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Oct 1, 2007 07:30 AM

In Chinese food, what is a "soup" dumpling? [Moved from Manhattan board]

I've eaten tons of steamed and occasionally fried dumplings. But this board regularly mentions "soup" dumplings. I'm a West Coast gal. Is this just something like won ton soup? It sounds like something different and I don't want to miss a thing. Please advise. Thanks. PS: 730a.m. here in CA and now you guys have me craving har gow!

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  1. You probably know them as xiao long bao (XLB). I think Joe's Shanghai in Manhattan americanized the term to "soup dumpling" (and made the dumplings bigger and the wrappers thicker). You have to be care with that terminology, though - at Din Tai Feng, if you order "soup dumplings" you get a bowl of soup, and dumplings to put into them.

    1. Soup dumplings are a Shanghainese steamed dumpling filled with meat and soup. In making the dumpling, the cook will top the pork filling with meat gelatin. The steam heat liquifies the gelatin to make the soup filling.

      17 Replies
      1. re: JungMann

        Exactly. They are usually slightly bigger than steamed/fried dumplings and actually have soup inside the wrappers. So you get pork and soup together inside the dumpling.

        1. re: ESNY

          They're only bigger in Manhattan - on the West Coast (and in China and Taiwan) they're smaller.

          1. re: daveena

            Are they served dry, in soup, or... ?

            1. re: bbqboy

              They're served in steamer baskets, with vinegar and ginger for dipping. If you ask for "soup dumplings" in NYC, you will get xiao long bao, but if you ask for "soup dumplings" in California, you may end up with dumplings in soup.

              1. re: daveena

                And they are best eaten with chopsticks held over a spoon to catch all the wonderful juices that spill out after you bite into them. I personally don't recommend popping a whole one into your mouth and chewing, as you are likely to burn yourself in the process!

                1. re: TorontoJo


                  The whole point of them is the soup. Otherwise you'd just order other types of dumplings.

                  But because they are solid and liquid and more than just one bite you have to have technique to eat them

                  1. re: TorontoJo

                    I wait for them to cool and pop straight into mouth. For me it's best enjoyed that way.

                    1. re: joonjoon

                      Ooh, nooooooo :) Since it's not actually soup but rather a gelatin that's 'melted,' letting it cool would start it 're-gelatin-inzing' and I don't think I'd like that at all. I poke a little hole in the top to let some steam escape. Then holding it over the spoon, I take a nibble off the side. And then another and it's gone then.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        I don't mean cool like cold, I mean cool enough where it's still piping hot but just not enough to burn your mouth. I love it when the hot soup gushes out into my mouth. Mmmm.

                        1. re: joonjoon

                          I was under the impression that that amount of 'soup' was actually too much. But I could be wrong about that certainly.

                      2. re: joonjoon

                        Me too. You have to eat them fairly quickly. Otherwise, they can stick to the steamer basket and tear, losing all that lovely juice.

                        1. re: flavrmeistr

                          Interesting. Thinking about it, I sometimes have that problem with other dumplings, esp. har gow, but not with XLB.

                  2. re: bbqboy

                    They are served dry because the soup part of "soupy dumplings" is actually inside the dumpling itself. So be careful biting into it, it can be scalding hot.

              2. re: JungMann

                My first encounter with this term led me on a funny chase around Chinatown in Manhattan. I grew up eating xiao long bao and I love them. A few years ago, I went on a trip to visit some friends in Manhattan and a friend from home (who's korean) told me about these amazing "soup dumplings" that they make in Chinatown, and that I HAD to try because they were so unique. The way she described it, I got a picture of a massive wad of dough that had a pocket in the middle that was somehow infused with some kind of soup. So we headed toward Chinatown in Manhattan and find a place advertising "Soup dumplings sold here!" We walk in, I take a look over the menu, and don't see this soup dumpling. I finally ask our waiter, who points out the xiao long bao on the menu. Turns out soup dumplings are apparently what they call it in New York. Go figure. Thankfully I can get them here in LA pretty easily and won't need to wait for my next trip to Manhattan to get some.

                1. re: brewinphan

                  Thanks to everybody. I've finally figured out what they are. And it's not just me who had never heard of "soup dumplings."

