steel bench while the husband rolls round white circles of dumpling wrappers by hand at the other. The women move fast, scooping the shrimp, pork and vegetable filling into the centre of a dough circle, and pressing it expertly closed between both thumbs and forefingers to make a beautiful ruffled edge, a dough frill. Each one joins rows of fat white dumplings in a silver tray. 
Steam billows from the tiny back kitchen where a batch of dumplings is cooking for the couple sitting in the miniature ‘mezzanine’, a low space stolen from above the kitchen, thus lowering the kitchen ceiling by several feet.

The Manchurian’s menu runs to five items, with a space reserved for seasonal specialties. The ‘Fine Handmade Dumplings’ are sold by the liang 两, a traditional Chinese measure of weight equivalent to 50g. The menu states ‘one liang is five dumplings’. Or, if you’re a regular customer, occasionally six.
You can choose from:
Shepherd’s purse (a leafy green vegetable) with meat and shelled fresh shrimp dumplings jicai rou xiaren jiaozi 荠菜肉虾仁饺子 6 yuan/liang (less than a dollar)
Beef dumplings niurou jiaozi 牛肉饺子 6 yuan/liang
Fragrant flowered chives and egg dumplings jiucai jidan jiaozi 韭菜鸡蛋饺子 6 yuan/liang
Chinese cabbage and pork dumplings baicai rou jiaozi 白菜肉饺子 5 yuan/liang
Fragrant flowered chives and pork dumplings jiucai rou jiaozi  韭菜肉饺子 5 yuan/liang
My favourites are the simplest – chinese cabbage and pork dumplings, boiled for a few minutes and eaten straight away dipped in strong Shanxi vinegar mixed with lajiao chili paste. 
Aaahh. Dumplings. I find a liang of dumplings makes most problems disappear. You?

The Manchurian Dumpling Shop
Dongbei Manzu Jiaozi
Lane 1252, Fuxing Zhong Lu, Xuhui District Shanghai
Close to the Fuxing Lu lane entrance
Open seven days +86 21 64669197

Shenyang, City of Dumplings and Dreams 沈阳:一座饺子和梦想的城市

They say you should avoid coming to Shenyang at all, if possible, because it’s a massively polluted industrialized dump in the middle of the far north east of China, with little to recommend it other than the departures gate at the airport where at least you know you have a chance of leaving (either a greater or lesser chance, depending on which Chinese airline you’ve had the misfortune to choose).  
But if visiting Shenyang is unavoidable – as it was for us while the campervan spent two days and a night being fine-tuned at the mechanic’s workshop, before being exposed to the road perils of Inner Mongolia – then you shouldn’t miss Laobian Dumplings, those dumplings of long history and deserved fame.
Perhaps because my expectations of Shenyang were so low, the city totally and utterly surprised me. It had buzz, it had bravado, and it had a lot going for it. I liked it, although I realize I am alone in the world in saying this, even among people who live there.
The Shenyang I found was an exciting city outgrowing itself so fast the outer ring road had just become the inner ring road and the inner ring road had just been converted into a high-speed flyover zooming between luxury shopping centres. Banks were so plentifully crowded cheek by jowl on every city block it was clear everyone must be filthy rich and in need of a place to store their lucre, and indeed when the locals went out shopping it wasn’t for milk or bread, but for large electrical appliances and whole apartment blocks. The place was booming.
Luckily for us, the boom times seemed not to have affected the local food culture too much, because according to everyone I spoke to the most popular restaurant in Shenyang is hands down a cheap-as-chips dumpling den, Laobian Dumpling.
Laobian makes it into Lonely Planet China, usually a sure sign that this is somewhere you don’t want to eat. Suspicious, I also searched Dianping, the everyman’s guide to what’s good to eat (all in Chinese, I’m improving on that front) who confirmed that this was indeed a very good and very popular spot. (The other thing I love about Dianping is that it lists the most frequently recommended dishes of any restaurant so you have some idea of what to look out for when you’re presented with one of those biblical Chinese menus.)

