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Soup dumpling confusion

Several years ago I ate with some friends in NYC chinatown named Shanghai Joe or something like that. I was given "soup dumplings", which quite literally were dumplings filled with soup.

Now, since then I've read various threads here about XLB and they sound like they should be the same thing (since people refer to them as 'soup dumplings'). I've had them @ Mary Chungs (under the guise of 'small steamer buns' or whatever it is) as well as Hei La Moon. In both cases, the XLB was more like a "really juicy meat dumpling" in that the filling was mostly meat permeated w/ a soupy broth.

So is what I had in NYC also XLB? Are these just variations on a theme? And either way, is there somewhere here in Boston that I can get what I had in NYC? I've seen the usual names in the various XLB threads, but curious if my experience there will be like what I had at MC & HLM or what I had in NYC

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  1. Hi jgg13,

    A NYC hound here. What you had at Joe Shanghai (soup dumplings) was the same as xiao long bao (XLB). The latter was just the pronounciation in Mandarin of the dumplings putting into English. Soup dumplings and xiao long bao are the same thing.

    The versions that you had, I believe, were not variation of what you had in NYC. They were just not as well-made (sorry) as the ones in Joe Shanghai. It is a highly praised skill to make juicy plump XLB with thin skin that doesn't break. Everything from the meat mixture, the amount of soup, the freshness and amount of oil in the soup and meat, the thickness of the dumpling skin, to even the number of folds at the top of the dumplings are all the things that need to be considered to evaluate whether a soup dumpling is good or not (i mean, of course, for experts and foodies; normal people won't go through all the examination before eating!).

    I can't comment on the XLB in Boston, but to be honest, the XLB you had at Joe Shanghai in NYC will be below average when compared to the ones in Asia like Hong Kong and Taiwan. Even in those places the quality varies greatly and there are not many places that can consistently create heavenly XLB. Certainly not in NYC. I hope some hounds in Boston can provide you with some great options locally!

    1 Reply
    1. re: kobetobiko

      Ah, thanks for the in depth reply. Don't get me wrong, I like 'em all, but it was just that the other day I was telling my friends about what I had at Joe Shanghai and wasn't sure if I just had things mixed up.

      And yeah, I figure they'd be better over there :)

    2. I fell in love with the soup dumplings at Joe Shanghai and have found nothing comparable in Boston. I quit my search for true soup dumplings in Boston a long time ago. I'd love it if someone chimes in with some good news on this front.

      3 Replies
      1. re: kittychow

        First of all about nomenclature: it is the case that XLB can sometimes be referred to by a variety of different names. The "tang" does refer to the soup that forms inside a well made XLB. "xie-fen" (ground crab) XLB refers to a tastier-than-usual mix-in which is more or less required when I'm out for XLB.

        It is possible that XLB was the original reason that I became a foodie in the first place (my parents would drive into Chinatown in NYC, an hour each way, just to eat, and I grew up taking it for granted that of course you'd fuss like that just for good chow). However, it wasn't until I tried the real deal in Shanghai that I really saw the light.

        I remember really liking the XLB at Joe's Shanghai, but the time I was enthralled with them was before I had actually been in China. I have been back two or three times to the Flushing branch in the past few years and been disappointed the last few times. Not that they are pseudo-XLB in the manner of the aforementioned Mary Chung's, Hei La Moon (or for that matter even Qingdao Garden), but they didn't have that blend of delicacy and crowd-pleasing soup. Shanghai Laofandian and Yeah Shanghai haven't been that spectacular either, the last times I've been there. The closest I've come in NYC has been Shanghai Cafe, which are actually pretty good.

        In greater Boston, at this point in time, I'd say that Wing's Kitchen in Chinatown and Shanghai Gate in Allston are at least comparable to Joe's Shanghai and probably a touch better. Not quite Shanghai Cafe level, and definitely not Hongkong or Shanghai level, but respectable enough for this XLB addict to get his periodic fix.

        1. re: Dr.Jimbob

          Off topic, but I really like the dumplings at Shanghai Cafe, as well as their other dishes, better than Joe's. Do you think Wing's or Shanghai Gate compares okay on items other than XLB?

          1. re: nfo

            Shanghai Cafe impressed me thoroughly on the basis of one run so far (which was actually a takeout run prior to getting on the Fung Hwa back to Boston). Their XLB held up to a bus trip and *microwaved* well. I've never seen that before in XLB, so that's mighty impressive.

