The best Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) in Shanghai
We spent last Saturday traveling around Shanghai in search of the best Xiaolongbao and Tangobao. Here is our review.
Jia Jia Tang Bao (Go early. They sell out by 1:00)
90 Huanghe Lu by Feng Yang Lu (around the corner from the Park Hotel)
This place specializes in serving Xiaolongbao hot and fresh. They prepare them after you order, right before your eyes. The dough is perfect, thin and translucent, not gummy and not too tough. The bags are perfectly shaped teardrops, each one pinched lightly at the top. In addition to pork, this place also serves crab and shrimp dumplings. We tried a crab-pork mix and found that while delicious the crab absorbed the soup and left the dumpling a little hollow.
Shanghai Ren Jia
Jing'an Temple Area 1600 Nanjing Lu near Changde Lu
Shanghai Ren Jia was one of two places we found serving Tang Bao. Our giant Tang Bao were filled with warm soup swimming with bits of pork. The dumpling dough was tough and thick. Like a bread bowl, it seemed the dough functioned just as housing for the soup and was not worth eating. We had a great time drinking them through straws but they are definitely not as delicious as Xiaolongbao. They reminded us of fair food, novel, but impossible to eat regularly. Asking for Tang Bao in Shanghai is akin to asking where to buy funnel cake or elephant ears in the US. We've all eaten them but who knows where to find one?
Din Tai Fung
2F unit 11A South block Xintiandi
These were the best Xiaolongbao we tasted. However, they are ten times the price of Jia Jia Tang Bao's and only marginally better. The soup is rich and delicious. The bags are translucent and pinched perfectly at the top. The bags are so delicate, you must pick them up carefully. A false move and you'll pierce them with a chopstick, popping the bag and causing the hot soup to explode. This would be a fun place to bring a bunch of people and sample all the dumplings on the menu.
At this famous tourist destination, you can find both Tang Bao and Xiaolongbao. Many stalls sell Tang Bao, which were not served fresh. We found the dough dry and waxy and the soup oily and lukewarm. Shanghai Ren Jia's were much better.
The Xiaolongbao stall across from the giant water fountain is the most famous in Shanghai. You can't miss it. Look for the hour long line, crammed with Chinese tourists. Local Shanghainese are not impressed with this place and, after taking one nibble, we learned why. They're awful: thick, gooey, and bland. On the other hand, it's a real treat watching their operation in action!
Wang Jia Sha
Corner of NanjingXi Lu and Shimen Lu
Wag Jia Sha is a food court with mediocre dumplings. It is worth a stop if you're nearby but not worth a detour. The soup was tasty but a bit oily and the dumpling skin too robust.
[Insert Your Local Dumpling Joint Here]
Xiaolongbao joints are scattered all around Shanghai. These stands are not known for quality control. In any given order you will find fantastic Xiaolongbao on par with Jia Jia Tang Bao side by side with so-so dumplings. Our neighborhood joint is on the corner of Gongyuan Rd. and Tianping Rd.
"Yang's Fry-Dumplings" (several locations, inluding Wujiang Lu and Huanghe Lu) are generally considered to be the best in Shanghai, and I can't argue with that. I'm also partial to a dump called "Xiao Xian's" at 234 Dongjiadu Lu, near the Fabric Mart. They're every bit as tasty as Yang's, and a bit larger.
re: Xiao Yang
Went to Yang's, it's definitely good. I just wish there were more variety. I remember growing up and eating a shengjianbao filled mostly with leeks. Unfortunately tonight's our last night in China and even if I were to get a rec I doubt we can act on it before leaving the country.
Yang's is the beginning and end of the shengjian debate as theirs are unmatched elsewhere, plus I really love the curry soups.
For xiaolongbao, my favorite is probably Fude with Jia Jia a close 2nd and, for more "high end" Crystal Jade in there as well. I'm personally a fan of Wang Jia Sha, its decent Shanghai snacks at a reasonable price, its consistent, and the xiaolongbao are pretty good as well as another local favorite, the pork chop with rice cakes.
I haven't been to the Xintiandi Din Tai Feng, but other locations in Shanghai and Beijing and I can't stand that place, not very good, far too salty, and found pieces of shells in them, never a good thing.
Yang's have good shengjian bao, but they have a more dumpling-like skin. I also like (or even prefer) shengjian bao with a more bread-like texture, like an actual steamed bao, although I don't have a good source for such.
I found some once across the street from the East China School of Politics and Law, in the doorway of a restaurant. But I think that guy closed up his little stand. It wasn't even a stand, just a guy with a pan and some bao in the doorway of someone else's restaurant.
I recall Bao Luo as having nice shengjian bao, but can't remember anything else about them except that black sesame seeds were involved. I haven't been there in three or four years.
I'm a big supporter of Ding Tai Feng - I've been to Xintiandi and Yuyuan multiple times, and the Superbrand Mall location at least once. Never had a bad meal, always had fantastic food.
Thanks for all the additional suggestions. I'd love to compile an extensive list of Shanghai XLB joints so we can go out and do another sample. Many of the places we visited, Shanghai Ren Jia in particular, were oddly fancy joints. We really enjoyed the 'hole in the wall' atmosphere Jia Jia Tang Bao and are looking for more restaurants like that. Any suggestions? Also we are making a trip to the Guilin area. Any suggestions for local specialties there?
My experience at Superbrand mall DTF made me swear off ever going back to any of the branches unless I was accompanying a foreign friend who wanted to go (and it seems foreigners are the only ones that do like the place).
Anyways, my recommended Fude (equal in my mind to Jia Jia) fits as a hole-in-the-wall. As do some of my friends' favorites, though I'm not a fan, like Delong or FuChun. There are a few Nanxiang's also, and I think they do a better job at giving you the Nanxiang taste (less customers means better quality), all are hole in the wall spots, and from my experience, they usually only have the pork version, no high end crab...
I'll suggest Nanjing Guan Tang Bao (南京灌汤包). There's one on Datian Lu (大田路) just south of Xinzha lu. They allege themselves to be a chain, and I see a Dianping listing for other stores with that name. http://www.dianping.com/shop/2294569. I make no guarantees that the Datian Store is an actual licensed franchisee.
In any event, the XLB are pretty good, skins thin, tasty, and cheap 3.5 RMB for a steamer of 8. Major flaw is that the top of the XLB, where the skin is pinched together, is kind of thick. Only one flavor, pork. They also sell the duck soup with rice vermicelli (老鸭粉丝).