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Aug 10, 2003 04:42 PM

Shanghai Food in Chicago: Soup Dumplings

  • y

Long time reader... First time poster....

Having consumed a lot of Chinese food in Chicago, I was resigned to the fact that we would never have XLB's near the quality of NYC, SF, LA, Vancouver, Toronto (or even Beijing and Shanghai). Friday night changed all of that.

I heard that Phoenix was trying their hand at Shanghai style dim sum in their infamous space below the main restaurant (a space that has gone through more incarnations than Dr. Who). I decided to give it a shot Friday night. The restaurant was absolutely empty. There's an open kitchen so you could see the chefs sitting around looking extremely bored. I spied the pork XLB (no crab) on the menu and gave it an order. When the order reached the kitchen, I saw the dumpling chef spring off her chair and into action... quickly stuffing and folding each dumpling (I couldn't tell if they used aspic or frozen meat to generate the soup). A few minutes later, I was presented with a steaming basket of eight dumplings.

The dumplings didn't have the same look as the ones in NYC (Joe's Shanghai, New Green Bo, Shanghai Cuisine). When I picked it up with my chopsticks, the dumpling wrapper didn't buckle from the weight of the soup. I was ready to be disappointed.

I placed one in my spoon (w/ some ginger, soy, vinegar, and hot oil) and plopped it into my mouth. The skins were definitely thicker, so you didn't have to be as gentle with them to avoid an accident (those of you who have had good XLB, know what I'm talking about). The skin and meat inside were similar in texture to the ones I had in Beijing at a place right next a BMW dealership (don't know the name, just know that the dumplings were yummy). Most importantly, there was soup.... lots of soup... I thought to myself. FINALLY IN CHICAGO!!!

IMHO these were better than the ones I had in LA (San Gabriel), and SF proper. Definitely not as good as the ones in NYC, Canada, or China... but good enough.

Today, I went for round two (test-retest reliability). Being Sunday, Phoenix itself was packed to the gills with a throng of people waiting outside. However, the Dumpling House was completely empty yet again. This time around, I ordered a few other things with my dumplings: Soy Milk, Fried dough stick, Scallion pancake, and a Red Bean Crepe. The Scallion pancake was very good. You could tell that it was actually made by hand as opposed to machine made frozen and dumped into a deep fryer. Everything else was above average. The dumplings were again very very good.

On my way out, I talked to the Manager about the possibility of crab on the menu. According to her, they've been working on the pork ones for a while to get them right. They're still not completely where she wants them, but they're getting there. As for the Crab, since it doesn't make sense for them to get fresh crab (they wouldn't sell enough and too much of it would go to waste), they are experimenting with several different canned types of crab. It's still not good enough to place on the menu though.

Moon Palace is still the place to get Shanghai food in Chicago (rice cakes, pan fried mini pork buns, Ko-fu, etc). But, if you want XLB... you've got to go to the Phoenix Dumpling House.


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  1. Yo,

    Pardon my ignorance, but what does XLB stand for?


    11 Replies
    1. re: joel

      I'm sorry... I got a little carried away.

      Xiao Lon Bao (XLB)= Shanghai Soup Dumpling

      1. re: Yo

        Getting caught up in the details, the bored corporate drone writes:

        XLB = Xiao Lung Bao (correct spelling)

        We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming...

        1. re: titus wong

          I was about to ask, I thought it rhymed with Falung Gong.

          Thanks from those of us who don't get to NY, Toronto, Vancouver, SF ever, often, if at all.

          1. re: annieb

            that's falun gong, actually (more nitpicking)

          2. re: titus wong

            I think it's "Long" in the standard pinyin, little (xiao) dragon (long) bun (bao).

            1. re: DPZ

              The "long" character is for "steamer", not for "dragon". (The characters look very similar, and more than one mistranslation has made it into restaurant menus.)

              1. re: Gary Soup

                Interesting, makes more sense. I had always wondered whether there was some great story behind the dragon name, guess not. I speak somewhat passable Chinese, but can't read at all, so often making these mistakes.

                  1. re: Gary Soup

                    I made the same mistake once in an old thread on this board and got corrected by Melanie (SF board).

                    The "long" character of hsiao long t'ang bao has the bamboo radicals (looks like: "KK") over the "dragon" character and so supposedly refers to "basket" (steaming basket).

                    see-ao (as one sound-they say dipthong?-, not 2 syllables); ao as in "ouch"


                1. re: titus wong

                  Can anyone write in with the phonetic pronunciation, so I can ask for them if I don't see them on the menu? I'm always shy of mangling the words...thanks!

