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Mission: Shanghai Soup Dumpling


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Kiley Crafton



Welcome to the world of food travel, where culinary exploration becomes a mouthwatering adventure. If you’re a foodie with a penchant for discovering new flavors and experiencing local cultures through gastronomy, then you’re in for a treat. And what better way to embark on this culinary journey than by exploring the realm of soup dumplings, a beloved dish that combines the comfort of a warm, savory broth with the delight of a delicate dumpling.


Soup dumplings, also known as xiaolongbao, are a staple of Chinese cuisine and hold a special place in the hearts and stomachs of food enthusiasts around the globe. These little parcels of joy originated in Shanghai and have since gained popularity not only in China but also in various parts of the world. The unique aspect of soup dumplings lies in their ability to contain a savory broth within the dumpling wrapper, making each bite a burst of flavors and textures.


With their delicate appearance and tantalizing aroma, soup dumplings have become a symbol of culinary excellence and craftsmanship. The process of making these delectable treats involves a meticulous combination of fresh ingredients, skillful folding techniques, and precise timing. The result is a dumpling that not only satisfies your taste buds but also showcases the dedication and artistry of the chef.


What sets soup dumplings apart from other dumpling varieties is the magical moment when the dumpling is gently placed on a soup spoon and enjoyed in one mouthful. As you bite into the dumpling, the flavorful broth bursts out, filling your mouth with a comforting warmth while the tender meat filling and delicate wrapper add layers of texture. It’s an experience that brings together taste, texture, and aroma in perfect harmony.


While Shanghai is the undisputed capital of soup dumplings, these delicious morsels can now be found in various destinations around the world. From New York City’s Chinatown to Tokyo’s bustling food markets, soup dumplings have become a global sensation. Each location adds its own unique twist, offering different fillings, variations in the dumpling wrapper, and accompanying dipping sauces.


In this article, we will dive deeper into the history of soup dumplings, explore the art of making them, introduce you to popular varieties, share tips on how to eat them, and even recommend famous soup dumpling restaurants in Shanghai and beyond. So, get ready to embark on a culinary adventure that will tantalize your taste buds and transport you to the wonderful world of soup dumplings!


History of Soup Dumplings

The origins of soup dumplings can be traced back to the streets of Shanghai in the 19th century. It is believed that a street vendor named Huang Mingxian created the first soup dumplings as a way to provide a portable and convenient meal for workers. What began as a humble street food quickly gained popularity and eventually became a culinary icon in Shanghai and beyond.


The technique of making soup dumplings was initially influenced by a similar Northern Chinese dumpling called “Jiaozi,” which typically does not contain soup. However, Huang Mingxian revolutionized the dumpling game by adding a small amount of gelatinized broth along with the meat filling, creating a burst of flavor inside each dumpling.


In the beginning, soup dumplings were made with a simple pork filling and a small amount of soup, but as their popularity grew, so did the variety of fillings and regional adaptations. Today, you can find soup dumplings with a range of fillings, including pork, beef, chicken, seafood, and even vegetarian options.


During the early 20th century, soup dumplings started gaining attention beyond Shanghai, reaching other parts of China and even making their way to Hong Kong and Taiwan. This spread was facilitated by the migration of people from Shanghai to other regions, taking their culinary traditions with them. Soup dumplings became an essential part of Cantonese and Taiwanese cuisine, and their fame continued to grow.


In recent years, soup dumplings have become a global sensation, finding their way onto the menus of Chinese restaurants around the world. Their popularity can be attributed to their unique combination of flavors, the skillful craftsmanship required to make them, and the visual appeal of seeing the broth inside the dumpling. Food enthusiasts and travelers alike seek out soup dumplings as a must-try dish when visiting Shanghai or any other destination known for their dumpling culture.


The history of soup dumplings is a testament to the innovation and adaptability of Chinese cuisine. From a humble street food to an internationally recognized delicacy, soup dumplings have captured the hearts (and stomachs) of food lovers worldwide. Whether you’re indulging in their traditional form in Shanghai or savoring a modern interpretation in a cosmopolitan city, soup dumplings continue to be a delicious symbol of culinary heritage and innovation.


