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Jun 20, 2008 09:25 AM

Joe's Shanghai v Nan Shian Xie Fen Xiao Long Bao

Hey all,

In the continuing saga of a week eating in Flushing, I got to return to two of my favorite Xioa Long Bao places - Joe's Shanghai (Flushing branch) and Nan Shian Dumpling House.

I hadn't been to Joe's Shanghai in a number of years, since my friend had stopped frequenting it when the quality of the Xiao Long Bao went down a number of years ago. She had returned after the fire, however, and had reported that the Xiao Long Bao quality was almost up to the old standards.

I agreed. The skins were once again the correct consistency, and the insides were soupy and flavorful. We prefer the crab version (Xie Fen Xiao Long Bao, and I really like the way the crab flavor comes through at Joe's Shanghai.

I also had the opportunity to revisit Nan Shian Dumpling House. While the crab flavor was not as intense, the richness of the pork flavor in the filling was really really good. They too do a wonderful skin and produce juicy dumplings. And, by the way, don't forget to get their Noodle with Scallion Sauce - this simple dish is amazingly good.

Since I have not been able to find decent versions of this type of Xiao Long Bao in the San Gabriel Valley (I consider Din Tai Fung to be different dish), I was in heaven.

Have the reviews with pictures posted on our site:

CA Scotch Chick

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  1. You should post on the L.A. board regarding XLB because commentary there is that Joe's Shanghai's XLB are vastly inferior to several places in San Gabriel, though they may be referring to Joe's Manhattan Chinatown branch.

    13 Replies
    1. re: Chandavkl

      Good point. I've been active on the LA Board under my real name, and I held off coming right at their heads about their XLB and instead posted reviews of my disappointment. People don't always play well in the sandbox, and I didn't want to start a scuffle. That said, maybe I should be more blunt. I have followed lead after lead from Chowhound for XLB in the San Gabriel Valley and been disappointed each and every time.

      CA Scotch Chick

      1. re: CA Scotch Chick

        Where exactly have you eaten in LA. The only thing I've heard of NY'ers when they get here is that they can't find their faux favorite Chinese dishes.

        1. re: b0ardkn0t

          Hey. I've got good street cred. I frequent the San Gabriel Valley, but have eaten XLB all over the world, particularly in Shanghai and Taipei. We aren't talking faux Chinese here folks. Although Xiao Yang's post below makes me think I've missed the best XLB restaurants when in Shanghai.

          In the San Gabriel Valley, I've tried XLB at Din Tai Fung (love them, consider them to be are a different dish), Mei Long Village (3 attempts), J & J (so disappointing only one attempt), Dragon Mark (2 attempts), Green Village (1 attempts), and Tasty Garden (2 attempts). I like all these restaurants, just not for XLB.

          For the record, I am not one of the Din Tai Fung naysayers. Whenever I did participate in the discussions it was to defend this fantastic little dumpling. I was just always under the assumption that it smaller than normal Xiao Long Bao with a much thinner wrapping, which in my mind made it almost a different dish. Again, Xiao Yang's post below is making me rethink what the size of an XLB should be. Either way, Din Tai Fung makes a delectable dumpling.

          Best regards,

          CA Scotch Chick

          1. re: CA Scotch Chick

            u know i dont really think their is a right answer to this question or not even close to one...i really like some of the places in LA (im from there) and thought others that are hyped up are fairly mediocre, never really thought any of the manhattan ones were all that spectacular (although RIP Moon House for their awesome sheng jian bao, which i like better than XLB anyhow), i havent tried joe's in flushing in a long time and never tried nanxiang although ive wanted to go there for a long time b/c i love breakfast (xian doujiang, shao bing, you tiao etc) and i heard their version is good

            people argue about this all day long kind of like sushi and i dont think ull ever come to a consensus not that its all that bad trying to answer the question by going around trying xiao lon bao all day

            1. re: Lau

              Thanks for the sheng jian bao tip. I love sheng jian bao - my favorite market food in Taiwan (used to call them barrel buns). I will definitely be checking out RIP Moon House.

              I agree about XLB arguments. They can get really heated, and in the end it is just a question of taste.

