Xiao Long Bao

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Xiao Long Bao

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Shanghai-style soup dumplings are hugely popular in South East Asia, and a delicious snack at any point during the day. Bao means ‘bun’, the xiaolong is the bamboo basket in which they are usually steamed, and the tasty morsels are served with a dipping sauce of vinegar, soy and shredded ginger. Once you start to eat, it swiftly becomes clear why – instead of the usual 3 or 4 in a traditional dim sum basket – these dumplings come in multiples of 6, 8 or more.

The secret ingredient is the soup, which starts off as a gelatinous aspic added to the filling before the dumpling skin is drawn up and pleated round the top. As the bao steam, the aspic melts, and the delicious broth which results makes each mouthful a riot of different textures and sensations.

You can get all sorts of variations on the traditional minced pork filling, but one local restaurant in particular has produced a colourful and exotic selection which puts the rest in the shade.

Paradise Dynasty, at Vivo City in Singapore and numerous other locations around the region, offers 7 wildly unusual flavours in colour coded skins. You can order a basket of just the one type, or a special ‘tasting basket’ with all of them to sample at one go. Helpfully, this comes with instructions on how best to eat the bao, and in which order to try them (see below).

Having spent my time to date popping them into my mouth whole and risking a burned tongue on the broth, I now know I should nibble a piece of the skin away first, then sip the broth before eating the rest of the dumpling. I will say that a small hole in the side of the bao lets you add more of the wonderfully zingy dipping sauce, which is definitely a good thing!

The dumpling selection was a bit of a challenge, although certainly amusing. Together with daughter #2, I worked my way up from the original, through ginseng, foie gras, black truffle, cheese, crab roe and garlic to the final – spicy – Szechuan. We each had a basket to ourselves, and made sure neither of us skipped any of the weirder flavours, but in the end, decided we really liked the traditional style the best. Nothing would persuade me to try the cheesy one again, the garlic, ginseng and truffle needed a lot more taste, but I was surprised how well the crab roe, Szechuan and foie gras dumplings worked. This was great fun and a nice treat on the way to the cinema next door.

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