Xiao Long Bow (pronounced: Soup Dumplings) is somewhat of a not too well kept New York secret. Judging by the multi-culti masses who clutch well-worn copies of Zagat’s or concierge-issued city maps while waiting in the doorway of any of the three Joe’s Shanghai locations (Queens, Midtown and Chinatown), it’s obvious that this is a very well telegraphed “must-try-when-in-New-York” hot item. But tourist agendas aside, from time to time, when New Yorkers get that umami-salty itch that needs immediate scratching, nothing satisfies quite like a bamboo steamer basket of tongue-blisteringly hot and uniquely delicious Soup Dumplings.
This rather curious method of trapping a tiny pork meatball inside a mouthful of meaty broth hails from a suburb of Shanghai and is rarely spotted on Chinese menus in the west. Before I divulge the secret behind their preparation, humor me and try to imagine just how tricky it would be to wrap scalding soup inside a thin, square piece of dough without any of it leaking out? (It reminds me of a “Candid Camera” shtick, where unsuspecting victims were asked to wrap helium-filled balloons in brown paper and string.) The answer is chemistry 101 – changing the state of the soup from a liquid to a solid before wrapping (either as ice or gelatin) which melts during the steaming process.
Enjoying Soup Dumplings involves a fairly specific protocol too.
Step 1: After a dumpling is carefully hoisted out of its cabbage blanket and lowered onto a spoon, bite a tiny hole into its side in order to suck out the soup.
Step 2: Add a spoonful of dark Chinese vinegar with shredded ginger to give the remaining solids a blast of sourness.
Step 3: Eat and repeat until complete!