The Art of Making Soup Dumplings

Making soup dumplings is a labor of love that requires skill, precision, and patience. From the selection of ingredients to the folding techniques, every step in the process is essential to achieving the perfect balance of flavors and textures. Let’s take a closer look at the art of making soup dumplings.


1. The Dough: The first step in making soup dumplings is preparing the dough. The dough is made by combining flour, water, and sometimes a pinch of salt. It is kneaded until it becomes pliable and smooth. The dough is shaped into small discs, which will eventually envelop the filling and form the dumpling wrapper.


2. The Filling: The filling is the heart and soul of the soup dumpling. Traditionally, pork is used as the main ingredient, mixed with a combination of herbs, spices, and sometimes vegetables. The filling is seasoned with soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and other flavor enhancers to create a robust and savory taste.


3. The Broth: The key to the soup dumpling’s unique appeal lies in the gelatinized broth. To make the broth, a rich stock is prepared by simmering bones, meat, and aromatic ingredients for several hours. The stock is then cooled and allowed to solidify, resulting in a jelly-like texture. Small cubes of this jelly-like broth are placed in each dumpling, ready to melt into a flavorful soup when cooked.


4. Folding Techniques: The art of folding soup dumplings can be challenging to master. Skilled dumpling makers use a delicate balance of speed and finesse to create perfectly pleated dumplings. The most common folding technique is to pleat the edges of the dough disc together, creating a small “purse” shape that contains the filling and broth. The pleats not only enhance the aesthetic appeal of the dumpling but also ensure a secure seal, preventing the broth from leaking out during the cooking process.


5. Cooking: Once the dumplings are folded, they are steamed until the dough becomes translucent, indicating that they are fully cooked. This delicate process requires precise timing and temperature control to ensure that the soup inside the dumpling reaches the perfect consistency without overcooking the dumpling wrapper.


The art of making soup dumplings is a testament to the craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes into creating this beloved delicacy. Each step, from the dough preparation to the folding techniques, contributes to the overall experience of enjoying a soup dumpling. The combination of flavors, textures, and the satisfaction of biting into a dumpling filled with aromatic broth make the effort to master the art of making soup dumplings truly worthwhile.


Popular Varieties of Soup Dumplings

Soup dumplings, or xiaolongbao, come in various flavors and fillings, each offering a unique culinary experience. While pork is the traditional filling, modern interpretations have expanded the options to cater to different taste preferences. Here are some popular varieties of soup dumplings:

  1. Pork Soup Dumplings: This is the classic and most well-known variety of soup dumplings. The filling consists of ground pork mixed with aromatic herbs and spices, creating a savory and flavorful combination. The broth inside is made from simmering pork bones, creating a rich and comforting soup.
  2. Shrimp Soup Dumplings: For seafood lovers, shrimp soup dumplings are a delightful option. These dumplings feature a mixture of minced shrimp and pork, creating a delicate and slightly sweet flavor. The shrimp adds a unique textural element to the dumpling, making them a favorite among seafood enthusiasts.
  3. Chicken Soup Dumplings: Chicken soup dumplings offer a lighter and milder flavor compared to pork dumplings. The filling incorporates minced chicken, along with herbs and seasonings, resulting in a fragrant and tender filling. The broth is typically made from chicken bones, giving the dumplings a comforting and homey taste.
  4. Vegetarian Soup Dumplings: In recent years, vegetarian and vegan options for soup dumplings have gained popularity. These dumplings feature a filling made from a combination of vegetables, tofu, mushrooms, and seasonings. The vegetarian broth adds a depth of flavor, providing a satisfying meat-free alternative.
  5. Beef Soup Dumplings: Beef soup dumplings offer a rich and robust taste. The filling consists of minced beef, along with aromatic spices and herbs, creating a savory and hearty dumpling. The broth is made from simmering beef bones, giving the dumplings a rich and flavorful broth.

These are just a few popular varieties of soup dumplings, but the possibilities are endless. Depending on the region and the creativity of the chef, you may come across unique variations such as crab soup dumplings, lamb soup dumplings, or even fusion flavors that incorporate ingredients from different cuisines.


