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Soup Dumplings

A friend and I went to Shan Dong in Oakland today to sample the xiao long bao, something neither of us had ever tried. I liked them more than my friend, but we both noted that no soup was evident in the dumpligs. The brown vinegar that has been recommended as a sauce nicely balanced the sweetness of the filling.

But here's my question:

Many years ago at a dim sum place in San Francisco's China Town I had a small dumpling kind of thing that was served on one of those porcelain spoons. I had no clue what I was putting in my mouth, but when I bit into it, it proved to hold a warm-but-not-hot gelatinous soup that flooded my mouth and amazed me.

Anyone know what that might have been?

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  1. Properly made XLB?

    18 Replies
    1. re: wolfe

      No. These were totally different from what I had at Shan Dong or the descriptions of xiao long bao. There was no meat filling at all--just a gelatinous soup.

      1. re: TopoTail

        Sounds like you might have had a tong yuen, made of sticky rice flour (mochi) filled with jellied soup. Was it chewy?

        This is part of why I don't like the term "soup dumpling". There are many kinds of dumplings that can be called soup dumplings due to soup inside or that are traditionally served in soup. The real name helps with ID.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Oh great. Now there's another kind of dumpling I *must* have. Any idea who might served tong yuen?

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Have only had them homemade. Noticed they sell some frozen ones at 99 Ranch - some w/ sesame paste or red bean fillings.

            A few years ago, I think Creations Dessert had something tong yuen-like.

            1. re: kc72

              You are right mostly homemade. I think is the past nooodles made them as have I. But now will be almost another year before we make them again. Last time I posted making them another hound said it was a bad memory so I did not posted about this past year. Sorry Ruth it with be around Christmas before most of us will think about making them again.

          2. re: Melanie Wong

            Could also be Kwon Tong Bao, a Cantonese version of the soup dumpling. It's a lot bigger, served in a bowl, and filled usually with shark fin soup.

            1. re: PeterL

              Is that the same as boon tong gao? That's the other soup dumpling available locally that I can think of.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I haven't seen boon tong gao much in the US. It's usually meat and soup, mostly soup filled. It's "seafood" boon tong gao if it has shark fin or seafood, making it a more expensive dim sum item. The wrapper is more like a wonton wrapper.

                I only ever had it once in the US, the seafood version, at (I think) Dynasty in Cupertino. Any other bay area locations?

                It's a common dim sum item in Toronto and Hong Kong.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Yeah tong gao, not tong bao.

                  1. re: PeterL

                    From Melanie with picture.
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/312573
                    Also picture goon tong gao.
                    http://www.flickr.com/photos/22752317...
                    But is there soup in the dumpling or is it only dumpling in the soup?

                    1. re: wolfe

                      While growing up in Hong Kong I've never seen these sharks fin soup dumplings referred to as BOON tong gao, it was always GOON. BOON while may sound like the word "accompanying", it has traditionally been "GOON".

                      The dumpling itself has no soup inside so it sits inside a superior chicken and Chinese ham broth. Once you puncture the dumpling, the bits of sharks fin, fatty finely minced pork, maybe cha siu, dried shrimp, and other ingredients blend into the soup and giving it a great texture. Basically the better the base broth, the better the overall experience.

                      At the Hong Kong branch of Din Tai Fung, I had something called XLTB (xiao long tang bao) and was so curious about it I had to try it. Unfortunately it was basically soupless meat dumplings (steamed) served with dark broth on the side for you to dunk in. Horrible to say the least. The Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations episode of Shanghai....xiao long tang bao, referred to a gigantic dumpling that sat in a container on a steamer. Basically you don't eat the skin but soak up the contents with a straw. Same name, different animal, different country.

                      1. re: K K

                        Hey KK, the goon tong gao you described it how they prepare it these days, but long time ago goon (literally meaning "filled") tong gao didn't sit in a bowl of broth, and all the broth came from inside the dumpling, making it much more labor-intensive and skill-demanding.

                        1. re: vincentlo

                          Hey .... it wasn't that long ago (or maybe I am in denial about my age) :-D!