Ooooooo!-long tea. Why? Read on. 
Laobian (“Old Bian”) dumplings have been around since 1829, started by Bian Fu who by all accounts was a true dumpling master, and continued by Bian Degui (1856 – 1942) who, according to the company’s own history ‘was good at absorbing others’ merits to make up his own shortcomings’. No love lost there then. Despite this Laobian Dumpling went from strength to strength and now offers ‘more than one hundred kinds of dumpling.’ You can see why I had to visit.
The restaurant is a bustling but plain three storys, each one packed to the brim with hungry diners. The only nod to fanciness is the Bian dragon logo on the teapots and cups, and the cheery red outfits of the waiters and waitresses.
You can choose individual dumplings form the main dumpling menu, including mandarin duck dumplings, exotic perilla leaf dumplings, wild vegetable dumplings, or even sharkfin dumplings if you’re feeling politically incorrect, or just avoid all the confusion and treat yourself to a set course dumpling feast.

Then began our own dumpling feast with the famed ‘Ice Dumplings’ (28 yuan), steamed jiaozi filled with scallions, tiny shrimp, pine nuts and rich tofu, then placed in a shallow pan and fried in a thin layer of batter and turned out upside-down onto the plate so the crunchy lacey fried batter forms a visually stunning effect. These were amazingly good – crispy at first bite with a soft, finely diced filling.

The regular jiaozi were simple boiled dumplings with a pork and vegetable filling, made much more interesting paired with  the roasted smoked chili flakes and minced garlic provided on the table.

For a little novelty I also ordered a single crab ‘dumpling’ (15 yuan) but the waiter wouldn’t have it, telling me each one was no bigger than his thumbnail. So I ordered two. They were so gorgeous with their little black sesame seed eyes on stalks and tiny, tiny claws, but they did taste of nothing more than dumpling dough.

Our final basket of dumplings were mandarin duck (20 yuan for ten), a rich combination of dark, finely chopped duck meat and herbs, stir-fried together first before being added to the dumplings making them rich and satisfying.
The only low point in this dumpling extravaganza came with the bill when I discovered our pot of oolong tea had cost 158 yuan, in contrast with the dumplings, all fifty-two of them combined costing only 70 yuan. 
Tea prices, like wine in other parts of the world, can be staggeringly steep in Chinese restaurants, and like the novice who tells the waiter ‘Bring me a bottle of red!’ without asking the price, I had done the same thing with tea. The waiter had simply chosen the best and most expensive sachet of tea on my behalf. It was great tea, but I would have liked to know how great it was so I could savour it a bit more.










Laobian Dumpling 老边饺子馆

Laobian Jiaozi Guan
208 Zhong Jie, Shen He District


Open seven days from early until late 
+86 24 24865369

The China Road Trip so far (in case you missed any):
My Year of Maximum China – in which the PLAN is hatched
The China Road Trip – A Progress Report in which obstacle start to present themselves…
Finding the Great Chinese Campervan – the vehicle is found! but the price will be negotiated endlessly for two more months
See How Easily You Can Camp in China! – the test drive weekend and surviving marital discord on the road
The China Road Trip Begins! – Where We’ll be Going, and When
Lian Island and the Art of the Perfect Beach Wedding Photograph – beach hideaway in northern Jiangsu Province
The Campground That Almost Was…..because you can’t win ’em all
Clinging to a Cliff Under the Great Wall – Northern Tianjin Province

Shanghai Street Food #24 Potsticker Dumplings: Guotie 锅贴

Love dumplings? How about crispy, juicy fried dumplings? Could there actually be any better antidote for a major dose of Shanghai winter blues? 

Guōtiē ( 鍋貼 literally pot-stick) are pork dumplings with a crispy fried base, made in much the same way as regular jiaozi cooked in water, but with a thicker and tougher skin to withstand frying. The filling is an unctuous mixture of pork seasoned with ginger, shaoxing wine, a little garlic, sesame oil and salt, wrapped in a circular skin and the edges crimped together to form the typical flat-bottomed double-horned shape. 

Cooking happens in three continous stages, first a gentle frying, then some steaming, then a final fry to crisp up the bottoms of the guotie. The guotie are placed in a broad shallow circular iron skillet over a gas flame, row upon row, around a hundred in every skillet. Depending on demand, the skillet may be filled half and half with guotie and shengjianbao, because the cooking method for both dumplings is identical.