              CA Scotch Chick

              1. re: CA Scotch Chick

                no sorry, u misunderstood, they just closed hence the RIP....its very unfortunate as their sheng jian bao couldve been passable in asia

                ive been trying to find a replacement, but i think its sort of sheng jian bao as well, one of the best taiwan street foods (although my all time favorite is gua bao)...btw u seem to know flushing well, if u know anywhere i can get gua bao id be very grateful as i cant even find a place that serves it in ny

                1. re: Lau

                  Alas, I've only had it in the US at Won Won Kitchen in the San Gabriel Valley. I will ask my friend and let you know. She immigrated to the US through Taiwan, so likes Taiwanese food.

                  CA Scotch Chick

                  1. re: CA Scotch Chick

                    yeah its easy to get in LA...impossible here

                  2. re: Lau

                    that is hilarious, the RIP! but, I then heard it was for renovations . . . please please tell me, as that's my go to and I heard about the closing, but then heard about possible renovations . . . . and, I gua bao you could still pick up at Lu's 66 Seafood (the old laifood), as taiwanese hamburger.

                    but if you've been to taiwan recently, my new fave street food is the "da-bing-bao-xiao-bing" which is like, big bun wraps small bun. holy crap. it's good. a larger, flatter and softer thing, filled with cilantro, peanuts, whatever filling you're having (salty or savory), some more herbs and seasonings, then a fried cracker (the smaller bing) broken up a little bit, and all wrapped up. insane.

                    1. re: bigjeff

                      no they're definitely done, my good friend is real good friends with the owner's daughter (and the owner) and they jacked up their rent, so they just decided to pack it up...unfortunate, the reason the sheng jian bao were so good (all the apps actually) was b/c the owner handmade all of them everyday plus they were actually shanghainese there, so they actually knew how to make everything properly

                      ive had those in taiwan before...the difference bet my favorite street food and the next best thing is very very small b/c its all so damn good, gua bao is my favorite b/c im a sucker for steamed buns and fatty pork...havent been to taiwan in 2 yrs

                2. re: Lau

                  i really like nan xiang. xlb are my favorite in the NY area. veggie dumplings also, imo, the best in the area. wrappers are perfectly thin and have the right texture. fillings are flavorful, full of porky soup, but not unnecessarily heavy. other dishes are well executed as well. only downer is that there is typically a 30 minute wait when i go.

            2. re: CA Scotch Chick

              I think it finally dawned on me whom I'm talking to. Didn't you do time in the Bay Area as well?

              1. re: Xiao Yang

                Not guilty, but it sounds like a compliment. I would love to know the Bay Area food well.

                CA Scotch Chick

          2. I can only compare the Manhattan Joe's to Nanxiang's, but my observation (based on the standard pork version) was that Nanxiang's were both superior to Joe's and closer to the Shanghai platonic ideal of XLB (but maybe that's two ways of saying the same thing).

            The problem is that people end up trying to compare apples and oranges. Joe's Shanghai popularized "soup dumplings" in New York in the mid 90's with a product that was quite unlike true xiaolong bao. (Joe's tend to be larger, flabbier, soupier, saltier, and oilier and with less sharply defined flavors than the Shanghai benchmark,) They thus established a new benchmark for people previously unfamiliar with xiaolang bao with their "soup dumplings" which, comforting and tasty as they are, would be scorned as an abortive attempt in Shanghai as much as "New York Pizza" would be in Italy. I recall one NY visitor complaining that they were unable to find soup dumplings in the San Francisco area that were "just like Joes'" even thought the XLB around here aim to be "just like Shanghai's', not like Joe's Shanghai's. Joe's soup dumplings have joined "New York-style pizza" and "New York Chinese food" as localized versions of foreign classics which really only have standing on their home turf.

            I'm not familiar with the San Gabriel vAlley XLB, but I would imagine that those made at DTF are close to Shanghai XLB orthodoxy, becasue that has always been DTF's corporate aim. I've mentioned it before, and I don't know if its still true, but as of a couple of years ago, the XLB served at (of all places) M Shanghai Den in Williamsburg was the cloosest I've found in New York to date to what you'll actually find in Shanghai.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Xiao Yang

              Hmm, interesting point. I do agree that Nian Shan makes a much more porky XLB, and that the current version of Joe's Shanghai XLB is slightly flabbier. I would respectfully disagree on the other points, however. Even with the current version, there is not that big of a difference in consistency between Joe's Shanghai and Nian Shan Dumpling House. Both are large, very soupy, and have similar wrappings.

