Originating in Shanghai, xiao long bao (XLB), translated literally as “small” + “steaming basket” + “bun”, are juicy morsels of steamed dumpling heaven. Proper XLB are made with a minced pork filling including a hefty dollop of rich pork gelatin, with this goodness encased in a thin, tender and nearly translucent pinched-top flour wrapper.
There are many schools of thought on how to eat a XLB but our favourite way and perhaps the best way is: 1) Transfer the XLB carefully onto your spoon 2) Bite a hole on the top of the XLB and let some of the steam out to cool it down 3) Savour some of the soup 4) Put some of the ginger into the XLB and pour in some vinegar as well 5) Slurp it up whole or eat the meat first before consuming the soup with the wrapper.
When someone says soup dumpling, everybody immediately says Din Tai Fung; that’s how big of a monopoly they have on these little morsels of heaven!
Din Tai Fung actually hails from Taiwan and not Shanghai and if you ever get a chance, the must visit Din Tai Fung location is the original store in Taipei and it’s multiple stories high.
We love their soy sauce and vinegar with their recommended ratio 1:3, respectively. We found their dumplings to be fresh and hot, but not piping hot like the way we prefer it. The wrapper was thin, yet did not break when we transferred it onto our spoon, though the first bite on the top was quite doughy. We loved the taste of the soup; there was a distinct taste of Chinese wine, which really added to the flavour. There was; however, not as much soup as we would have liked and the soup was quite oily in comparison to other XLBs but you would have never been able to tell from the taste alone. Whilst their pork filling was tasty and they added in some green onions to cut through the oiliness, the pork filling was by far the smallest we’ve seen out of all the other restaurants.
One order has 6 XLBs ($60HKD); $9 HKD tea charge per person & 10% service charge.
Shop 306, 3/F, Silvercord, 30 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui (Other locations available)
From Singapore, Paradise Dynasty is most known for their rainbow 8 XLB platter. The colour of the XLB corresponds to a different flavour: original, ginseng, foie gras, truffle, cheese, crab roe, garlic, and mala spicy. Whilst that platter is amazing for Instagram, we actually prefer the original.
Paradise Dynasty is very technical about their XLB, stating that there is 25 grams per piece and that it has a delicate 18 fold… So we counted the folds on all 6 of our XLB and only one of the XLBs had exactly 18 folds; the others ranged from 19-23 folds (now, this doesn’t really matters to us, but we just wanted to be as technical as them).
The wrapper on the XLB was amazing – super thin and chewy, but extremely robust as none of them broke even when we were more aggressive in lifting them.
The flavour was very good as well, and there was a ton of soup in the dumplings. The only criticism we had if we were being picky is that their vinegar is on the sweeter side, so when paired with the XLB, it was a bit too sweet for us and didn’t cut through the oiliness of the pork filling as much as we would have liked. Oh, and for the durian lovers? They have durian XLB.
Pro tip: If you don’t want the starter peanut dish, make sure you let them know at the beginning or else you will be charged for it, even if you don’t consume it.
One order has 6 XLBs ($58 HKD); $7 HKD tea charge & 10% service charge.
6/F, Lee Theatre, 99 Percival Street, Causeway Bay (Other locations available)
The Best One Overall: Hao De Lai Xiao Long Bao Dian (好德來小籠包店)
This is our winner for a couple of reasons. We’re suckers for traditional and independent local mom and pop shops and this one fits the bill to a tee! They serve the standard Shanghai fare and their XLB were steamed fresh to order, which meant they came out piping out.
It was already apparent from the plumpness of the XLB that they were also full of soup and the flavour was perfect – not too salty nor sweet. We also loved that they chopped the ginger so finely that it was super easy to get the perfect amount into the XLB. For $40 for 4, you just can’t go wrong with this restaurant! Absolute steal and hidden gem.
One order has 4 XLBs ($40 HKD) and no service charge.
Shop A, G/F, Fortune Court, 1 Tak Hing Street, Jordan
The Super Local One: 3.6.9. Restaurant Shanghai Food (上海三六九菜館)
An oldie but a goodie. An unassuming place that we pass by all the time but never blinked an eye towards. Who knew they had such good XLBs! The chef says that he makes over 1000 XLBs a day. They are steamed atop a cabbage leaf and even though it didn’t contain as much as soup as we would have liked, the flavour was good, and the pork filling was tasty as well. It was on the saltier side, and the wrapper wasn’t as thin and chewy as we would have liked, but we definitely thought it was great value for money. In addition, the staff there was amazingly friendly and chatty and welcomed our questions and picture taking.