While the crowds line up to purchase the freshly-cooked guotie, the cook ladles in oil and turns up the heat to begin the cooking. He lets the bottoms fry a little first, then using a pair of pliers to get a good grip on the scalding hot rim of the skillet, he grasps it and gives it an almighty spin with all his strength, preventing the pot stickers from sticking to the pot. 

The next step requires steam, so a few ladles of water go into the the skillet and a heavy wooden lid goes in, but the arduous spinning continues. 

Lastly the final frying – the lid comes off with great billows of steam, and a couple more ladles of oil are added to really get the bottoms of the guotie satisfylingly browned and crisp.
Guotie are usually eaten standing on the street, using tiny chopsticks to grapple the oily, slippery dumplings from a rectangular styrofoam tray into your mouth. The first bite sends hot oil pouring down your chin – guotie are seriously oily! 

The smooth and chewy top is a wonderful contrast in texture to the crunchy bottom, with the salty savoury pork filling in between. Guotie are rich, but you can dip them in a little dark vinegar to cut through the oil if you desire. But after a tray of these oily, salty dumplings your winter chills will be banished for the day.

The Shanghai Street Food Series

Number 1   Roast Sweet Potatoes
Number 2   Snack-on-a-stick 
Number 3   Liangpi – a spicy cold noodle dish
Number 4   Langzhou Lamian – hand-pulled noodles
Number 5   Cong You Bing – fried shallot pancakes
Number 6   Baozi – steamed buns, Shanghai style
Number 7   Jian Bing – the famous egg pancake
Number 8   Dan Gao – street cakes
Number 9   Shao mai – sticky rice treats
Number 10  Summer on a Stick – fresh fruits

Number 11  You Tiao – deep-fried breadsticks
Number 12  Dan Juan – egg rolls
Number 13  Shao Kao – street barbecue
Number 14  Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
Number 15  Chou Doufu – stinky tofu
Number 16  Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
Number 17  Mutton Polo
Number 18  Yumi Bang – puffed corn sticks
Number 19  Mian Hua Tang – cotton candy
Number 20  You Dunzi – fried radish cakes

Number 21  Suzhou Shi Yue Bing – homestyle mooncakes 
Number 22  Gui Hua Lian’ou – honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice
Number 23  Cong You Ban Mian – scallion oil noodles
Number 24  Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25  Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
Number 26  Da Bing, Shao Bing – sesame breakfast pastries
Number 27  Ci Fan – sticky rice breakfast balls
Number 28  Gui Hua Gao – steamed osmanthus cake
Number 29  Zongzi – bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice
Number 30  Shengjianbao – pan-fried dumplings

Number 31  Mala Tang – DIY spicy soup

Jia Jia Tang Bao – A Shanghai Xiaolongbao Classic

Xiaolongbao, Shanghai’s incredible soup-filled dumplings, don’t come any more classic than those at Jia Jia Tang Bao, eaten at the original restaurant in the back streets north of People’s Square. If you go there right now in the middle of hairy crab season, you’ll find the best hairy crab xiaolongbao you ever tasted at prices so low you’ll think they left an extra digit off the bill. Really.
Xiaolongbao come in two main varieties – pork, and pork mixed with hairy crab meat and/or crab roe. Right now, October to December, is hairy crab season, and the little dark green crustaceans with hairy black pompoms on the end of their claws have arrived in Shanghai from nearby Yangcheng Lake and surrounds. Restaurant fliers featuring eight course hairy crab feasts come through the letterbox every day. Tubs and tanks full of hairy crabs are on every street in the city, the crabs sitting mutely with their ridiculous pompom claws tied folded close to their bodies. 
A month ago my favorite dry goods shop on Wulumuqi Lu had every item temporarily removed to make way for a dozen or so glass-topped barrels full of hairy crabs. The nuts and dried fruits will make a comeback in December when crab season is over, but for now there is only one item for sale – hairy crab. Last week I walked past as a delivery of crabs was sitting in a plastic crate on the pavement. Clambering over those underneath a few brave crab souls made their escape, falling ungracefully onto the pavement before righting themselves and making off towards the traffic…..they were snatched from the jaws of certain death under the wheels of a motorcycle and plonked back in a barrel, temporarily delayed from a tasty end in someone’s kitchen.  
Jia Jia doesn’t look like much from the street but is a huge favorite of Shanghainese locals and travelling foodies alike, and in hairy crab season its popularity goes through the roof. After tasting their crab xiaolongbao you’ll know why. You’ll need to queue for a table no matter what the time of day, frequently being required to defend your queue position against stealth attacks from sneaky Chinese tourists who try and inveigle a position ahead of you. Don’t worry, the front desk inside the door is manned by an eagle-eyed woman who will yell at them and send them back to the end of the line, shame-faced.
While you wait, choose from either the outside menu or the inside menu hanging on the wall behind the counter, and when you finally make it to the front of the line order and pay before being shown to a seat with your docket. In many places – Jia Jia included – xiaolongbao are also known as tāng bāo (汤包 soup dumplings). Choose from ‘pure delicious fresh meat soup dumplings’ at 10.5 yuan ($1.50) for a dozen, shrimp, chicken, or even the luxurious ‘pure crab meat soup dumplings at 99 yuan ($16.00). I highly recommend foregoing all others for the signature dish – xièfĕn xiānròu tāngbāo (蟹粉鲜肉汤包 hairy crab and pork xiaolongbao), at 25.5 yuan ($4.00) for a dozen.
Once seated at one of only ten or so tiny formica tables, you can people-watch while you wait for your number to be called. Old Shanghainese couples sharing a steamer basket of xiaolongbao for breakfast. Trendy kids from Taiwan, with angular haircuts, outsize glasses, and harem pants with hi-tops taking iPhone photographs of one another. Somewhat disconcertingly, the hungry diners lined up outside tend to frequently press their faces to the window to check on your progress. Ignore them.  

