In the dumpling game, xiao long bao (aka soup dumplings or Shanghai-style dumplings) are the high rollers table. My brother and boyfriend equate the experience to biting into a pizza pop right when you pull it out of the microwave, and they aren’t far off. Get it right and you are rewarded with a mouth full of delicious dumpling heaven but fumble with your chopsticks and you’ll be left with a scalded mouth, wet chin and a ruined dumpling. But, don’t let the fear of (potential) physical and emotional pain scare you, like I said- no risk, no reward.
Shanghai Grill is one of the few places in Edmonton making traditional soup dumplings. Xiao long bao, which literally translates to “little-basket buns” (for the bamboo baskets they are steamed in), have delicate skins that encase a pork-based filling and gelatinized broth. When the dumplings are steamed, the broth will liquefy and poach the pork. And there it is: a soul-warming, soupy satchel that captivates all that have the pleasure of eating it.
Here is your three step guide to eating soup dumplings:
- How to get them on your spoon – The objective here is to get them from the bamboo streamer onto your spoon without rupturing it. The easiest way to do this is to place your Chinese soup spoon close to the dumpling, grab the dumpling close to the knot and lift it from the steamer. If the dumpling sticks to the steamer, peel it off slowly, if you tug you’re almost guaranteed to rip it. If your chopstick skills are lacking, ask the restaurant for some tongs or use your hands. Do not use a fork.
- Resist the temptation to stuff it in your mouth immediately – Always keep in mind that is it basically a pouch of super-heated broth. Once the dumplings cool, the broth solidifies and the skin hardens, so you will want to eat them quickly (but not to quickly). To do this, you’ll need to let the steam out and let it cool for a few seconds before you burn your mouth. I recommend nipping off the top of the dumpling to let the steam out for a moment, then sucking the juice directly out of the skin. Conversely, if your spoon size allows, you can take a small bite out of the side and let the broth drain into the spoon. Either way, once the dangerous part is over, you can devour the dumpling without fear.
- What to do with the sauce – Don’t be fooled, it isn’t soy sauce. It is a black vinegar and ginger dipping sauce for the dumplings. How you use it is a matter of personal choice, I like to add it to the bottom of my spoon before scooping my dumpling up. Other methods include: dipping the dumpling in the sauce before putting it on your spoon (too risky for me), adding the sauce to the dumpling after you’ve sucked the broth out (not my thing either), or adding some on top once you have your dumpling in the spoon. Whichever you choose, do not pour the sauce inside the dumpling with broth, you will ruin the soup. The sauce is used to balance the flavor of the filling, so you only need a little bit.
Shanghai Grill has pork and pork/crab soup dumplings on their menu (note: you will find them under “Traditional Dishes” section, called Shanghai Style Juicy Pork Buns or Shanghai Style Crab and Pork Buns). The dumplings cost $10.95 and $14.50, respectively, and come six to an order.
Obviously, the menu at Shanghai Grill isn’t limited to soup dumplings. Other stand-out dishes include: Vegetarian Dan Dan Noodles (noodles in a spicy peanut broth) and what I like to call Peach Yum-Yum Shrimp (I realize this isn’t the proper name, but if you ask for the “peach yum-yum shrimp”, they’ll know what you’re talking about).
Shanghai Grill is located at 16336 111 Avenue, in an industrial park of on the west end. For more information, click here to check out their website.