Bite into a light and soft dough wrapped around a succulent filling. The much-loved Chinese dumpling will wipe out all memories that you might have of unpalatable school meals when you were young.
‘Dumpling’ is referred to by different names in China. In the north, it is known as ‘jiaozi,’ while in the south, it’s called ‘hun tun.’ On your visit to Hong Kong, you will realize that it is also referred to as the ‘wanton’ and some dim sum dishes. The name doesn't matter, they are all delicious dough wrappings with meat filling inside.
Growing up in Hong Kong, I would see family-run noodle shops everywhere. The shop owner could always be seen making dumplings on a table somewhere in the restaurant. Making it look so easy, he’d swiftly scoop some pork with the tip of his knife, pick up a fresh shrimp, whipping both into the round dough in his hand and press the circle in half. Voilà, a dumpling is made. This fascinating scene is quickly disappearing, as supermarkets offer more and more frozen choices.
Luckily, there are exceptions. Ding Tai Feng, a dumpling brand from Taiwan, has been making its inimitable ‘Xiao Long Bao’ for years. The gourmand Hongkongnese would fly to Taiwan just to have those small, meaty and juicy ‘dumplings.’ Though Ding Tai Feng has gone global, it has met high expectations from foodies around the world. I have tried Ding Tai Feng dumplings in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore, which are all just as good as at its original store in Taiwan – due to the fact that they are all freshly made and served.
Nan Xiang is another well known dumpling destination in Shanghai. People can be seen lining up every day outside its Yu Yuan store for its ‘Xiao Long Bao,’ a small meat-filled steamed dough. Last year when I went to see a Formula 1 race, held far from the city centre, I was surprised to see a Nan Xiang stall in the gourmet area. Throngs lined up to get a taste of its dumplings, leaving other eateries practically deserted.
When you’re in Shanghai, you must try ‘Sheng Jian.’ It is a meat-filled dough which is steamed and then fried. Many guide books would tell you to go look for a good ‘Sheng Jian’ near Nanjing Road, but for the truly mouthwatering experience, you have to go to Xiao Yang’s near the Nanjing West Road underground station.
You might miss this unassuming store if not for the queue at the entrance. Expect to line up for ten to twenty minutes before you even get to the ticket counter to order. It will be another half hour by the time you get your food. But the long wait is well worth it for the moment when you bite into the slightly crispy dough, taste the meaty centre and smell its aroma.
And a word of warning...these ‘Sheng Jian’ are so mesmerizingly delicious that my friend got his wallet stolen fantasising over them while waiting in the queue.