At last! Your dozen crab meat and pork xiaolongbao arrive. The lid comes off the basket to reveal twelve fine specimens resting on a woven grass basket lining, the yellow crab roe clearly visible through the dumpling skins. There are two choices of dipping sauce – black vinegar, or golden rice vinegar with shreds of ginger. The latter goes perfectly with the more subtle flavor of the crab meat, and is the same accompaniment to steamed whole hairy crab (see this post on eating hairy crab at quirky Yong Xing Restaurant).
The xiaolongbao are perfect – strong fine translucent skins, an explosion of delicate crab meat and yolky rich crab roe, a touch of smooth pork, and a mouthful of hot broth filled with oily gold droplets of melted roe. Incredible. Before you know it all twelve dumplings are sitting happily in your stomach. Worth every minute of the half hour wait.

While you eat and enjoy you can also watch the frenetic activity in the open kitchen as a team of women work in unison to make each basket of xiaolongbao to order. Tiny nubbins of dough are rolled individually into paper thin skins, then stuffed with filling, pleated closed and placed carefully in a steamer basket. Basket after basket, all day long, from kitchen to steamer to grateful mouths. Take a big appetite when you go.
Jia Jia Tang Bao 佳家汤包

90 Huanghe Lu, near Fengyang Lu
黄河路90, 近凤阳路
Ph +86 21 6327 6878
Open 7 days, 6.30am – 10pm or until sold out

Lin Heung Tea House, with Dumplings

I stand patiently behind a bald gentleman as he spits the last bones of his steamed chicken on the filthy table. Next to the bones there are puddles of tea, puddles of juice from the chicken, piles of gristle, and dirty balls of tissue. Despite this, I’m making involuntary happy little food noises at the sight of the stainless steel hospital style dimsum trolleys, piled high with steamer baskets, being pushed between the crowded tables by the aged waitresses. Dressed in blue with crisp white aprons, they remind me of nurses doing their pill rounds, but today their charges are dozens of hungry diners at the Lin Heung Tea House in Hong Kong.
There are no spare tables of course. It’s only 11am and lunch service has barely begun but the long high-ceilinged room, up a few stairs from the street, is packed to capacity and then some. I’ve given up on getting a whole table for our group of five, and now I’m concentrating on just snaring a single spare seat, from which seated vantage point I can angle for a couple more. This is why I’m hovering directly behind the man with the pile of chicken bones, hoping he won’t refill his tea pot and start reading the South China Morning Post.
A waiter in a grubby white coat walks past with a grey-coloured cloth in his hand. In one efficient sweep he gathers the bones, gristle, and various liquids into the cloth, leaving greasy streaks on the tabletop and the tissues fall to the floor. At this sign, the bald man stands, appears to notice our small group for the first time, smiles, and offers his seat.
At Lin Heung, make no mistake, the dim sum is good. We start with a steamer basket full of frilled dumplings in a translucent yellow skin. They look like a set of four chrysanthemums sitting daintily in the basket. Inside are pork, and shrimp, and ginger. Delightful.  The next basket I open contains what turns out to be a lotus-leaf wrapped parcel of sticky rice flavoured with small cubes of pork belly and dried fruits. The waiter circles again, this time with our pot of Long Jin tea. The first pour goes into a floral dish in the centre of our table so we can rinse our tea cups and chopsticks in the boiling water.

