After our trip to Beijing's Forbidden City last Friday, my friend Liang took me out for soup dumplings in Beijing. The restaurant was glitzy, on the top floor of a fashionable atrium style mall that sold very high end consumer goods like Coach handbags, diamonds, Brooks Brothers, perfume stores, and all sorts of gear for the disposable income set.
A bamboo steamer with Shanghai hairy crab soup dumplings (Xiaolongbao)
The dumplings, or, Xiaolongbao, are traditionally filled with pork, but variations include other meats, seafood and vegetarian fillings. The soup-filled kind are created by wrapping solid meat aspic inside the skin alongside the meat filling. Heat from steaming then melts the gelatin-gelled aspic into soup. They are just amazing. We had a great lunch of a little bit of grilled pork, a plate of sauteed spinach, some soup, and three varieties of Xiaolongbao: vegetable, pork, and Shanghai Hairy Crab a/k/a mittens crab. They're not actually hairy, but like our local Dungeness crabs, their claws look hairy. The hairy crab is actually a freshwater crab that only goes into saltwater to breed and later to fetch their young uns. Soup dumplings have recently become a very hot item in the Seattle area, with a couple of restaurants serving them and people waiting on line for two hours to get in. . .
I think I can reverse engineer these fairly easily. I think the main trick will be in sealing the dumplings, which are not dropped into boiling water, but steamed in bamboo steamers. Making the aspic will probably be the only big P.I.T.A.