Proper XLB are made with a minced pork filling including a hefty dollop of rich pork gelatin, with this goodness encased in a thin, tender and nearly translucent pinched-top flour wrapper. When XLB are steamed, the gelatin dissolves to create a divine soup, which is best eaten first by picking up the dumpling with your chopsticks, chewing a small hole in the centre knot and slurping away (trust us – handling XLB is a delicate act, one that has nearly reduced us to tears on the occasions when the wrapper has split). Spooning a bit of the standard accompanying sauce – normally black vinegar flavoured with strips of ginger – is optional but definitely recommended. Because getting the right amount of flavourful soup and delicate dumpling-skin texture is such a tough culinary task to master, we’ve sadly eaten many a disappointing XLB in our time. On the other hand, we’ve also been lucky enough to find five local spots that serve stellar XLB. Here’s where to head for the top XLB-eating sessions in the 852, in all their messy, juicy, chin-dribbling glory:
1) Din Tai Fung: this is probably the most famous XLB chain in the world, although it originated in Taipei, not Shanghai. But, boy, do those Taiwanese know to craft a mean xiao long bao. Ten pieces of juicy pork dumplings is the way to go, although we also recommend plumping for the truffle XLB if it happens to be available. Be prepared for the lunchtime queues, especially at the CWB branch.
2) Hao De Lai Xiao Long Bao Dian: if we were forced to choose just one XLB to have for the rest of our time in Hong Kong, we think Hao De Lai would just about squeeze itself to the peak of the list for its exceedingly juicy and tasty dumplings. It’s a tiny, down-home shop in Jordan that also serves other awesome Shanghainese snacks (we love the fried spring onion cake and turnip pastry). The main menu is in Chinese, but ask for the one with pictures and basic English translations.
1 Tak Hing Street, Jordan, 2377 9488
3) yè shanghai: this one-Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant would be our pick for savouring XLB in atypically elegant surrounds. The wrappers are delicate, almost to a fault, and the gracious service is just as pleasing as the Shanghainese cuisine on offer. We recommend the branch in the Marco Polo hotel for its jewel of a dining room and the stunning harbour views.
4) Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao: coming in as one of our honourable mentions in the Outstanding Reliable Favourite category in last year’s Foodie Forks awards, Crystal Jade is our choice when we’re craving top-notch XLB without much time to spare. The service is fast and efficient (if a bit on the surly side), and we can gobble down two or three orders of this famous Shanghainese chain’s XLB in one go. The handmade noodles also go down a treat (watch them being made right before your very eyes).
5) Osama Tony: despite it’s bizarre and, frankly, off-putting moniker, Osama Tony is a great XLB choice, especially if you find yourself browsing Temple Street Night Market of an evening. Add to the carb overload by indulging in an order of the eatery’s fried mantou with its sinful condensed-milk dipping sauce or, on the more savoury side, Shanghainese-style rice cakes stir-fried with pork and cabbage.
122 Woosung Street, Jordan, 2755 5090