When a new trolley leaves the kitchen, the hungriest diners leap from their seats and follow the waitress around the restaurant until she comes to her designated stop, frequently right next to our table. This is very convenient because I can leap up too, point to the ones I want, and have her stamp a tiny red stamp on one of the squares on my dim sum card as she hands the baskets over. There is fierce competition for the best dishes, so I figure I’ll try those too while I’ve got the chance. 

This method uncovers some amazing discoveries, like these ‘eggs’ made of rice flour dough, filled with a savoury mixture of pork and vegetables in a glossy sauce, and then deep fried briefly to give a crisp shell. They are superb and very clever. Then there are the ‘other’ discoveries, like a plate of chicken gristle sitting on a layer of spongy pig skin, and a pair of webbed duck’s feet, slow braised and wrapped in bean curd skin, nestled on a bed of glutinous rice. Thankfully the duck’s toenails have been clipped, and they taste of soy and five spice, surprisingly good. I spit the bones on the table where they join a growing pile of detritus.

It’s a great meal, with many other dumpling courses – translucent gelatinous shrimp-filled parcels, slabs of steamed ginger sponge cake, sheets of folded rice noodles. Like good Chinese restaurants everywhere Lin Heung feeds an extraordinary number of people each and every day, many of whom look like they spend every morning there drinking tea, eating dim sum and reading the newsapaper. It certainly has a convivial neighbourhood feel as you share a table with three old men and a local family of four. 
And still the trolleys come trundling out of the kitchen, with very little sign that the lunch rush is abating even two hours after we arrive. When dim sum is this good there is no time when it isn’t a perfect time to eat it. As we stand to leave a group of six, who have been standing behind us for some time now, swoop into our seats. On the way out I visit the ladies, doubling as the staff locker-room and restaurant laundry. There are various bits of kitchen equipment piled in corners, and slumped between two stacks of spare seamer baskets is the aged washroom attendant, approximately ninety years young, fast asleep. 

Lin Heung Tea House
160-164 Wellington St
Open daily for breakfast and lunch from 6am
+852 2544 4556

Xian: Evening Accomplish Dumplings

Luckily my good friend Dr S. likes Chinese food, and bonus, she likes homestyle Chinese food, street food and dumplings just as much as restaurant food. Having flatted together as Uni students about a hundred years ago, and eaten everywhere from Michelin-starred restaurants in France through to street barbecues I can vouch for the fact that although we’re not sisters, we have pretty much identical-twin culinary DNA. 
For this, my second visit to the Army of the Terracotta Warriors and Dr S.’s first, we have had the good fortune to find an extremely excellent and personable local guide, Melanie, to provide us with more in-depth background and history of the warriors and the Qin Emperor who commissioned them. Last time I visited I found the displays lacked much English translation and my thousand questions went unanswered because our ‘guide’ Andy spent the time gambling away the kickbacks he’d earned by taking us to the Offical Chinese Government Terracotta Warriors Factory Shop. (‘You go in by yourselves!’ he said at the entrance to the Terracotta Warriors. ‘They have many informations in English!’…..this turned out to be partly true. The sign saying ‘Toilets’ and ‘Coffee Shop’ certainly were bilingual).

