THREE WORDS come to mind when you’re eating xiao long bao, the Chinese steamed soup dumplings:
1. It’s “delicious.”
2. It must have been “tricky” to make, and
3. It’s “witchcraft,” because how can you encase soup in a delicate dim sum skin?
Bai Nian Tang Bao opened late last month in BGC’s Uptown Parade (near the Valkyrie club complex). Guests were served Three Seafood Fried Noodles, and a variety of fried rice, which, while all good and filling, can be waved away for the Giant Tang Bao. Don’t forget the Shanghai-style fish fillet though, that really is quite good: immersed in a dark sauce, and crispy yet yielding.
Anyway, back to the Giant Tang Bao. Sure, there are other xiao long baos in the menu, which are to be scooped up in a Chinese soup spoon and moistened with black vinegar before being delivered whole into one’s mouth. The Giant Tang Bao, however, comes with a bit of fanfare.
It is as big as a baby’s face, and a server comes and hands you a paper straw, which you poke through the dim sum skin, and you suck the soup out of it. You’re supposed to wait a couple of minutes before starting to suck up the soup though, otherwise, it would be too hot.
This reporter’s verdict? The soup was thick, hot, and had multiple layers of flavor. Abandon the idea of the paper straw, transfer the Giant Tang Bao from the bamboo steamer onto a plate, puncture the skin with a spoon, and let the soup wet the dim sum skin. That, I think, allows for one to enjoy all its flavors.
The multiple flavors come from a long cooking process, which takes about 12 hours. The soup contains pork and crab roe — which is as much as co-owner Paul Li would let on. The crab roe is special, imported from a lake in Shanghai.
“Most of the food, if we can get it locally… for the xiao long bao, there are secret sauces, ingredients, we get those from Shanghai,” said Mr. Li.
The soup is frozen and packed into the dim sum skins, and then steamed at just the right time and temperature so the soup inside heats up, yet not so much as to damage the dim sum skin.
According to legend, xiao long bao appeared on Chinese imperial tables in the 1700s. One of the most famous xiao long bao places is Nanxiang Bun Shop in Shanghai, which moved to government hands after China’s Communist revolution in the 1940s. Bai Nian Tang Bao — bai nian meaning “100 years” according to a release — was founded in 2001, and is a member of Shanghai’s xiao long bao association.
The Philippine franchise of Taiwanese xiao long bao giant Din Tai Fung was a sensation when it first opened a few years ago. Mr. Li said that while xiao long bao has proven to be a fixture in the country, he and his business partner (both fans of the dumpling) noted that the xiao long bao outlets here come from Taiwan and Singapore.
“But xiao long bao, this food, comes from China,” he said, referring to their own version. “The taste, we feel, is different. We want to bring the original taste.” — JLG