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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(Images: Trujillo Paumier/Afar)