Here are five of the best locations in Shanghai to hunt down the most authentic taste of the soup dumplings -- and each of them has stood the test of time.
Nan Xiang Xiaolong Mantou (南翔小笼馒头)
Nan Xiang Xiaolong Mantou near the City God Temple (城隍庙) in Shanghai’s old town is more than 100 years old. It is the classic introductory experience to some of the best xiaolongbao, the city’s most iconic food.
Take it all in: the jostling crowds, the long lines (in case you missed the Shanghai World Expo) and the dexterous dumpling makers folding furiously behind the glass.
We recommend you skip takeaway (first floor) and the casual second floor dining level, and go straight to the third floor, where the Shanghainese waitresses are a little more experienced.
Put up with the crowds and try this historic xiaolongbao shop just once. Nanxiang’s crab roe-filled xiaolong are decadent but balanced in flavor with an extra hint of scallion. They are especially good during the hairy crab, or dazha crab, season in September and October.
The skins of Nanxiang xiaolongbao are of moderate thickness and the dumplings of ample size. Just remember to avoid the ridiculous “giant xiaolongbao” filled entirely with fatty broth that you suck out with a straw. Not worth your dignity.
Nan Xiang Xiaolong Mantou, 85 Yuyuan Lao Lu, near Fuyou Lu 豫园老路85号, 近福佑路, + 86 21 6355 4206, 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
The chef must be in love,” jokes Restaurant Review magazine editor Rica Lou (娄睿佳), who recommends the venue. “These xiaolongbao have gotten sweeter and better.”
At De Xin Guan, a well-known noodle shop that’s been filling up Shanghai bellies since the Qing dynasty, they serve a traditional Shanghai xiaolongbao with a rich meat filling that is almost as popular as De Xin Guan's signature dishes: pork trotter noodles and mini wontons in soup.
De Xing Guan’s xiaolongbao are juicy and of good value -- expect a generous size and a big flavor from the rich, fatty pork filling and a thicker, Shanghainese style xiaolongbao skin to hold it in.
The regular pork xiaolongbao alongside a bowl of green onion-topped chicken and duck blood soup make for a cheap and tasty breakfast.
De Xin Guan, 471 Guangdong Lu, near Fujian Zhong Lu 广东路471号, 近福建中路, +86 21 6352 2535, 6:30 a.m-9:30 p.m.
Fu Chun is the closest you can get nowadays to an authentic xiaolongbao,” explains Shanghai food critic Shen Hongfei (沈宏非).
“What most shops sell these days are not xiaolongbao, but Nanjing tangbao [Nanjing soup dumplings] marketed as xiaolongbao. These are the soup-filled dumplings with very thin skin, like the kind you find at Jia Jia Tang Bao.”
Now you know why Fu Chun is always full of locals -- they enjoy the authentic Shanghai xiaolongbao prepared just as they might remember it from childhood.
At the popular location, the xiaolongbao are indeed meatier. The pork filling is lean, brightly savory and bouncier, tasting of rice wine and soy sauce.
But in the end, this dumpling battle is about whether your taste buds prefer meaty and savory or rich and soupy -- there's no right or wrong here, just delicious xiaolongbao.
For the authentic and best xiaolongbao, Fu Chun's pork incarnations are a steal at RMB 4 for six.
Fu Chun, 650 Yuyuan Lu, near Zhenning Lu 愚园路650号, 近镇宁路 +86 21 6252 5117, 6:30 a.m.-midnight
We’re not suggesting that you need to go all the way to Qibao for some of the best xiaolongbao, but don’t miss the crab roe xiaolong (RMB18 for a bamboo basket) in the minuscule two-table “restaurant” on the edge of Qibao bridge, while you’re sampling the stinky tofu, kebabs, rice cakes and the numerous other snacks the Shanghai water town is known for.
The chef is up at 6 a.m., serving the Taichi grandpas and grandmas who like to wolf down their hearty breakfast by the river.
The xiaolongbao here fall somewhere between the Shanghai-style xiaolongbao and Nanjing tangbao and each basket is freshly steamed for each customer.
The broth is clear-tasting without extra soy -- it’s the rare xiaolongbao that manages to go down light, so you can gulp down two baskets without feeling queasy.
Long Pao Xie Fen Dumplings (龙袍蟹粉小笼馆), 15 Qi Bao Lao Jie Bei Da Jie 七宝老街北大街15号, no telephone
Din Tai Fung is synonymous with the best xiaolongbao the world over and for good reason: its crab roe soup dumplings are divine.
You can watch the chefs making xiaolongbao in the open kitchen every day, each soup dumpling coming filled to its 18-folds crown with hot, porky broth. We recommend the crab roe and pork dumplings, which come with a hearty filling of creamy roe and pork.
Now employ some deft chopstick kung fu to get these dumplings and their delectable fillings in your mouth and away from your shirt -- the skins are that thin and delicate
Din Tai Fung, multiple locations, 2/F, Unit 11A South Block, Xintiandi, 123 Xingye Lu, near Huangpi Nan Lu 兴业路123弄新天地南里6号楼2楼11A单元, 近黄陂南路, +86 21 6385 8378, Monday to Thursday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-midnight; Friday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday: 11 a.m.-1 a.m.