Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Food Porn: Soup Dumpling Battle Royale


Remember Roo Mi? Well, she's always having some culinary adventure somewhere and often invites me along. A Chinatown galavant a few weeks ago was no exception. She and other friends of hers, KK (who I went to high school with and reconnected with through Roo Mi. Small world!) and KK's friend, My My (also from my high school!), decided to do an afternoon-long tasting of soup dumplings (aka Xiaolongbao, baozi or steamed buns ) in Chinatown. There are Shanghai style dumplings, which I believe are the ones that we tried that day (Roo Mi, if you're reading, correct me if I am wrong).

Always up for anything I accepted the challenge. I've never had soup dumplings before, so I sat back and allowed myself to be schooled by the experts. I feel like I have been learning more and more about Chinatown this summer. I'm happy about that because I've always wanted to go there more but never really knew where to go.

The Challenge: Three restaurants known for their soup dumplings...who would come out on top?

Before I start with the pictures, I should say that soup dumplings (or buns if you want to call them that) are made with raised flour and traditionally contain pork (or pork and crab; seafood and vegetables are common too) steamed resulting in a pretty translucent skin served on a bed of Napa cabbage. The "soup" part comes from the fact that a solid meat gelatin is wrapped inside the dumpling along with the meat. When the dumpling is steamed, the heat melts the gelatin into a soup mixture. You'll see below.

First stop: Shanghai Cafe.

Here are the pretty, pretty soup dumplings.


I had no idea how to eat the soup dumplings, so I followed everyone else. They broke a hole in the dumpling and poured some plum sauce (or I think it was plum sauce.. maybe it was a different kind of soy sauce?) into the hole they made.


Here's what the meat looks like inside.

For my first soup dumpling, I was pretty impressed. The pork was seasoned well and was soft and juicy. The broth was not overly salty and produced a flavor that you could tell had come from mingling with the pork. Not a bad start at all.

We ordered water spinach (a) to make us feel like we were actually eating something healthy; and (b) because the restaurant had a minimum per person, which I didn't realize Chinatown restaurants had. I guess when everything is so affordable, then it makes sense? Dunno..


We moved over to Shanghai Cuisine on Bayard Street. Much more touristy than Shanghai Cafe, which might explain why I think we didn't like their soup dumplings as much. Thicker skin, thicker soup broth...meh...Also my dining compatriots noticed no Napa cabbage on the bottom of the bamboo steamer basket. To them, that was a major FAIL. Many of these dumplings came to the table already opened. Uh, no...that defeats the purpose, yes?

We ordered some other stuff to make our minimum.

Scallion Pancakes

These were by far the THICKEST scallion pancakes I have ever tasted. They should have just called it scallion bread. Not kidding. It was like having a rock in your stomach.
Look how thick that is!

We did order this pretty cool cucumber salad with sesame oil and garlic. Simple, tasty, palate-cleansing and delicious. This was definitely the nice surprise of this stop on our tour.

Final stop: Joe's Shanghai. This is by far the most well-known of all of the restaurants we visited that day. It was a definite mix of tourists, locals in the know and those looking for a taste of their homeland. Could it measure up?

I would say that it was a very close in taste to Shanghai Cafe. My Blackberry was close to dead at this point; and, in my haste to try to be on time (which I should not have done 'cause my dining companions ran into subway trouble...LOL), I forgot my camera. Bad blogger....I was in the early stages of food coma anyway.

I did want to let you see how the broth inside the dumplings actually looks on a spoon.


By the way, the grand total for the Battle Royale (all three restaurants + sides): $21 each INCLUDING tip. Love you, Chinatown!

The Winner of the Soup Dumpling Battle Royale: Shanghai Cafe! At least I think so. :)

At this point, we were all bursting at the seams. I didn't think my stomach could hold much more. Roo Mi barely seemed fazed. We actually stopped at a cool ice cream shop, and Roo Mi and KK got some lychee ice cream and red bean ice cream, respectively. I could not get one for myself but made sure to sample some of theirs :) (Did you think I wouldn't?) Soo good. I'm going back there for sure.

If you'd like to hear a much better wrap up of our day, Roo Mi has a brand spanking new blog, and she wrote a great post on our gut-busting afternoon. I want her to do a guest post here, but she keeps giving me the stank eye. :(

Happy Weekend!!

2 comments:

BigAppleNosh said...

Yum, I love soup dumplings! You can buy them frozen - not as bad as it sounds. Add a layer of cabbage on the bottom and steam them up, and they are pretty good :)

BWB said...

Oh I've never tried Shanghai Cafe and always try to avoid Joe's b/c of the crowds. I'll have to check it out.

 

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