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NYC's Best & Worst Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao)

Soup dumplings - otherwise known as xiao long bao - are culinary curiosities. Thin skinned dumplings that contain soup within them, along with a flavorful ground pork stuffing, many have wondered how soup is bundled so neatly within the little dough packets. Some theorize injection by needle; others say the soup is frozen in cubes, then wrapped inside with the meat. Slightly simpler than that, the soup is simply gelatinized before being mixed into the ground meat, for the ultimate in delicious. Like with anything else, some places set themselves apart from others by taking a seemingly simple food - dumplings - and creating something on an entirely different playing field from the rest. Below is a ranked listing of the places we visited. Also find our tips on the best way to devour the dumplings. By Yvo Sin.
Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao 05
(credit: Yvo Sin/

Nan Xiang often has lines out the door, and with good reason: of the places sampled, the skins of these soup dumplings were easily the thinnest. Unfortunately, this translates to dumplings tearing more easily before making it to your spoon, which can be frustrating to a soup dumpling newbie. The dumplings that do make it to your spoon unscathed, though, are worth the struggle: flavorful broth with pork-tastic nuggets inside the lightly chewy skin, enhanced by a small splash of black vinegar add up to soup dumpling perfection. Make this place a must on your journey through the soup dumpling world!

Shanghai Cafe Deluxe 02
(credit: Yvo Sin/

While Shanghai Cafe Deluxe's soup dumplings bore skins ever-so-slightly thicker than Nan Xiang's, the dumplings were every bit as good. Excellent broth encased within skin that didn't tear from just a dirty stare, fragrant with ginger, made all the better with black vinegar, Shanghai Cafe Deluxe's soup dumplings deserve their spot on this list without a question. Service was quick, and not a table in the restaurant went without their own order of the soup dumplings - proving that sometimes, you just have to go with the masses.

Joe's Ginger 01
(credit: Yvo Sin/

Joe's Ginger, a spinoff of Joe's Shanghai, offers soup dumplings that are a delight - flavorful, skins that aren't too thick, and just tasty all around. Though it doesn't beat Shanghai Cafe Deluxe nor Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, the lack of lines here make it a completely viable alternative to waiting for a table at either of the other two. Perfectly satisfactory for a quick bite on a cold night!

Joe's Shanghai - Chinatown 03
(credit: Yvo Sin/

Any list discussing soup dumplings would be remiss without mention of Joe's Shanghai, but unfortunately, the establishment skates by on reputation alone. On multiple visits to different locations, the soup dumplings were thick, gummy and had an unpleasant mouth-feel to the wrappers. While this made for easy transport to the spoon, the wrappers were dry and oddly sticky, making insertion into the mouth very awkward. Hardly anything about the dumplings says "eat here now" but expect crowds as Joe's was one of the early promoters of soup dumplings.

456 Shanghai 02
(credit: Yvo Sin/

Easily the worst of all the places we visited, 456 Shanghai Cuisine certainly has other dishes worth visiting. Unfortunately, soup dumplings aren't included in that group - these were small, dry, and boasted little soup inside the even littler dumplings. With the reduced size, they certainly fit in even the smallest mouths easily, but weren't worth it to do so. If you visit 456 Shanghai Cuisine, skip the soup dumplings in favor of the other dishes.

Here's a quick primer on how to eat these pouches of boiling hot soup. There are many schools of thought on how to eat them, indubitably, but this is the way my grandfather taught me - and it's never failed me in the many years I've been eating soup dumplings.

  1. Carefully use your chopsticks to lift a dumpling from the steamer basket into your soup spoon (for ease of transfer, hold your spoon directly next to the dumpling as you lift - no need to fly the dumpling all around before it reaches your spoon). Ignore the tongs; those are for amateurs and will only tear the dumpling skin, which you want to avoid at all costs.
  2. Either use your chopsticks to poke a bit of a hole in the top of the dumpling, or bite off the very top to let some steam out. If you like, this is the time to spoon a little of the black vinegar/ginger sauce that was brought to your table with the dumplings.
  3. Be patient and let the dumpling cool for a minute or so. If you're impatient, you will burn yourself and it will HURT. If you want to blow gently on the dumpling, feel free.
  4. Carefully lift the spoon to your mouth, stuff the whole thing in your mouth and slurp the entire dumpling into your mouth and chew carefully; try not to let any soup escape your mouth!
  5. Repeat until all the dumplings are gone.

It's true that some people prefer to drink some (or all) of the soup from the dumpling before they eat it, but I like the combination of everything eaten at once. Play around with it until you find a method that works for you.

For the latest on where to eat in the Tri-State, follow us on Twitter!

Yvo Sin is the founder and head writer of The Feisty Foodie.

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