                          I remember the first time I got a boon tong gao where the soup was outside the wrapper...oh the disappointment! My parents frowning upon the poor skills of the dim sum chef...little did we know at the time, it would become the norm.
                          Now it's rare to find it with the soup IN the wrapper. I actually once got it where it was essentially soup, COVERED with a wrapper! Eeek.

                          1. re: vincentlo

                            No one makes it that way anymore. Since I am much older then you and KK I remember that you were served a huge dumpling (as I remember it) larger that a medium size steamed pork bun in a bowl without any soup in the bowl. You broke the skin and the bowl filled with soup and a wonderful filling.

                            I was not only labor intensive but during the steaming process the chance was good (if the chef was not skilled enough) would break and it was a lost item. My favorite where this was done was the now long gone Louie's of Grant Avenue where my Father was a friend of the manger and he would order ahead for it. But that was then and this is now. I no longer have dim sum on the top of my list (health reasons) but if I heard of a place still serving it I will post. But for Chinese New Year the family still get together for a few meals,maybe within my family someone can get a dim sum chef to make for us again.

                            1. re: yimster

                              VLo and Yimster are both right. Yes that was how it was originally done in the old days. But even in the 80s it was not as easy to find places that did it the old school way (at least my family didn't know then and weren't the foodies). Soup outside the dumpling in the bowl is the "new school" way and has been for the last 20 years or more.

                              The old school way.... looks like this

                              http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceszesze...

                              I suppose if you want this style, fly back to HK and eat at 鳳城 (phoenix city) that supposedly has multiple locations, or the 100 year old touristy pricey Luk Yu in Central.

                              And this link I found even has photos of the Luk Yu dim sum master making the old school shark's fin soup dumplings (post is in Chinese but the pictures tell a thousand words or more

                              )

                              http://la-forum.org/thread-746755-1-1...

                              The post is dated one year ago. The article mentions this costs HK$50 for 3 pieces, so for that amount of labor it is actually worth it. I'll wait and see if someone discovers a local Bay Area source for this, but until then I'm not holding my breath. I suppose this ends our history lesson on this dumpling, but bottom line is nobody offers it commercially anymore (and in fact even the new new school versions are not up to snuff since the defunct Seafood Harbor Millbrae made the definitive old new school version, and it must have ended there).

                              1. re: K K

                                Hmm, this might be a bit off topic, but the ones at Luk Yu are great and they also have them at the Wynn in Macau. Those are the only two places I know of that still make them well.

                                And once you have these you won't be able to go back to the ones where the dumpling sits in a bowl of broth!

                            2. re: vincentlo

                              Thanks for the clarification vincentlo. It seems to me the skill involved in the steaming process would be to get the dumplings hot enough so the soup is served in that middle range between total gelatin and total liquid. Seems like that would be very difficult to gauge. It was probably 30 years ago that I ran across goon tong gao, but I still remember my amazement at the warm gelatinous soup that filled my mouth upon biting into it.

                          2. re: wolfe

                            Yes, it has a gelatinous soup inside that almost has a curdled appearance. This soup filling also has seafood, sharks fin etc.

                            The very first time I had it was years ago when I was in grad school in LA. It was served bare in a small bowl with no soup around it, only inside. Up here it has always been in a bowl of broth. It's interesting to pierce the dumpling then see the two liquids mix, the heavier and thicker interior soup oozing into the thinner one.

              2. In the video section of Chowhound, under Perfect, is a video about the soup dumplings at Shanghai Dumpling king. Theses seem to be the "soup-inside" type and look delicious.

                2 Replies
                1. re: budnball

                  It was the recent Check Please Bay Area segment on Shanghai Dumpling King that got me started on this whole jag, but the dumplings I'm talking about are different. They had no meat filling--the filling was only gelatinous soup.

                  1. re: TopoTail

                    Coincidentally, I just read an article from Roadfood.com posted on Yahoo that reviewed Kingdom of Dumpling on Taraval St. in SF that specifically compliments the Shanghai soup dumplings. It describes them as having a solid meat gelatin filling.