One order has 8 XLBs ($46 HKD) and no service charge.
G/F, 30-32 O’Brien Road, Wan Chai
We’re traditionalists at heart when it comes to XLB (& dim sum for that matter too), but we know others like their fusion fare so we’ve got you peeps covered too.
At Dim Sum Library, their dim sum has a bit of Sichuan flare so their XLB are called “Dan dan” XLB and they arrive glowing orange as they use colour from carrots for the wrapper for a bit of a funky twist.
The meat was very tender and juicy though it was a tad gamey. There are whole Chinese peppercorns inside the filling so be careful not to bite into them or else you will have a temporary numb tongue. Sichuan lovers may have to give this one a try! The décor and ambience is stunning as well.
One order has 3 XLBs ($42) & 10% service charge.
Shop 124, 1/F, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty
Never having seen this one on any XLB list, we decided to take the liberty of adding Wing Lai Yuen onto our list. While we do come to Wing Lai Yuen mostly for their dan dan noodles, we do also always order their XLBs as well as the perfect accompaniment to our noodles. Their XLBs are well-rounded as all the important aspects of a good XLB – the soup, meat and wrapper – is executed well and their quality is always consistent. They always come out piping hot as well. Delightful!
One order has 4 XLBs (price, tea charge & service charge, if any, info unavailable).
Shop 102-103&105, Site 8, Wonderful Worlds Of Whampoa, 7 Tak On Street, Hung Hum, Hong Kong, Hung Hom
While we do tend to favour and like local hole-in-the-wall shops (which we did try numerous places of; however, it just didn’t make the cut for us), we also understand that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. Sometimes, there are those occasions where you do want to sit longer than 5 minutes before being rushed to pay so they can fill your seat. Modern, yet retro Old Hong Kong-esque, Evelyn’s Garden is ornately decorated, spacious and perfect for a gathering or event. And their XLBs are awesome as wel!
The meat was extremely tender, plump and juicy whilst the dough was thin and chewy. We did; however, find that the soup in the XLB was of the sweeter variety and we are very much more inclined to the more savoury broth variety for our XLBs.
One order has 3 XLBs ($43 HKD) & 10% service charge.
4/F & 5/F, Kwan Chart Tower, 6 Tonnochy Road, Wan Chai
The Dark Side One: Cheung Lung Restaurant (翔龍拉麵小籠包).
Whilst there are other restaurants on this list that are on the dark side, this way may seem more out of the way if you’re an Islander as it’s in Kwun Tong. Nestled in Kwun Tong are a plethora of office buildings so this restaurant is extremely busy during the weekday lunch rush.
We loved the fact that there was an area where we were able to watch the chefs prepare the XLBs and other dumplings fresh in front of our eyes. Similarly with the other restaurants, the XLB here had a thin wrapper that still held up after being plucked from the steamer to our spoons. The XLB did have less soup than we would have liked, but the flavor while flavourful was a tad salty. The meat was tender towards mushy so it was softer than some of the other XLBs we tried. All in all, a very decent XLB and great value for money!
For the truffle lovers out there, they also do truffle XLBs here.
One order has 4 XLBs ($38 HKD), $8 HKD tea charge, & 10% service charge.
XLBs are yummy, don’t get us wrong, but don’t forget to try out the famous Typhoon Shelter Crab (also known as chili crab) as well. That’s an iconic Hong Kong dish that you have to try if you’re in town. If you’re looking for the ultimate local experience, why not join Virginia’s “Eat Seafood on a Sampan Boat” dinner tour? You’ll get the unique experience of dining on fresh clams, razor clams, typhoon shelter crab, etc., on a traditional Sampan boat on the waters at the typhoon shelter. If that’s not authentic, we don’t know what is!
Virginia is a tour guide by day at Humid with a Chance of Fishballs Tours, creative blogger by night at The Smoo Diaries and avid traveller by weekend. Virginia is a proud Vancouverite now in Hong Kong exploring all corners of Asia. She’s currently discovering her Asian roots – one flight, one noodle and one Canto slang at a time. *slurp*