Eating soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, at LJ Shanghai is an exercise in willpower. There’s a temptation to inhale the dough-wrapped broth and pork when the six little dumplings arrive in their steaming basket. Don’t — unless you want to know what licking the floor of hell feels like. “First time eating, people have no idea — really hot temperature,” says owner Edmond Tsui. “That’s why we have directions on the menu at the table, and the waitress is there to show the customer.” In case you’re one to jump in without reading directions, Tsui broke down how to eat these delicate pouches of joy. “This has been eaten for more than 1,000 years in my country,” says Tsui. “People love it. It’s the first dish to order when you get to Shanghai.”
Pour a little of the rice vinegar, which is cooked with ginger root and raw sugar, in a spoon. “The pork [filling] and the chicken broth are very rich,” says Tsui. “Without ginger and vinegar taste, it’s totally different.”
Carefully transfer the soup dumpling from steam basket into the spoon using chopsticks (or your fingers, Tsui says). “Put the dumpling right in the spoon with the rice vinegar,” he says. The house-made wrapping’s delicacy (and your chopstick skills) makes this the toughest part.
Bite or poke the shell, letting the soup trickle into the spoon and the inside cool. After a brief pause, slurp, eat and enjoy. “I drink the soup first, then pour a little more vinegar sauce on the meat and eat the dumpling,” he says. “Some people eat in one bite; some people eat in couple bites. No matter what, everybody loves it.”