In the last few years the xiao long bao, aka XLB or Shenghainese soup dumpling, has become somewhat of a cult favorite throughout New York City and cities like San Francisco. Groups of hungry patrons awaiting their table outside Joe's Shanghai in Manhattan's Chinatown linger in the street, waiting up to an hour to get a taste of the famous soup dumplings. (Side note: While Joe's dumplings are flavorful, Noodle Village around the corner on Mott street has my favorite soup dumpling in Manhattan - without the wait.) But all this time, the close cousin of the XLB has been pushed out of the limelight, and I think it's time its gotten some love from the dumpling-loving masses.
The sheng jian bao, or juicy buns (Which are what xiao long bao are also sometimes translated to on certain menus, just to make this a little more confusing!) are traditionally served for breakfast in Shanghainese cuisine. Just like their soup dumpling cousins, they have a juicy, meaty filling which, if eaten incorrectly, can cause some serious burns - nibble, cool and slurp people! This is thanks to the flavorful pork and gelatin which melts into an unctuous broth inside the buns when they're cooked.
What sets these dumplings apart from the xiao long bao is the wrapper - in place of the thin, dumpling skin is a semi-leavened dough, similar to what you would find wrapped around your BBQ pork buns. Another difference is the fact that after they are steamed, they are then pan fried. This extra step forms a crispy, browned bottom on the bun. Thanks to this seared bottom sheng jian bao much more manageable when it comes to transporting or reheating them than the thin skinned xiao long bao. However, this probably won't be a problem since you're guaranteed to eat all of them in one sitting. They're just that good.
The sheng jian bao are typically topped with sesame seeds and chives after they come out of the pan. I enjoy mine with a side of ginger slivers in black Chinese vinegar, a mellow, sweet vinegar also served with xiao long bao.
More filling and just as delicious as XLB, I think it's pretty crazy that only half the story of soup dumplings has grabbed the attention of America's stomachs. But no longer! Here are a few of my favorite places to snack on sheng jian bao in NYC.
- Old Street DimSum at the Queens Crossing Mall in Flushing, Queens - Once you step foot inside the small food court at the Queens Crossing mall, you'll notice sheng jian bao on almost every table. These are my favorite that I've found in NYC so far. Often pan fried to order, these buns are extra juicy.
- 456 in Manhattan's Chinatown - Once heralded by Sam Sifton in the New York Times as a "worthy starter," the sheng jian bao here were some of the first I tried in New York City, and they keep pulling me back for more. If you can't make it to Queens, this should be the first place you try in Manhattan.
- Shanghai Asia Manor in Manhattan's Chinatown - These SJB are more lightly fried, but pack a flavorful punch and are pretty juicy if you can't make the trek out Flushing. Shanghai Asia Manor is relatively new to Mott Street, but their extensive order-off-the-menu dim sum and late night hours make it a solid spot.
- Nan Xiang Dumpling House in Flushing, Queens - The bao here tend to be bigger and fluffier, but are sometimes lacking in the broth department. If you're more of a quantity-driven eater, this is the sheng jian bao spot for you.
Betcha can't eat just one.