Shanghai soup dumplings or xiaolongbao (小笼包 – xiǎo lóng bāo) or xiaolongtangbao (小笼汤包 – xiǎo lóng tāng bāo) if you want to be more accurate, are probably the best food ever to come out of Shanghai and many would argue China too. Sadly I discovered that only after I left Shanghai 3 years ago so I didn't get to appreciate this snack in its “natural habitat”. Fortunately you can find any type of Chinese food in Beijing and it’s usually as good as, if not better than, the original version. A few weeks ago I treated a couple of friends for lunch as a thank you and in the process I rediscovered the deliciousness which is Shanghai XLB. Today I am going to tell you where to find good xiaolongbao in Beijing and Shanghai, as well share some good recipes I found online. But first – who came to the restaurant with me and why. Feel free to skip the next two paragraphs if you just want to get to the food part.
The Nearly Missed Scholarship
I was this close to not get a scholarship for my last semester in BLCU. In fact the only reason I did get it eventually was because someone else’s name got bumped out of the list and I was lucky enough to be the right guy at the right place at the right time. Obviously it was more than just dumb luck. After all we are talking about a scholarship from the People’s Government of Beijing Municipality Education Bureau and you need to have really good grade just to be considered (the semester before I had an average of over 93 and I still didn't get a full scholarship). This time my grades were better but still I didn't make the cut initially. Fortunately for me, someone made a mistake and accidentally added a Japanese exchange student to the list. As it turns out, exchange student are not eligible for a scholarship from Beijing Municipality because they pay their tuition in Japan. My Japanese classmate heard about this and when she saw me standing in the hallway totally bummed out after I found out my name wasn't on the list, she suggested I should go check with the Students Affairs Office because apparently they just cleared one spot. I went to the office and innocently inquired about alternative scholarships. “You’re in luck!” The teacher told me what I already knew but I pretended to be surprised anyway. Then she said she would add me to the list but she also strongly recommended that I treat the poor girl who thought she was getting an 11,600 yuan refund for a nice meal. I said that I would and happily left the office.
I decided to treat both the girl who lost the scholarship and our mutual friend. If it hadn't been for her, the window of opportunity would have been opened for someone else rather than me. Now, if there’s one thing I learned from hanging out with my Japanese classmate, it’s that a poorly executed dining event means total disgrace, particularly when you’re a man trying to impress the opposite sex. Luckily, I knew just the perfect place in Beijing for the occasion, the Shanghai Soup dumplings restaurant in Sanlitun.
Shanghai Soup Dumpling Beijing Sanlitun Restaurant
This restaurant doesn’t really have a name. Instead the sign simply describe the most important item on the menu. In Chinese the sign says 经典上海小笼汤包 (jīng diǎn shàng hǎi xiǎo lóng tāng bāo) which means ‘classic shanghai soup dumpling’ and in English the sign simply says ‘Shanghai Dumplings & Noodles’. I heard about this place through the girlfriend (at the time) of a good friend of mine. She was from Shanghai and she gave her official approval to this place. It is conveniently located in the behind Sanlitun Village, it’s small, clean and smoking isn't allowed which is a big plus, for me anyway.
In case you didn’t know this, Shanghai soup dumplings are not dumplings that come in a bowl of soup. It’s the exact opposite – the soup is inside the dumplings. The filling is made is such a way that during the steaming process it sweats out liquids and a mouthwatering broth is formed within the wrappers (more about that in the cooking section further down).
Obviously the primary objective of our trip was the XLBs but I figured that since we were already there, we should also try the other stuff. All in all we had four servings of dumplings with different kind of fillings and five other dishes – cucumbers in garlic cold salad (凉拌黄瓜 – liáng bàn huáng guā), potatoes salad (土豆沙拉 – tǔ dòu shā lā), Suzhou smoked fish (苏式熏鱼 – sū shì xūn yú), cold noodle in chili sauce (川北凉粉 – chuān běi liáng fěn) and boiled lettuce in oyster sauce (蚝油生菜 – háo yóu shēng cài). As for beverages, we all had naicha. I will be the first to admit I ordered too much food, but that’s because my face was on the line. We all really liked the pork and shrimp XLB, the cucumbers and potato salads. The girls also liked the crab filling XLB and the smoked fish. The other two too dishes remained almost completely untouched and not only because we were too full. The milk tea was alright. The damage was just a bit over 200 yuan, which is totally reasonable considering how much food we had and the part of town in which we had it.
The address is 81 Sanlitun Beilu, Chaoyang District (朝阳区三里屯北路81号) and it's not hard to find. It right behind Sanlitun village on the corner of the back street.
View Shanghai Xiaolongbao in Beijing in a larger map
Coming out of the village, you will see it a bit to your right:
Xiao Long Bao in Shanghai
As I mentioned before I haven’t had the pleasure of eating XLB in Shanghai but I asked around and also did some extensive online research in both Chinese and English. According to which, if you are in Shanghai and looking for Xiaolongbao, or siohlon-meudoe as they are called in Shanghainese (from 小笼馒头 – xiǎo lóng mán tou), the best place to go to is佳家汤包 (jiā jiā tāng bāo). It is ranked fifth out of over 12,000 Shanghai restaurants on Trip Advisor, it got an A on Chow’s XLB Report Card, it is ranked first on Fiona's complete guide to xiaolongbao, and according to Rbjello it is hands down the best soup dumplings in Shanghai, If you read Chinese you might also like to know it’s doing quite well on Dianping.
Jiajia is also mentioned in the CNN Travel Shanghai XLB guide along with other well-known XLB restaurants and that is the official mainstream stamp. If you’re more into hidden gems you should check out a small XLB joint called Wanshouzhai (万寿斋 – wàn shòu zhāi) I found via this Chinese article. It’s barely mentioned in English websites but here’s one useful post which will get you there. Good luck!
If you know good Xiaolongbao joints in other cities in China and the around the world, do tell! Leave a comment below.
Make Your Own XLB
Making Shanghai xiao long bao is quite a lot of work. There are some shortcuts you can take like buying ready-made wrappers or use instant gelatin. If you are one of those people who like to make everything yourself here’s an excellent two-part video lesson that will guide you all the way from A to Z.
Part 1 – Stock and Filling
Part 2 – Wrapping and Steaming
The dish Shanghai Soup Dumplings is now also on the app.