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What's the secret to the best xiao long bao?
Sands Style / Gourmet & Wellbeing

What's the secret to the best xiao long bao?

Deceptively simple, disarmingly subtle, xiao long bao is a Chinese institution. Dumpling novice David Vetter finds out more about these quintessential cultural morsels

I had been enjoying xiao long bao ("little steamed buns") for years before fully appreciating just how iconic these little dumplings are. They originated in the Jiangnan region, just to the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze river, and so are usually associated with Shanghai. Xiao long bao are traditionally filled with pork, but this is not always the case. 

The creation of a single xiao long bao is a fine art, and there are few better places to see this in action than at Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao. The restaurant group has been recognised multiple times by Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand for the skill and effort that go into making its xiao long bao.

To begin with, the dough goes through a punishing ordeal comprising seven steps – mixing, resting, pressing, rolling, shaping, rubbing and flattening – before it becomes a smooth sheet of skin with an al dente touch.

Next, the soup – the heart and soul of any xiao long bao worthy of the name is the broth within. The chefs simmer their key ingredients – including an old hen, Jinhua ham and pork bones – for 10 hours before straining it and removing the froth. 

The next vital component: using a secret ratio of fat to meat, the chefs chop and mince the fresh pork, which is mixed with a finely honed array of seasonings and gelatin stock. 

Finally, it’s time for the presentation. Each piece is folded around the meat filling into an evenly shaped dumpling, the broth is poured in, and the skin is pleated at the top with 18 to 22 pleats. The dumplings are then steamed for exactly seven minutes.

Despite all the hard work that goes into preparing these little parcels, your only task as a diner is to eat them. Carefully grasp the top of a xiao long bao with your chopsticks, and place it on a spoon. Give one of the corners a small bite and allow the soup within to fill your spoon. Sip the broth and take time to consider its delicate flavour, before taking a bite of the juicy bao itself.

Hungry yet? You’ll be happy to learn that Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao will be opening two outlets at Sands Resorts Macao in spring 2018: one at Sands Cotai Central and one at The Parisian Macao. Stay tuned!