Throwdown: Xiao Long Bao

Make way for my favorite dumpling in the world, the Xiao Long Bao (some people/restaurants refer it to as the Xiao Long Pao). It’s that dumpling with meat AND soup inside.

There’s a specific way of eating it – or at least I have a specific way of eating it. You scoop a little of the vinegar (which they serve along with your order of Xiao Long Bao) on a soup spoon and put the dumpling on top. Now that you have the perfect spoon, you can put the whole spoon in your mouth and let the soup explode in your mouth. You could also just bite half of the dumpling and let some of the soup spill out to the spoon and then eat the other half along with the vinegar and the soup. Personally, I do the former. I’m sure everyone has their own way of eating Xiao Long Bao but after many tries of making sure I get every drop of the soup inside, those two methods are tried and tested to get every drop.

So far, I’ve only tried five different Xiao Long Bao’s in different places in my life since only the really sophisticated Chinese restaurants serve them. The first time I tried Xiao Long Bao was in Taiwan when I was nine or ten years old. I tasted it in one of their street night markets and it was love at first bite/sip. Since then, I’ve been looking for Xiao Long Bao at every Chinese restaurant and it took me about four years to taste the goodness of Xiao Long Bao again.

First competitor in this throwdown is Gloria Maris. For a time, the only restaurant I knew that served this lovely dumpling was Gloria Maris and since my family was just as addicted to it as I was, we always had it around the house. My dad also frequents Gloria Maris and everytime he goes there, he makes it a point to bring home at least two orders of Xiao Long Bao and my other favorite, roast duck. The Xiao Long Bao in Gloria Maris has a big ball of meat that takes up most of the space inside the rather thick wrapping. With that, there isn’t much space for the soup that I love so much. Nonetheless, it’s really good. I must say, however, that not all Gloria Maris serve the same Xiao Long Bao. The Xiao Long Bao in the Gloria Maris in Araneta Center Cubao (around the Coliseum) isn’t nearly as good as the one in the Gloria Maris in Greenhills (fine dining and dimsum area). So if you must eat in Gloria Maris, make sure you eat in Greenhills.

Second competitor in this mouth-watering throwdown is Lugang Cafe, my new favorite Chinese restaurant, also located in Greenhills. When I first ate here, we were waitlisted for two hours but it was well worth the wait. The prices were very reasonable, the ambiance was great, the interiors were pleasant, the service was quick despite the restaurant being really busy and the food. Oh the food. I’d like to write about their food but this post is about the Xiao Long Bao so I’ll just write about Lugang in another entry someday soon. The Xiao Long Bao in Lugang is actually very proportional. The size of the meat ball is just big enough to fill you up and leaves enough space for a lot of soup inside and the wrapping is thin enough to chew comfortably but thick enough for it not to tear the moment you lift it off the paper. Even their vinegar is exquisite. I think I ate about six dumplings within 15 minutes?

Third competitor in this dizzyingly-long throwdown is Crystal Jade also in Greenhills. Crystal Jade is a very popular restaurant known for its Xiao Long Bao. I’ve only eaten here once so this would be the shortest review. The Xiao Long Bao in Crystal Jade is quite small and doesn’t have as much soup inside it but the meat is really good. The thickness of the wrapping is somewhere in the middle of Gloria Maris and Lugang. Their vinegar has the most distinct taste because it isn’t as sour, it saltier than the others.

Fourth competitor in this nearly-over throwdown is Eat Well! Yes, the name of their restaurant really has an exclamation point at the end. I’ve also only eaten here once with Nadine, Melissa and her parents in Bonifacio Global City. The Xiao Long Bao here is average; the meat takes up more space than the soup like in Gloria Maris but the soup isn’t as tasty. The wrapping is quite fragile too. That or it’s just that the chopsticks I used here are bamboo unlike the aforementioned restaurants that provided plastic chopsticks.

Fifth and final competitor that I’m sure I won’t be able to write well about in this throwdown is the Xiao Long Bao I had five years ago. One thing I really remember about it though is it had a loooooooot of soup and I mean a looooooooot. The meat was  just about a teeny tiny ball, the size of a marble but the soup inside was really tasty and abundant. How they did that, I will never know. If I could, I’d like to go back to that exact same street vendor that introduced me to my world’s best dumpling.

Now for the verdict.

Lugang Cafe wins this one. Gloria Maris comes in second, followed by Crystal Jade and Eat Well! The Xiao Long Bao from five years ago holds a very special place in my heart and not in this throwdown. Yes, I love my food that much.

Hope this was useful to anyone. In case you know any other restaurants or just vendors in bazaars that serve Xiao Long Bao, make sure to let me know ’cause God knows I need more Xiao Long Bao in this lifetime.

Share your insights on Xiao Long Baos or just plain insights by leaving a comment below or hitting me up in my Formspring.

With true love in her tummy,
Nicole x

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