              Moreover, my 78 year old friend who acts as my Flushing guide is from Shanghai, and she didn't consider Joe's to be far off the standard, particularly in the early days. In fact, she thinks Din Tai Fung's are too small to be true XLB.

              I love Din Tai Fung's XLB. I've had it in the San Gabriel Valley, Taipei, and Shanghai - all three are ever so slightly different and all three are quite good. However, they are much smaller than the other XLB I've had in those same cities and in New York.

              I know that I am lucky to live near the San Gabriel Valley, just as I was lucky to have lived in New York. The San Gabriel Valley contains some of the best restaurants in the world, but none of the traditional, non Din Tai Fung, XLB have the skin or juiciness I'm looking for. Everybody has their own tastes though.

              CA Scotch Chick


              1. re: CA Scotch Chick

                My wife is from Shanghai and I have been spending time in Shanghai every year or two for the past 16 years (we have a couple of apartments there). I had my xiaolong bao epiphany at the font of xiaolong bao fame, the Nanxiang Xiaolong Mantou Dian on April 7, 1992. I was fortunate to have my first meal on Chinese soil there two weeks before it closed for extensive remodeling and re-configuring as a tourist venue, and the xiaolong bao I had there are etched in my memory as a benchmark. I've been jonesing for good XLB ever since. Unfortunatley, the XLB at the original "Nanxiang" have been going downhill ever since, but the good news is that there are places in every neighborhood that still carry the flag proudly. FWIW, the keeper or the keys, as it were, is generally acknowledged by locals to be a place named "Jia Jia Tang Bao" and I concur with that.

                I don't know a single Shanghainese, including my 80-year old mother-in-law and her peers still in Shanghai who would deny that the pre-1992 XLB at the NXXLMTD were the genuine article. I don't know how large the XLB in your friend's memory are, but the standard pork version always was (and still is) served 16 to the steamer there.

                The only DTF I have eaten at has been in Shanghai, and it seems to take great pains to produce a version of XLB of pristine orthodoxy, as well it might. .

                1. re: Xiao Yang

                  Very, very interesting. My friend has remarked that she thinks Din Tai Fung's XLB are smaller than regular, but I have never asked her how many XLB fit in a steamer in Shanghai. She came here in the 60's, so maybe her memory has faded.

                  The XLB I've had in Shanghai have been about 8 to a steamer (with the exception of Din Tai Fung), but maybe I was taken to places my clients thought I would like. The problem with a business trip is that one is taken to nice restaurants, not necessarily yummy restaurants (I slipped off to Din Tai Fung on my own). I have not been to Nanxiang Xiaolong Mantou Dian. Your description is mouthwatering, and I'll slip away to it next time. I'll try to dig up the names of the restaurants my clients have taken me to.

                  The question is fascinating: what is the size of a traditional XLB? Could we be also looking at an overall growth in the size of XLB over the years. What do you see at other restaurants in Shanghai, since you get to go to real ones? Have you been to the Shanghai Din Tai Fung - how do theirs compare in size and wrapping to Nanxiang Xiaolong Mantou Dian? Can you also ask your mother-in-law if traditionally most of the XLB houses served 16 to a steamer, and I'll ask my friend?

                  Thanks for the fascinating "food" for thought. It warrants lots more yummy research.

                  CA Scotch Chick

                  1. re: CA Scotch Chick

                    16 to the steamer is not common, because most places that serve XLB are trying to sell other dishes, too. The Nanxiang was a place where people would go to feast solely on XLB (with a thin soup) but the size of their XLB pretty much set a standard. Here's a family XLB feed at the Shanghai Nanxiang in 1995 (when they were still at the top of their game). That's my BIL in the background:

            2. I've eaten at Joe's Shanghai (Manhattan) about a hundred times. Not once did I order Xiao Long Bao (except when I was with someone who wanted them). Why should I waste space in my stomach with xiao long bao when there are so many better things?

              I realize my point of view is extreme. But not much more extreme than going to Joe's and ordering ONLY xiao long bao. (And I should note that Shanghainese cuisine in general is one thing NYC is weakest in.) (By the way, the above doesn't apply to the OP, who managed to find neat dishes at Joes, such as shredded chicken, that I've never even heard of.)

              About Joe's Shanghai's other dishes:

              3 Replies
              1. re: Brian S

                Hey Brian,

                I just read your earlier thread. You caught Joe's wave just right. The regular dishes were amazing in the mid-90's (and like you, I was lucky enough to eat there often - that pork shoulder, those lion's head meatballs, yum), but according to my friend who stopped going for a number of years when Joe's started to slip, their regular dishes also went way downhill for awhile.