                  1. re: c oliver

                    The full Mandarin name is xiao long tang bao (little cage soup dumplings), so people shorten either to xiao long bao or tang bao.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      Well done! That's a pretty decent effort - I wouldn't have tried that myself: just too difficult to get the pleats in.

                      Apparently, DTF boasted that *all* their XLBs have at least 18 pleats. I don't know why - but at *all* DTF outlets I'd been to around the world (Taipei, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, etc.) the cooks daintily pleating the dumplings were invariably *all* men. Wonder why?

                      This photo's taken at the last one I tried - at Kuala Lumpur's Pavilion last Saturday.

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        I recognize those little 'nuggets' of dough. I took an Asian dumpling class a few months ago and that's where we frequently started.

                        Actually the easiest part, surprisingly, was the 'pleating.' It was very stretchy. Nothing about it was hard. It was just terribly tedious. Unlikely I'd make them again.

                        1. re: klyeoh

                          <Apparently, DTF boasted that *all* their XLBs have at least 18 pleats.>

                          It is important.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            HAHA! To DTF perhaps. One thing not mentioned, I believe, is that some places make large XLB and some small. So an order varies and the number of pleats would also. That dough was so easy to work with that, with practice, 18 would be doable.

                        2. re: c oliver

                          Quite impressive. Were they as good as they look?

                          1. re: Tripeler

                            No. They were fine. About what we had at Shanghai Dumpling King in SF. Not enough "soup." But still good enough but not good enough to fix again.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              Yours looked better than the soup dumplings I had at the Shanghai Restaurant on Webster St, Oakland Chinatown (pic below). I was brought there by my Chinese-American colleagues from my company's Oakland office.

                              The hot-and-sour soup, crispy eel and braised pig's trotters were enjoyable though.

                              1. re: klyeoh

                                The pictures are great....but that looks more like a shoulder/picnic/shank, than trotters to me.

                                1. re: fourunder

                                  It did actually, now that you mentioned it. It's more like a "rump".

                                  1. re: fourunder

                                    I've had a pork shank at a Shanghainese place that looked like that. And, yeah, those are pretty unattractive XLBs. Hope they tasted better than they look.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Unfortunately, the dumplings were a letdown, most of the "soup" had either evaporated, or else leaked out. Not something I'd serve in a restaurant.

                                      1. re: klyeoh

                                        Bummer. I mentioned above SDK in SF. We were disappointed and it seems others have had wildly varying experiences at that place. If you're gonna put "dumpling" in your name then you oughta make damn fine ones day after day after day :)

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Singapore's Crystal Jade chain is opening a branch in SF towards the end of this year (

                                          In Singapore (and even in Shanghai or HK) I actually preferred Crystal Jade's XLB over DTF anytime. But then, it's probably my taste preference - because I've introduced Crystal Jade's XLB to Shanghainese friends - both in outlets here in Singapore as well as the ones in Shanghai (Xintiandi and Pudong branches) and each time, the Shanghainese folks complained that the skin was "too thin" (?!) and the flavours too "different" (*very* slightly more garlicky flavours, which may not sit down well with the Shanghainese).

                                          Apparently, you can get multi-flavoured, coloured-coded XLB at the soon-to-be-opened Crystal Jade SF. The idea was copied by Crystal Jade from another well-known Singapore chain, the Paradise Group (

                                          1. re: klyeoh

                                            The last few years we've house exchanged with a family in Sonoma and always make it into the city for dim sum. Hopefully they'll be open by then. Gotta say, those colors are a little offputting :)

                        3. I chuckled when this popped up. Almost six years have passed and I've eaten dozens of XLB. And actually made them. Once. They were rather a lot of work so may not ever make them again. Now we have a fave spot in SF for them.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: c oliver

                            I know. I saw this old, old thread of yours and couldn't resist posting a pic of the last XLB meal I had, just last Saturday.

                            I was also curious on how you'd progressed in your quest for XLB since then, so thanks for sharing that. *Make your own* XLB?! Wow.

                            BTW, where's your fave spot in SF? I had some at the Shanghai Restaurant in Oakland Chinatown years ago. Not good then. Wonder how they are now:

                            1. re: klyeoh

                              Saw you mention DTF upthread, klyeoh...Had never gone to a DTF before a few weeks ago (we used to get them at the Sui Yuan in Taipei when we lived there, where they made them tiny and with gossamer skins). DTF in Tokyo had them with uni and with scallops...the uni ones were to die for.