                  1. re: Naomi

                    Here's some tips on pronouncing xiao long bao.


            2. Ed's Potsticker House tends to be proud of their soup dumplings. You may want to give it a shot, too.


              Ed's Potsticker House
              3139 S. Halsted St.
              (312) 326-6898

              2 Replies
              1. re: Ed Fisher

                So on this recommendation, I visited Ed's today to try the soup dumplings. First thing I found out, is that they are not on the regular menu. They are on the special chinese menu (which is translated), but I don't recall the translation being exactly "shanghai soup dumplings".

                Secondly, how are these typically eaten? Alone? In soup? They were served to me plain in a steamer with a soy-like dipping sauce.

                Where's the soup??

                They were very good, I must say, but I just wasn't sure whether I was "experiencing" them correctly...

                1. re: gonzobean

                  The "soup" part of the dumpling is actually inside the dumpling itself. Made properly, you have to eat the bao with a spoon and chopsticks. Pick up the dumpling (gingerly, as it's liable to break and you DON'T want that) then take a little bite to sever the dumpling skin. Soup should come out of the dumpling (right into your carefully positioned spoon)--and there you have soup and dumpling.

                  The sauce should usually be red vinegar and ginger, but Ed's (I believe) serves a soy one instead.

              2. Yo,

                Thanks for the informative post, I have had XLB's at both Moon Place and Ed's and am looking forward to trying the Phoenix Dumpling House. Matter of fact, I was at the Phoenix for dim sum this Sunday, where I ran into Zim and family, and noticed they had a few new offerings. I wonder if there is a correlation, new chef?

                A vested waiter (top tier waiters at Phoenix wear vests) was walking around with a tray filled with small plates that contained three steamed wheat flour wrapper dumplings filled with chive, peas and pieces of steamed shrimp. These were in the shape of over-large hershey's kisses and tied with a strand of chive. Very delicious.

                There was also a new, at least to me, slightly sweet baked bun in a vaguely mouse like shape (little nose and eyes) which contained an egg custard. Also quite good.

                I thought the Phoenix was really on the mark Sunday, both food and service wise, especially given how crowded it was. By the way, my slight preference is for the XLB at Moon Palace over Ed's, more for the fact that Moon Palace has slivered ginger in their red vinegar dipping sauce than for the actual soup dumplings. Moon does offer a crab variation, where Ed's does not, but there were out of the crab the last time I asked and I actually prefer the 'plain' to crab. I highly doubt Moon uses fresh crab, I imagine fresh crab in the XLB's would be excellent.


                Soup Dumplings at Ed's Potsticker House


                1 Reply
                1. re: G Wiv


                  I think you arrived at phoenix at the right time as we didn't see many of the normal items by the time we were seated let a lone some of the new ones. However what we did have was very tasty, the best being I think a potsticker with ground pork and chive.

                  Yo, thanks for the info on the phoenix snack spot and their dumplings, I've never had the famous NY versions of xlb (which I've read are not necessarily traditional) but I like all the dumplings at moon palace quite a bit, if you think phoeniux dumpling house's are better than those I will definitley give them a try.

                2. Off to Phoenix Dumpling House it is! I too have walked by and seen the menu/transformation. Now it's time for action!

                  1. Sorry, I am getting confused... Are you guys referring to XLB as soup dumplings? Coz when I was growing up in Hong Kong, we have a dish where a fist sized dumpling is in a bowl, and when you break the skin, the soup comes out. There was shrimp, pork, mushrooms, etc. This is soup dumpling, no?

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: C

                      When I first heard the term "soup dumpling", that's what I thought folks were talking about too. But no, you're describing a boon tong gau, one of my favorite items at yum cha, but one that few do well.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Right... I love boon tong gau. Problem is that I don't think I see it much in Chicago Chinatown... DO you know of some place that makes it relatively well??

                        1. re: C

                          Sorry, I can't help you in Chicago. But if you have occasion to come to San Francisco, the best one I've found to date in the Bay Area is at Seafood Harbor in Millbrae. It's 5 minutes from SFO.


                          1. re: C

                            I realise this thread is very old, but this is in case someone comes by in search of boon tong gau. Phoenix does a good rendition of these plump seafood dumplings, although the dumpling arrives swimming in a bowl of soup. Is the soup supposed to be inside the skin? I'd be interested in hearing if they are available elsewhere, too.