A person's first taste of the Chinese soup dumplings called xiao long bao is a magical one. I've seen it again and again on the faces of friends and family eating the dumplings for the first time at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia, a nearby outpost of the Taiwan-based soup dumpling chain: there is wonder, followed by bliss, and finally greed, as they mentally calculate the remaining dumplings divided by the number of people at the table. So how did this regional specialty from the outskirts of Shanghai come to be a beloved food in Southern California and beyond?
Afar Magazine traced the history of xiao long bao, from its humble beginnings to its current global superstar status. Get ready to crave soup dumplings.
Xiao long bao were most likely born in Nanxiang, outside Shanghai, around 1875. Although they can still be found there, it is in Taiwan that they began their global takeover, via a cooking-oil-store-turned-restaurant called Din Tai Fung. The owner of the restaurant happened to hire a chef who knew how to make xiao long bao, which he churned out without recipes or measurements, until his gambling problems got in the way.
Luckily, he had taught a few apprentices his methods and the restaurant grew, expanding first to Japan and then to Arcadia, California, where the author is at first dismayed to see the dumplings are not made by Chinese people at all, but soon realizes that she has found the xiao long bao she has been seeking.
These transplanted Shanghai dumplings (10 for $7.25)—beloved by Japanese and made by Central Americans in a Los Angeles outpost of a 30-year-old Taiwanese operation founded by a man from northern China—turned out to be some of the best xiao long bao of all.
• Read more: On the Trail of the Shanghai Dumpling at Afar
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Related: Soup Dumplings & Peking Duck: Snapshots From China
(Images: Trujillo Paumier/Afar)