                I didn't get to have any of my old favorites on this trip because we were there for small eats. Glad to hear they are as you remember them. Cannot wait to go back

                CA Scotch Chick

                1. re: CA Scotch Chick

                  I'm glad you got to eat there too! I can't promise that present-day Joe's is as good as it was. I have eaten there only once recently. Shanghai Cafe at 100 Mott is also good.

                  I haven't eaten at the Flushing Joe's but I passed by there a few months ago on my way to the Canton Restaurant aka Perfect Team, and it was packed. Not a tourist in sight either. And I should add that for many of those tourists who throng to the Manhattan branch, what they get, even if they order the worst dishes, might be the best Chinese food they ever have. Though they might disagree. Someone posted on the general board the story, apparently true, of an old lady whose favorite meal was the chow mein served at the local restaurant... which was really a reheated can of La Choy Chow Mein. So her relatives as the biggest treat flew her to San Francisco and treated her to an elaborate banquet at the most authentic Cantonese place. She returned home to her small midwest town and people asked how the banquet was. "Oh they just don't know how to make Chinese food!" she replied. "It's nothing like the chow mein we get here!"

                  1. re: Brian S

                    I'm really mystified by the praise for Shanghai Cafe's (OR Joe's) soup dumplings. In New York I have only had xiao long bao at Joe's, Shanghai Cafe, Yeah Shanghai and Tang Pavilion. I remember thinking Tang Pavilion was the best, but I haven't been there in about 6 years. It's not far from my office, but it didn't feel like the kind of place where you could go in alone for just one order of xiao long bao--but maybe it is?

                    I never returned to Joe's...we went in 1998 I believe, had the crab xiao long bao, lion's head meatballs and some forgettable veg dish. We were the only Chinese people in the restaurant apart from the staff. It simply wasn't good enough to deal with the annoying crowd--in fact, the lion's heads were disgusting, I couldn't believe this was the same dish my mother made almost monthly. But I've said this in the "restaurants everyone loves--except you" thread.

                    Anyway, about Shanghai Cafe. My cousin from LA, who lived in NYC for a couple years, was back in town a few months back and asked me to join him at Shanghai Cafe. I'd never been, and he said he's never found xiao long bao in LA equal to Shanghai Cafe's. His wife called during dinner, also an LA native but Korean, and was dying of jealousy that we were there. Pretty high praise. I didn't think it was deserved. I found the skins thick and gummy, perhaps the thickest I've ever had. I find it nearly impossible for dumplings of any sort to be truly "inedible" --kind of like pizza--so they were totally fine, they just...weren't what I expected after all the raves from him AND Chowhound.

                    I've certainly spent far more time in New York than in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Shanghai or LA, but I've rarely found reason to eat xiao long bao here--as much as I adore them-- when the memories of the others cannot be touched. Am I missing something? Was it a bad day at Shanghai Cafe? It seems not, according to the ecstasy on my cousin's face when he bit in...

              2. I should point out that this thread at the outset was about crab XLB and the comparisons I've been drawing are about the standard pork version. There is no real benchmark for crab XLB, and they vary widely, as is inevitable due to crab varieties, seasons, etc. You can't match Shanghai's "hairy" crab (dazha crab) XLB where dazha crabs aren't available and in season. Dazha crabs are so small and have so little meat that the dumplings are kept small, too; on the other hand, they can make good use of roe, which makes them delicious. If San Francisco you can get XLB made with dungeness crab; dungeness crabs are several times larger than hairy crabs, so there is no need to be stingy with the crab meat or dumpling size. On the other hand, catching of famale dungeness crabs is proscribed, so we are denied the good stuff. I don't know what kind of crabs they would use in NY for crab XLB, but I do know they have roe available.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Xiao Yang

                  I think you are correct, Xiao Yang. In fact, I think we are talking about three different dishes. I am a crab fan, so I almost always chose the Xie Fen Xiao Long Bao. The exception is the Din Tai Fung in the San Gabriel Valley, where I prefer their pork version. And, by the way, I have never been in Shanghai when Dazha crabs are in season, and every time I go somebody points this out. It seems to be a truly exceptional dish.