                              1. re: buttertart

                                They do it with uni now? I'm still trying to imagine how it'll taste like. DTF in KL only has crab, foie gras or black truffle options on top of the usual ones.

                                1. re: klyeoh

                                  Maybe only Tokyo? Very very nice...

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      ROFL! I just realised that I took too many things for granted these days.
                                      But it'll be fantastic to have the uni version though!

                                      1. re: klyeoh

                                        They have a scallop version too, but the uni...

                            2. This thread is filled with some confusion, as if XLB are the only kind of 'soup dumpling' and that is what folks are always referring to. The dumplings I had at Joe's Shanghai are not XLB, and you do not just pop soup dumplings in your mouth unless they are XLB. X = xiao = little. They only have a little bit of soup, and sometimes it's more accurate to describe it as a kind of sweat than expecting a good quantity of liquid.

                              Other types of soup dumpling are too large and have too much liquid to just pop in your mouth, even if they have cooled down.

                              As I like foods piping hot, I couldn't stand to wait and it wouldn't taste the same for me.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: Steve

                                <Other types of soup dumpling are too large and have too much liquid to just pop in your mouth, even if they have cooled down. >

                                This is a point which I raise many years ago here. One of which is 灌湯餃 and its literally means 'Pour Soup Dumpling':



                                It is about the size of a Whitecastle burger (small burger), possibly a bit larger.

                                Ironically, XLB (XiaoLong Bao) literal translation is: Little Basket Bun, not soup dumpling.

                                I also agree that there are many other types of soup dumplings beside these two.

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  That's right, it's called "small" because the "normal"-sized Chinese steamer basket is about two feet in diameter:

                                2. re: Steve

                                  I didn't know about what you and CK describe. Are these available at most Shanghainese places in the US? They look wonderful.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    I don't know which one Steve specific was referring. The one which I specific mentioned is more of a Cantonese Dim Sum. Thus, you will unlikely find it in most Shanghainese restaurant.

                                    Your best chance is the higher end Cantonese dim sum restaurants.

                                    Its literally translation is Pouring/Filling (灌) Soup (湯) Dumpling (餃).

                                    I used to live in California, and I used to have these quiet often. Have you heard of a Cantonese restaurant Hong Kong Mayflower Lounge in Milbrae? It still offers this kind of soup dumpling.

                                    Item 202: Dry Scallop Dumplings in Broth.


                                    I liked the one from Fook Yuen, but Fook Yuen has long closed.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Those are called "koon tong gao", a Cantonese dim sum staple - and something we grew up with, decades before we discovered the pleasures of Shanghainese "xiao long bao".

                                      "Koon tong gao" has a strong dried scallop flavour, typical of many Cantonese soups.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        The three main kind you'll find in Shanghai are xlb, tang bao (literally 'soup dumpling' like at Joe's Shanghai (these are very large and wobbly with soup), and shengjianbao, which are fried on the bottom. In addition, there are others, especially outside of Shanghai. At A&J, a worldwide Taiwanese chain with a couple of locations in the DC area, they make very delicious niu rou xian bing, which are flattened, fried on both sides, and have a mini-burger inside surrounded by hot soup. They are extremely tricky to eat as the burger can shift around trapping the soup in different locations. These are wonderful.

                                        1. re: Steve

                                          Good grief, all that y'all describe sound wonderful. We've been saying we need to make it back to DC. And down to Millbrae on our next SF jaunt. Thanks for this great education!

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            All of these soup dumplings share a very similar origin. Anyway, I think one of the Steve's examples is 灌汤包. The literal translation is Filling/Pouring Soup Bun. It is rooted in Shanghai, and it has a very similar name as its Cantonese counterpart (Filling Soup Dumpling) mentioned earlier.

                                            灌汤包 is also know as Tang Bao. Tang Bao is the pronunciation of the last two characters of the three. The large kind is like this:



                                            Without getting into the details, Steve is correct. XLB (Xia Long Bao) shares the same origin as all of these other soup dumplings. Yet, XLB is only one of the many even among just the Shanghai cuisine.

                                          2. re: Steve

                                            I have to get to A&J, I love niu rou xian bing and haven't had one in ages...