There are dumplings, and then there are soup dumplings. For the inexperienced, a soup dumpling is not a food to be messed with.
My first attempt about a year ago did not end well. I hadn’t been warned. I wasn’t prepared. I was hungry. So I just popped the whole thing in my mouth in one go, its molten lava contents exploding instantly, causing a) panic b) tears c) much arm flapping and useless hand fanning and d) extreme beetroot face.
It also left me with the un-winnable choice between spitting the offending dumpling out in front of a table full of people or leaving the hotter-than-the-sun soupy contents in my mouth until they were eventually cool enough not to kill me when I swallowed.
Thankfully, my husband had already asked me to marry him. I’m quite certain that the facial expressions I pulled in those frightful moments could very well have been a deal-breaker.
So it was with trepidation that I accepted an invitation to dine at New Shanghai in Sydney’s Chatswood Chase, with the express purpose of trying out their soup dumplings.
Luckily the invitation came with some instructions for how to consume soup dumplings safely this time around (see below).
Although, food that requires instructions for safe consumption, and which includes the line, “if you accidentally break the skin, the hot broth will escape and can squirt on yourself or others” doesn’t make me feel all that much less nervous, if I’m honest.
My dinner date was Katrina, our deputy chief sub-editor. She warned me that she had serious concerns about her chopstick abilities. This was going to be interesting.
The restaurant may be tiny, but was bustling with people when we arrived and had a really authentic vibe to it. The décor is wonderfully evocative –red and black lacquered furniture, red bunting, ornately carved wooden panels, an old bike out the front … all very 1930s Shanghai but with a modern twist. There is also an open-kitchen where you can watch in awe as the dumplings are masterfully (and quickly) created.
Steamed mini pork buns
We tried some of just about everything on the extensive menu including the xiao long bao (steamed mini pork bun), crab meat xiao long bao, pan-fried pork bun, pan-fried pork dumpling and steamed vegetarian dumplings.
We followed the ‘How to Eat Soup Dumplings’ instructions to the letter (I wasn’t going to take any chances) and while we initially struggled to poke a hole in the dumpling and gracefully suck out the soup (which seems to be the key method for avoiding third-degree burns), we soon got the hang of it, and I am proud to say I can now safely (and enjoyably) eat a soup dumpling … and I’ll certainly be going back for more! As with most things in life … sometimes the best things don’t come easy.
The dumplings were just as beautiful to look at as they were delicious to eat. The pan-fried pork dumplings were our hands-down favourites, with beautifully browned, crispy bases, silky skin and tasty pork and fragrant broth inside. The black vinegar was new to me, but made for a perfect dumpling dipping sauce with its smoky, malty and slightly tangy flavour. The crab meat dumplings were also divine – so beautifully delicate and light. I could have happily spent the rest of the day mastering my technique.
Oh, and although Katrina’s chopstick method was slightly unorthodox (there was some unusual cross-over action going on), she made it work for her, and managed just fine! Perhaps a masterclass on chopstick use for the next blog is in order?
HOW TO EAT SOUP DUMPLINGS:
Xiao long bao, or ‘soup dumpling’, is a variety of steamed bun that has its origins in Shanghai, Eastern China. Xiao long bao dumplings should have a delicate skin that seals in juicy pork and a hot, flavoursome broth – this is the ‘soup’ in the dumpling. As this broth is often burning hot, there is a technique required to eat them.
1. To begin, pour vinegar into a dipping bowl. At New Shanghai, the dumplings are served with Chinese black vinegar – just as they would be in Shanghai.
2. The next step is to pick up the dumpling with your chopsticks. It is important you do this gently so as not to puncture the skin. Be careful doing this, because if you accidentally break the skin, the hot broth will escape and can squirt on yourself or others!
3. Now dip the dumpling into the vinegar sauce, before placing the dumpling onto the spoon provided. From here, you can pierce the dumpling skin by either nibbling a hole in the side, or making a hole with a chopstick. Blow gently on the dumpling several times to cool down the broth.
4. Now tip the dumpling and suck the soup from inside. Avoid biting into the dumpling as the juice can squirt out!
5. Once the broth has been drained, you can add more vinegar as you like, and finish eating the dumpling.
WINE AND DUMPLING DINNER
For our Sydney-based foodies, New Shanghai at Chatswood Chase is hosting a Wine and Dumpling dinner on Tuesday September 27 and Wednesday September 28, featuring six courses of Shanghai-style cuisine. Each course is matched with a wine from the restaurant’s new wine list. AU$59pp.
New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant
Lower Ground Level,
Chatswood Chase Food Court
(02) 9412 3358
(Other locations include Bondi Junction, Charlestown Square, Chatswood and Ashfield.)