            My last trip to Wing's impressed me more than my last trip to Joe's (you can read the comments at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/39882...). I don't think I'd put either place in the Shanghai Cafe class, at least based on that one trip, but they are both solid, they do some stuff very well, and they're perfectly honorable alternatives if you're in this neck of the woods.

      2. I can understand your confusion. Many places that serve these dumplings don't really have that much soup in them. The ones at Taiwan Cafe and Wing's Kitchen in Chinatown have what you're looking for. Nice amounts of soup and everything. There was a recent XLB thread that discusses the pros and cons of various locations in the city,

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ladycale

          Yup, I think that was the one that actually got me really thinking about this. I just wasn't sure if everything was XLB or not :) Thanks.

        2. A Taste of Taiwan in Quincy has good soup dumplings. It's G51 on the picture menu.


          We have to use spoons to eat them. Now I'm craving some!

          1. Well, the confusion is understandable. A xiaolongbao is shaped very differently from what we typically call a dumpling. It's rotund, sits on a flat bottom, and the folds that seal it fan out from the center. A standard dumpling (jiaozi) -- the kind used to make a potsticker, for instance -- is crescent-shaped, lies kinda on its side, and is sealed by nipping / tucking along the top. To complicate things further, the term for bun, 'bao,' otherwise refers to something xiaolongbao-shaped that's usually larger and has considerably thicker skin.

            1. What is the difference between xiao long bao and tang bao? I've heard them referred to by both names and even as "xiao long tang bao"... What the heck is the distinction?

              2 Replies
              1. re: maylamtx

                'Tang' means broth / soup. So the longer name is the more accurate designation for soup dumpling. Xiaolongbao by itself just translates literally into 'small basket bun.' I.e., it's actually a slight abbreviation. Technically it could mean other kinds of small filled bao, too, not necessarily the soupy sorts, but popular usage identifies it with those soupy sorts.

                1. re: sequins

                  Tang bao is generally larger than xiao long bao. It is completely filled with soup with little bits of meat in it, whereas xiao long bao has a big nugget of meat inside with a little surrounding soup.

              2. I just posted some pictures and trivias about soup dumplings on the General Board. Enjoy.

                3 Replies
                1. re: HLing

                  Glad to see an expert chime in -- many thanks for your informative post.

                  1. re: limster

                    LImster! I will always remember that fun (funny) tour of Flushing with you and Melanie Wong.

                    Hasn't it been years since you've moved from SF to Boston? Is it time NY be graced with your presence?

                    1. re: HLing

                      Yes it has been years! Will try to sneak down to NYC before I leave the country for good.

                2. I feel your pain. I also first had xiao long bao at Joe's Shanghai and haven't found comparable here. In fact I ordered them recently and hopefully at Uncle Cheung's. I figured that they do so well with some other Shanghainese standards they would surely succeed here too. Unfortunately they were, as you described, juicy meat dumplings. I'll have to try Taste of Taiwan that OP recommended. Incidentally, there was a great article in Saveur a couple of months ago on Shanghai, much of which was dedicated to the writer's search for "real" xiao long bao.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: tomaneng

                    Had the XLB at Shanghai Gate a few days ago. The only other soup dumplings I have tried were at Taiwan Cafe. SG's were much better than TC's. They did not fall apart the moment one touched them, as happened at TC's. Each was well-formed, sitting flat on top of a daikon radish slice in the steamer basket. All of them retained their shape and moist interior quite successfully as I scarfed them down quickly. Unlike TC's the soup stayed in the light dumpling until I actually bit into them, at which point the soup oozed into my mouth. I timed them so my mouth did not get burnt.

                    1. re: VivreManger

                      what is the magical time? i often get burnt

                      1. re: galangatron

                        Depends on how hard you blow over the dumplings, how much of the soup you let leach out of the dumpling before you chomp down, and how desperate you are. :-)

                        My strategy (which I think I learned in Shanghai, though it might have been NYC) is to take a porcelain soup spoon and put some of the pickled ginger and the vinegar in the bottom of the spoon. Then gently place the XLB on top of this spoon, nip a small hole in the side to let some of the soup mix with the vinegar and ginger, then wait as patiently as you can. The soup cools off in the vinegar and plays well with the ginger and vinegar cutting through the fatty goodness, and the XLB becomes handleable in this fashion.

                        Damn, now I want to go get some XLB!