I’ve been on the road, in Shanghai and the Philippines, eating for the International Herald Tribune. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been up to:
By Daisann McLane
SHANGHAI: A sleek upscale shopping mall was the last place I expected to find the most delectable little soup dumplings in Shanghai.
The unwritten canon of Asia food travel decrees that the best, most
authentic things to eat are found only in funky street dives – what one
Shanghai friend of mine calls “flip-flop” places. Cramped formica-top
tables shared with strangers, and surly waiters? Terrific. Folding
tables on the sidewalk, communal plastic chopsticks stuffed in a glass,
no napkins? Give me that address.
My serendipitous shopping mall moment came during a recent trip to
Shanghai, on a three-day quest to find the best xiao long bao (little
basket dumplings) in the city that invented them. The xiao long bao is
famous with foodies worldwide, and thanks to Internet food sites and
blogs I was well-equipped with a list of on and off-the-track
suggestions. I also had a good supply of every Asia food traveler’s
must-have accessory: mini-packages of Kleenex tissues, for wiping away
unexpected spurts of the intensely rich broth that’s the occupational
hazard for a Shanghai soup-dumpling fanatic.
The Shanghai dumpling, an elegant culinary achievement masquerading
as a humble snack, consists of a ball of minced pork (sometimes with an
added dollop of crab or crab roe), wrapped in a pleated flour dough
skin, which is then steamed. But every xiao lung bao also holds a
delightful surprise: there’s a spoonful of hot soup, made from chicken
or pork, sometimes both, inside.
The invention is attributed to cooks at the original Nanxiang
restaurant in Shanghai’s Jiading district, who figured out how to mix
small chunks of cooled, soldified broth gelée into the minced pork
filling. (When the dumplings are steamed, the gelatin liquefies back to
soup.) Successful execution involves a labor-intensive balancing act of
timing, texture and temperature. There is a lot that can go wrong. The
dumpling must be assembled on the spot (aficionados insist it must be
prepared and steamed only after you order it), or it will be starchy.
The flour wrapper, in the wrong hands, can turn out doughy and thick,
or thin and breakable, the meatballs too rubbery, the soup too abundant
But when the dumpling is right, it’s golden
Read it all here