Xiao Long Bao, more commonly referred to as XLB or soup dumplings, originated in the Chinese province of Shanghai and is now popular all over the world. Its origins date back to approximately 1875 when legend states that restaurant owner Huang Mingxian invented them to keep up with fierce competition from other food vendors. However, most people local to Shanghai believe there’s more to the story than that. The timing may be off by a few decades as well.
Another theory on the origins of XLB goes back even further. As the story goes, Emperor Qianlong is the person responsible for introducing soup dumplings to Shanghai. He lived from 1711 to 1789. In the mid-1700s, he was traveling through Jiangsu when he tasted this bite-sized deliciousness for the first time. Emperor Qianlong loved XLB so much that he told the whole province about it. If this version of the story is accurate, Chinese soup dumplings have been popular for nearly 275 years.
The Dumpling Controversy
People sometimes disagree that the Chinese soup dumpling should even go by the name dumpling at all. That is because cooks in Shanghai prepare XLB in a distinctively different manner than Westerners prepare them. In the United States and other Western countries, the term dumpling describes any boiled food containing dough. The problem some people have with using the term dumplings to describe XLB is that those calling it that don’t account for the method of cooking, wrapping style, or technical composition. Nevertheless, use of the term continues and likely will do so indefinitely.
What’s Inside of XLB?
The outside of a soup dumpling is, obviously, made from dough. Inside is either pork broth or chicken broth, sometimes both. It also contains stock made from pork skin or chicken feet with collagen that turns into a gel-like substance as it cooks. Cooks prepare the soup dumplings by placing the broth and meat stock inside and then pleating the edges. They finish the process by placing a wrapper around the XLB to ensure it’s not too hot for people to touch. This final step also helps the gelatin to melt and turn into a hot soup that diners expect when ordering XLB, whether in China or elsewhere.
How to Eat Soup Dumplings the Right Way
Picking up and eating XLB properly is essential to avoid burns and other mishaps. The best way to accomplish this is to lift a single soup dumpling out of the steam basket with a set of chopsticks. Next, make a small puncture near a top corner and suck out the hot broth after allowing a few minutes for the soup dumpling to cool down. The last step is to eat the remaining dough ball. Some people also enjoy dipping the dough in sauce for added flavor. So long as no one injures themselves on hot broth, the exact mechanisms of eating a soup dumpling are up to them.