When dining at a soup dumpling restaurant, don’t hesitate to explore and try different varieties. Each flavor offers a new sensory experience, showcasing the versatility of this beloved dish. Whether you prefer the classic pork dumplings or enjoy venturing into more adventurous flavor combinations, soup dumplings are sure to satisfy your cravings and captivate your taste buds.


Eating Soup Dumplings

Eating soup dumplings is not just about the flavors—they also come with a unique eating experience. These delicate dumplings require a specific technique to fully enjoy the burst of flavors without making a mess. Here are some tips to enhance your soup dumpling eating experience:

  1. Pick up the dumpling gently: Use chopsticks or a spoon to lift the dumpling from the steamer basket or plate. Be careful not to squeeze or pierce the dumpling, as this may cause the broth to leak out prematurely.
  2. Place the dumpling on a spoon: Once you have lifted the dumpling, carefully place it onto a Chinese soup spoon. The spoon acts as a support to catch any excess broth and prevents it from spilling.
  3. Nibble or bite a small hole: Use your chopsticks or teeth to make a small hole in the dumpling wrapper. This releases some steam and allows you to sip the broth inside.
  4. Sip the broth: Tilt the dumpling towards your mouth and gently sip the flavorful broth. Be cautious of the temperature, as the broth can be hot. Take small sips to fully savor the rich flavors.
  5. Eat the dumpling: Once you have enjoyed the broth, you can go ahead and eat the dumpling. Take small bites, being mindful of the hot filling inside. The tender meat mixture and the delicate wrapper work together harmoniously.
  6. Condiments: Some people enjoy dipping their soup dumplings in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger. Experiment with different ratios to find your preferred combination. However, it’s worth noting that many people appreciate the natural flavors of the dumplings and prefer eating them without any additional condiments.

Remember, soup dumplings are meant to be savored slowly and enjoyed one at a time. Take your time to appreciate the delicate balance of flavors and textures that each dumpling offers. Be mindful of the hot broth and allow yourself to fully immerse in the experience.


It’s common to see people slurping the broth and making satisfying sounds of pleasure when enjoying soup dumplings. So embrace the unique eating experience and let yourself savor the joy that these delightful dumplings bring.


Famous Soup Dumpling Restaurants in Shanghai

When it comes to soup dumplings, Shanghai is the ultimate destination. The city boasts a rich culinary scene with a plethora of restaurants dedicated to perfecting this beloved dish. Here are some famous soup dumpling restaurants in Shanghai that are worth a visit:

  1. Din Tai Fung: Originally from Taiwan, Din Tai Fung has become synonymous with soup dumplings. Their outlet in Shanghai is a must-visit for dumpling lovers. The delicate and perfectly pleated dumplings filled with flavorful broth and juicy meat have earned Din Tai Fung a cult-like following.
  2. Jia Jia Tang Bao: Located in the Huangpu District, Jia Jia Tang Bao is a legendary soup dumpling eatery known for its long queues and authentic flavors. Their dumplings are made fresh daily, with thin and delicate wrappers that hold a generous amount of broth and a flavorful pork filling.
  3. Yuyuan Bazi Xiaolong: Situated near the famous Yuyuan Garden, Yuyuan Bazi Xiaolong is a local favorite for traditional Shanghainese soup dumplings. Their dumplings are praised for their thin and translucent wrappers, which practically melt in your mouth as you bite into them.
  4. Yang’s Fry Dumplings: While not technically soup dumplings, Yang’s Fry Dumplings are a Shanghai specialty that deserves a mention. These small, pan-fried dumplings are filled with juicy pork and a rich broth. The crispy bottom adds a delightful contrast in texture.
  5. Lu Bo Lang: Known for its elegant ambiance and refined dumplings, Lu Bo Lang is a popular destination for soup dumplings in Shanghai. The dumplings here are meticulously crafted, with a focus on presentation and subtlety of flavors.
  6. Nanxiang Mantou Dian: Located in the historic city of Nanxiang, just outside of Shanghai, Nanxiang Mantou Dian is famous for its Nanxiang Xiaolongbao, a regional variation of soup dumplings. These dumplings feature a delicate wrapper and a rich, flavorful broth, making them a must-try for those willing to venture beyond the city limits.