Aside from being a more committed guide than Andy, Melanie also proved to be something of a major foodie, having previously run a restaurant with her husband before going into the touring business. It’s a long drive from Xi’an to the warriors, so we got to talking about food and before long we were all pretty famished. 
‘Where do you want to eat?’ she asked. ‘Usually I take my clients to a restaurant where they serve some Western dishes, because they don’t like Chinese food…but you guys like to eat Chinese right?’
Yeeesss we do! ‘Just take us where you would eat!’ said Dr S.. Brilliant idea.
And that was how we ended up at Wan Cheng Jiaozi. Jiaozi means dumplings, and Wan Cheng is just the restaurant’s name, but literally translated it means ‘Evening Accomplished’. Good. The restaurant is down a side-street in the small town of Ling Tong (famed for its red-orange Fire Crystal Persimmons), and through a pair of net curtains you enter into a small room with six orange formica tables and a dozen or so plastic stools. There are only three menu items – jiazi, cold dishes, and drinks.
Firstly, and most importantly, are the jiaozi – pork, lamb (given the region’s Islamic influence) or vegetable, all made fresh within the hour, and ordered by weight; secondly, cold dishes – liang cai – these made from a combination of cooked and uncooked ingredients, usually vegetables and tofu. You could call them salads but really they’re more complex and satisfying than a salad, and this restaurant had their four ‘liang cai of the day’ displayed in rectangular tin trays inside a glass cabinet. Lastly the drinks, and here the choices were very spare – warm beer, or warm Ice Mountain orangeade. 
We began with the liang cai – this dish was as delectable as it looks, a spanking fresh combination of vibrant green black-bean sprouts, slivers of red pepper, slices of cucumber and shards of cabbage, flashed in a wok for about three seconds to slightly wilt and soften the vegetables, than cooled and dressed with a chili, soy and vinegar dressing. The vegetables and sprouts had crunch without tasting raw, and the black bean sprouts,  many with their baby black-bean skins still attached, had the taste of freshly shelled peas.
The second was a hearty mixture of finely sliced tofu strips, celery, red peppers, zucchini and cucumber, again with a hot, sour dressing with a touch of sweetness and a lot of garlic.
The jiaozi, plump pillows stuffed full of filling, survived only long enough to be photographed dunked in black vinegar and chili, (top photo) the local way. We wolfed down a plate of lamb jiaozi, spiced lightly with cumin and garlic, and a plate of pork jiaozi with finely chopped lotus root, sweet and crunchy, then finished off with vegetable jiaozi made with leafy greens, garlic and a little egg. I was slightly shocked when Melanie told us we’d eaten one and a half kilograms of dumplings. Our driver, a tall skinny streak of a man, probably ate most of those. One and a half KILOS??
 ‘They were really very good’ said Dr S., as we waddled to the car. Of course they were good. 

Xi’an Tour Guide (and foodie) Melanie 
600 yuan per day (about $100 total price for 1-5 persons) for 8 hours, including minivan, driver and English-speaking guide. She can also book hotels, flights and train tickets, and has great historical knowledge. 

Shitake Mushroom Dumplings

So remember last week I promised a vegetarian version of my Chinese New Year dumplings? Here they are, in all their meatless glory. In fact these dumplings are not just vegetarian but VEGAN – please don’t tell anyone, because this is a meat-eating site. To be honest, I was (extremely) surprised by how good they tasted.  

Shitake Mushroom Dumplings
makes 50 dumplings

  • 100g fresh shitake mushrooms, or six dried
  • 200g chinese greens (eg cabbage, bok choy, spinach leaves)
  • 200g silken tofu
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger
  • 3 teaspoons finely chopped scallions
  • small bunch coriander, finely chopped (including stems and roots)
  • 2 teaspoons shaoxing wine
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • dash of white pepper
  • 2-4 teaspoons cornflour
  • 50 square dumpling wrappers

  • If using dried shitake mushrooms, cover with boiling water and soak for 20 minutes
  • chop mushrooms into fine dice
  • finely chop chinese vegetables
  • combine all ingredients, except cornflour, and mix well
  • allow to stand for 20-30 minutes
  • drain any extra liquid from mixture, and if still too moist, add 2-4 teaspoons of cornflour and mix well

Holding a square wrapper in your left hand, place a teaspoon of filling in the centre

Fold the dumpling wrapper in half, bringing the edges together

Hold the edges of the dumpling between your thumbs and index fingers as shown, with the filled part of the dumpling towards you

Fold the dumpling in half again lengthwise, then curve the dumpling around your middle fingers as shown

Overlap the edges at the front and press to seal, using a little water if needed


Bring a large pot of water to the boil, then gently lower dumplings into the water six at a time. Cook for three minutes or until the dumplings float to the surface.
Serve with black vinegar for dipping.