May 8, 2015
Take a Bow: Modern Shanghai’s Xiao Long Bao!
MANILA, Philippines - Hi, there! I’m at Modern Shanghai — and about to savor more than a slice of Shanghai history. From “the showpiece of China” comes this piece de resistance: xiao long bao (steamed soup dumplings). For Modern Shanghai’s award-winning xiao long bao (it was recently named No. 1 in the local dining scene by spot.ph), it takes a bit of ceremony to enjoy it.
The xiao long bao craze began in Manila a few years ago, and for first-time eaters here are the hard-and-fast rules on the proper way of eating your xiao long bao:
Gently lift the xiao long bao from the basket to your spoon, placing extra care not to break its skin (lest you spoil the fun and spill the hot soup all over yourself).
Bite off a portion of the xiao long bao skin from the side to allow cooling of the soup broth and pork filling, then sip the soup broth.
Complement with ginger slices and (Zhenjiang) vinegar, and enjoy!
Spot.ph described Modern Shanghai’s xiao long bao as “amazingly fresh, it’s soft and velvety … cushioned inside a creamy envelope of rice dough that adds a chewy bite to all the silkiness.”
Paul Kwok, the franchise’s president and former chef who mastered elegant French cooking, says, “Delicate craftsmanship goes into each piece to ensure that customers always get the pleasant surprise of a hot soup infused inside the flour dough pouch with every bite.”
So, what goes into a xiao long bao?
A lot! The filling is made of three cuts of pork: It’s got pork leg meat, pork collar, and pork fat, to give it that outstanding flavor. The dumplings are then wrapped in freshly made flour dough and steamed to perfection so that you can eat a dumpling whole without (heaven forbid!) burning your tongue and simply enjoying the warm, tasty broth inside.
If you want it with a bit of a crunch (why not?), you can have it pan-fried style, which is just as delicious especially when dipped in Modern Shanghai’s special vinegar sauce (a secret recipe that executive chef Ben Leung guards with his life) with slivers of ginger.
A bit of trivia: Xiao long bao is some kind of street food in Shanghai and every restaurant in Shanghai serves this.
“The quality of the xiao long bao at Modern Shanghai is better than the ones served in Hong Kong,” asserts Paul with a hint of pride. “The minced meat is mixed with the broth and cooked for two hours. The dough is rolled into thin sheets and the pork is put in the middle. Folded and sealed by hand, it’s truly a work of art.”
So, what can I say about the xiao long bao at Modern Shanghai? I’m speechless!
Having recovered my speech, I gingerly browse the menu for more of Modern Shanghai’s dishes that are bound to win over your taste buds. A signature dish to start the new year off on the right foot is the Braised Lucky Pork Knuckle (slowly braised in brown sauce with baby pakchoy veggie).
Brown sauce? Yes, in fact, says Kwok, Shanghainese cooking is very saucy — more saucy than Canton cooking. “The Shanghainese, especially those living inland, use a lot of sauce in their noodles, pork knuckles, and basically a lot of dishes. But their sauce is sweeter because they add sugar to it. They don’t have so much vegetable in winter because of the cold so they just add sauces to their food. They also eat more carbs (noodles and buns).”
What else goes into Shanghainese cooking?
A lot of skill! Let chef Ben show you: He blindfolds himself to show how good his skill is in cutting up tofu as thin as hair. It’s no surprise to find out that he comes from Yang-Chow, which is famous for its skilled butchers.