Xiao Long Bao is a type of steamed bun or baozi from eastern China, including Shanghai and Wuxi. It is traditionally steamed in small bamboo baskets, hence the name (xiaolong is literally “small steaming basket”). Xiao Long Bao are often referred to as soup dumplings in English, but not all Xiao Long Bao are necessarily “soup dumplings.”
Xiao Long Bao are also sometimes known as xiaolong mantou. Mantou describes both filled and unfilled buns in southern China, but only describes unfilled buns in northern China.
Chinese buns in general may be divided into two types, depending on the degree of leavening of the flour skin.Steamed buns made with raised flour are seen throughout China, and are what is usually referred to as baozi. Steamed buns made with unraised flour are more commonly seen in the south. Most Xiao Long Bao belong to the latter category. This means that their skin is smooth and somewhat translucent, rather than being white and fluffy. But in Beijing and in Northern China, Xiao Long Bao are often made with leavened dough. These are sometimes referred to as Hangzhou-style.
The similarities between the appearance of Xiao Long Bao and jiaozi (“dumpling“) has meant that the Xiao Long Bao is sometimes classified as a dumpling outside of China. It is, however, distinct from both steamed and boiled jiaozi in texture and method of production, and is never regarded as a jiaozi or dumpling inside China. As is traditional for buns of various sizes in the Jiangnan region, Xiao Long Bao are pinched at the top prior to steaming, so the skin has a circular cascade of ripples around the crown, whereas jiaozi are usually made from a round piece of dough folded in half, and pinched along the semicircle.
Xiao Long Bao are traditionally filled with pork, but variations include other meats, seafood and vegetarian fillings, as well as other possibilities. One popular and commonly seen variant is pork with minced crab meat and roe. The characteristic soup-filled kind are created by wrapping solid meat gelatin inside the skin alongside the meat filling. Heat from steaming then melts the gelatin into soup. In modern times, refrigeration has made the process of making Xiao Long Bao during hot weather easier, as one can use chilled gelatin which might otherwise be liquid at room temperature.
Traditionally, the Xiao Long Bao is a kind of dianxin / dim sum or snack item, as well as a kind of xiaochi (simplified Chinese: 小吃; traditional Chinese: 小吃; pinyin: xiǎochī, literally “small eat”). The buns are served hot in the bamboo baskets in which they were steamed, usually on a bed of dried leaves, or on a woven mat, although some restaurants today use napa cabbage instead. The buns are usually dipped in Chinkiang vinegar with ginger slivers. They are traditionally served with a clear soup.
Xiao Long Bao have also become popular as a main dish. In Cantonese regions and the West, it is also commonly served as a yum cha item.
How to eat Xiao Long Bao
1. Prepare souve by pouring 3 parts of vinegar & 1 part soy sauce onto the ginger dish
3. Place a little sauce with ginger if desired
4. Enjoy the wonderful taste