                  I think the 16 to a steamer XLB you are describing are what I know as Xiao Long Tang Bao. Xiao Long Bao with soup on the side. I've only had them at Din Tai Fung. They are really really little - even smaller than the regular Din Tai Fung XLB. Very yummy and only sold on weekends.

                  This is fun. I think we need to put together a tasting trip to Shanghai. You can be the local guide.

                  CA Scotch Chick

                  1. re: CA Scotch Chick

                    No, the 16 dumplings per steamer are regular xiaolong bao, with the soup inside the dumpling. I've never encountered the little dumplings that DTF calls xiao long tang bao in Shanghai, although they may be on the menu at DTF (I was there on a weekday).

                    I don't know if he's kept up with the state of XLB in New York, but New York's resident XLB expert, IMHO, used to be Liao Yusheng:



                    1. re: Xiao Yang

                      Great link. Made my mouth water. Have you tried the hole in the wall place in Shanghai he liked Jia Jia Tang Bao?

                      CA Scotch Chick

                      1. re: CA Scotch Chick

                        Yes, though it has moved since his (and my first) visit, because the neighborhood was demolished for redevelopment. The new locale, fortunately, is more accessible and the XLB are as good as before.

                2. Hey, none of you guys have commented on the Cong Yo Ban Mian (Noodle with Scallion Sauce) at Nan Shian. Is anybody else as amazed as I am that this deceptively simple dish can be so yummy? Has anybody found this anywhere else. Where has it been all my life?

                  CA Scotch Chick

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: CA Scotch Chick

                    It's not often found in restaurants here precisely because it's so simple. My wife makes a good version at home, but would never think of ordering it it a restaurant, though she might grab a bowl when she's on the run in Shanghai.

                    Here's Cecilia Chiang's recipe, which I'll cross-post to the Home Cooking board. My wife usually leaves out the diried shrimp:


                    1. re: CA Scotch Chick

                      i saw that, it looks good, ill definitely try it when i go to nan xiang

                      1. re: CA Scotch Chick

                        CA Scotch Chick,. glad you liked the cong you ban mian, too.. I haven't beeen to Nanxiang (flushing) in a long time, but the ban mian
                        was something i felt strongly about when i was still eating in Flushing regularly, as you can see from my reply to SPChang below:
                        (by the way, i think Nanxiang's versiin is extra good and different from others in that they, at leadt when i was there, really burn thst scallion to dark brown over all. No fresh choppefd onion scent but dark and smokey)

                        "....... SPCHang, did you get the info for Nanxiang from here?

                        38-12 Prince St., between 38th and 39th Aves., Flushing, Queens 718-321-3838

                        I hope Nanxiang is still alive and well..there has been some ups and downs. The last time I was there they had somewhat corrected the problem with the carmelized scallion noodles, by at least attempting to go back to how it was offered in the first place:
                        -The noodles come in a bowl, looking pale and plain. The eater has to take the chopsticks and stir it up, at which time the oil, sauce, and dark dark carmelized scallion strips will appear from underneath, and when thoroughly mixed, is a perfect bowl of warm noodle with the scent of the scallion, and just oily enough to slide down smoothly.

                        They changed chef (the woman pastry chef stayed the same, luckily) and the first thing wrong was this noodle started to be served all stirred and dark, and way too salty, with no fragrance of scallion.

                        Then after I'm sure a lot of complaints, it went back to pale and unassuming, but somehow the proportion of the oil/sauce to the noodles weren't right. It was still too salty, and lacked the roundness that the initial version had. But at least, it's an attempt.

                        I don't know if they've since corrected the problem. I hope the Pastry chef is still there, with her perfect soup dumpling skin, and excellent Shao Bing..etc. The vegetarian dumplings there is the least boring I've had any where in a long time...

                        I preferred Nanxiang's food over NanBeiHe by a lot. I just hope nothing has changed too much...

                        Permalink | Report | Reply

                        HLing Feb 09, 2007 07:12PM........"

                        1. re: HLing

                          That is exactly what we like about it too - caramelized is an excellent description! I didn't find Nan Shian on chowhound, although I have since read the reviews. My friend took me there over a year ago. She stopped going for awhile when they switched chefs. She wouldn't take me on my last trip (in February), but she is frequenting it again, which is a good sign. I thought the noodles were excellent, but it has been awhile since I had the 1st chef's version. Glad I missed the really bad time.

                          CA Scotch Chick