Shanghainese soup dumplings
Pick up steam … Shanghainese soup dumplings. Photographs: UnTour Shanghai

漸漸加熱.... 上海小籠包。圖片選自:UnTour Shanghai

Any Shanghai denizen who has lived in the city for longer than a few months worships at the altar of xiaolongbao. These steamed buns of goodness – tiny pork dumplings with a slurp of soup wrapped up in a wonton wrapper – provide delicious fodder for debates among Shanghai's foodies.


That said, if anyone tells you the best soup dumplings in the city can be found at Taiwanese chain restaurant Din Tai Fung, give them a polite smile and then turn on your heels and run. Sure, these XLBs may win the day in Melbourne or even San Francisco, but why come to Shanghai, the home of the xiaolongbao, to order your steamer baskets from a chain? No one suggests going to Rome and eating at Pizza Hut, however well the corporation may have localised their flavors to the Italian market.


We also avoid the historic Nanxiang tourist trap in Yu Gardens at all costs. This perennial guidebook favourite is a branch of the original dumpling shop that invented the method for preparing XLBs, but they churn out so many dumplings in a day that the product is wildly inconsistent. In addition, their widely publicised historical connection has led to interminably long lines of hungry tourists who are all searching for a suitable seat to slurp down the dumplings.


In our humble opinion, there is no single winner of the great xiaolongbao debate – and that's no because we like sitting on the fence. There are two regional varieties of soup dumpling: Nanjing-style, which are actually called tangbao, literally "soup bun," and traditional Shanghainese xiaolongbao. The latter boasts heartier wrappers that hold in a hearty pork meatball in a sweet soup, while Nanjing's offerings have skin so thin it's almost translucent, a more savoury broth, and a smaller serving of pork. In each of these categories, we have a clear winner.

以我們的愚見,在偉大的小籠包辯論會上沒有一個贏家 – 這并不是因為我們毫無立場。有兩個地方品種的湯包子:南京風格的,它實際上是被稱為湯包,字面意思是“湯包子”,和傳統的上海小籠包。后者在皮內包有豐盛的豬肉丸子甜湯,然而南京的樣式包子皮膚非常得薄,幾乎是透明的,更美味的肉湯和小份的豬肉。在這兩個類別中,我們有了一個明確的贏家。

Fu Chun dumpling joint
Fu Chun dumpling joint


Gently take a bite out of the top (or the side) and let the steam escape. Then carefully suck out the succulent juice of the xiaolongbao. A second dip into the sauce, after you've drained the melted pork fat, wouldn't hurt. Cue the swan song and pop the xiaolongbao in your mouth whole. Savour. Repeat.


This is merely a loving ode to the standard Shanghai pork xiaolongbao. We could go into the high-class XLB filled with pork and crab roe, but we'll save that one for another day.