These restaurants are just a taste of the vibrant soup dumpling scene in Shanghai. Whether you choose to visit a classic favorite or explore lesser-known establishments, you’re bound to discover the delight of soup dumplings in this culinary capital.


It’s important to note that many of these popular restaurants can get crowded, so it’s advisable to plan your visit during off-peak hours or be prepared to wait in line. The experience of indulging in these famous soup dumplings and immersing yourself in Shanghai’s vibrant dining culture is truly worth the wait.


Soup Dumplings Beyond Shanghai

While Shanghai may be the birthplace and epicenter of soup dumplings, this beloved dish has transcended its city of origin and gained worldwide recognition. Whether you’re in China or exploring international destinations, you can now indulge in the delight of soup dumplings outside of Shanghai. Here are some places where you can find this culinary gem:

  1. Taipei, Taiwan: Taipei is renowned for its diverse and vibrant food scene, and soup dumplings are a prominent feature. Visit the famous Din Tai Fung, originating in Taipei, and savor their signature dumplings filled with delightful broth and succulent meat.
  2. Hong Kong: Hong Kong also boasts a thriving soup dumpling culture. Experience the unique Cantonese twist on soup dumplings by visiting renowned dim sum establishments like Tim Ho Wan or One Dim Sum, where delicate dumplings filled with savory broth await.
  3. New York City, USA: In the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown, you’ll find numerous restaurants serving up delectable soup dumplings. Joe’s Shanghai and Shanghai Cafe are popular choices for locals and visitors alike, offering a taste of Shanghai right in the Big Apple.
  4. Tokyo, Japan: Tokyo’s food scene is a haven for food enthusiasts, and soup dumplings are no exception. Explore the bustling streets of Tokyo’s food markets, such as Tsukiji Fish Market or Ameya-Yokocho, and you’ll find stalls and restaurants serving up their own versions of soup dumplings.
  5. Singapore: Hawker centers and local eateries in Singapore are known for their diverse culinary offerings. Soup dumplings, known as xiao long bao or xlb, can be found in popular spots like Din Tai Fung or Paradise Dynasty, where you can enjoy a fusion of Chinese and Singaporean flavors.

These are just a few examples of the many destinations where you can experience the joy of soup dumplings beyond Shanghai. From bustling metropolises to hidden gems, soup dumplings have made their way into the hearts (and stomachs) of food lovers around the world.


As you embark on your food travels, keep an eye out for local recommendations and explore the diverse variations and flavors that each destination offers. Whether you’re in Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, or beyond, a steaming basket of soup dumplings is just waiting to be discovered and savored.



Soup dumplings, with their delicate wrappers, flavorful fillings, and aromatic broths, are a true culinary delight that transcends borders and captivates food lovers around the world. The journey through the realm of soup dumplings takes us from the bustling streets of Shanghai, where the dish was born, to international destinations where it has found a place in diverse culinary cultures.


The history, art, and variety of soup dumplings showcase the mastery and craftsmanship of chefs who have perfected the delicate balance of flavors and textures. From the classic pork dumplings to creative variations like shrimp, chicken, or vegetarian fillings, soup dumplings offer an explosion of taste that never fails to satisfy.


Whether you’re sipping the flavorful broth, biting into the tender meat filling, or marveling at the artful pleats, eating soup dumplings is an experience that engages all the senses. The unique technique of eating them, with the delicate balance of sipping the broth and savoring the dumpling, adds to the enjoyment and makes each bite a moment of culinary bliss.


While Shanghai proudly remains the capital of soup dumplings, these delightful morsels can now be found in cities around the world. From Taipei to Hong Kong, New York City to Tokyo, and beyond, soup dumpling enthusiasts can embark on a global culinary adventure that satiates their cravings and introduces them to new variations and flavors.


So, whether you find yourself in Shanghai, exploring international destinations, or attempting to recreate the magic at home, let the world of soup dumplings take you on a journey of flavors, textures, and cultural immersion. Indulge in the artistry of each dumpling, enjoy the warmth of the broth, and savor the unique experience that only soup dumplings can offer.


Embrace the adventure, seek out renowned soup dumpling restaurants, and savor every mouthwatering moment that this beloved dish has to offer. After all, when it comes to food travel, soup dumplings are an essential part of any foodie’s itinerary.