Plump dumplings and bite-sized buns are an aspect of China’s culinary heritage that is impossible not appreciate, be it for the intricate workmanship involved, their delicate aesthetics, or the sheer eating enjoyment.
They come pan-fried, boiled, deep fried or steamed and common filling combinations include prawns, vegetables, garlic chives, and pork, including the jammy BBQ variety.
A favourite at Cantonese den of indulgence Jade Temple are xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, which are hand-made by Dumpling Master Moon Kuen Ng.
Xiao long bao take their name from the traditional xiao long, or small, round bamboo steaming baskets that they’re cooked and served in.
They originate from the Jiangnan region of China, with deep ties to Shanghai and Wuxi.
Traditionally these pot-bellied pouches are packed with pork and aspic (a gelatinised meat stock), which melts into a sensational, concentrated broth when the dumplings are steamed, gently poaching the pork.
To eat, one should gently manoeuvre the delicate, thin-skinned dumpling from the bamboo basket with chopsticks to a Chinese soup spoon, carefully nip off the top, or bite into the skin, releasing a little of the pent up steam, and after a few seconds when the filling has cooled slurp the savoury broth straight from the skin. The spoon catches any escaping juices, for secondary slurping.
Xiao long bao are traditionally pleated and pinched at the top prior to steaming, producing an artistic whirl of ripples around the crest.
There are several stories relating to the origin of xiao long bao. One story has it that they originated from Shanghai’s Nanxiang district, where they were invented by shop owner called Huang Mingxian in the 1870s. Another story suggests that China’s Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) popularised the dumpling after discovering them on his travels through Wuxi in Jiangsu province.