Soup. In. The. Dumpling. This is not a drill.
Not to be confused with Western dumplings that float in soup, Chinese soup dumplings are steamed wrappers filled with meat and broth.
I've told you before about Cantonese-style dim sum, a lovely meal of tiny delicacies. Now that the cold has settled in, let's go north a bit to Shanghai for something heartier. "Xiao long bao," or Chinese soup dumplings, are a specialty of the region and can contain a variety of fillings. The magical constant, though, is the piping hot broth in each little bundle.
Many a first-timer has ruined a cashmere sweater by squirting all down their front or not employing proper spoon placement when attempting to eat a soup dumpling. The trick is to plop a dumpling on the soup spoon right off the bat. Nibble a tiny hole just right of center, slurp out a little broth, and wait for it to cool a bit. Add a little dumpling sauce through the hole you made, and throw back the whole thing. Deeelicious. Whether you get plain pork, pork and crab, pork and mushroom, or any other flavor, xiao long bao are best enjoyed with friends so you can laugh at one another when someone spills.
Other typical dishes from Shanghai are of the doughy, stick-to-your-ribs variety: flaky scallion pancakes, hand-pulled noodles with beef, salt and pepper fried pork chops, and larger-than-life potstickers that don't resemble anything from your local takeout joint (they're open-ended and big, like meat cannolis). Food from this region is not overly fancy, nor is it necessarily spicy on its own. You add flavor with things like chopped pickled mustard greens, chili flakes in oil, or soy sauce.
Where can I get soup dumplings in the DMV?
Hands down, my favorite place for xiao long bao is Bob's Shanghai 66 in Rockville. They have a cool open prep kitchen where you can watch them making dumplings, pulling noodles, and basically preparing your meal. This no-frills restaurant only takes cash, so load up before you go. There is also an ATM across the street if you forget. Make sure to try the sliced bamboo shoots in chili oil, fried salt and pepper calamari or pork chop, and their special vegetables of the day. Their soup dumplings are piping hot; I generally get the pork version because the pork and crab don't taste all that different. Address: 305 N Washington Street in Rockville, MD
Courtesy of Bob's Shanghai 66
The A&J restaurants in Rockville, MD, and Annandale, VA, are a close second. Every Chinese person in the area will send you there, and once again, you need a fistful of cash if you want to go. Though Taiwanese, you will find many of the same specialties on their menu. Their xiao long bao (or XLB) are not as refined and soupy as Bob's, but they have them, and they'll do in a pinch! The best dishes at A&J are the salt and pepper fried things (chicken or pork), hand-pulled noodles, braised pork and egg, and their dan-dan noodles in peanut sauce. The best Instagram-worthy item is the thousand-layer pancake, and you should get the cucumber salad to offset all of the dough. Address: 1319-C Rockville Pike in Rockville, MD or 4316-B Markham Street in Annandale, VA
Courtesy of Yelp for A&J
Shanghai Lounge in Georgetown is the priciest spot for XLBs, and their menu features some of the more Americanized specialties you'd find from a neighborhood Chinese restaurant. On the plus side, they take credit cards and they deliver! Best to try their soup dumplings in the restaurant though, you want to have them when they're hot. Address: 1374 Wisconsin Avenue NW in Washington, D.C.
Did we miss your favorite spot for soup dumplings? Let us know in the comments below!