New York’s Chinatown has always been a treasure trove of exotic delights from sugar apples, rambutan, crocodile meat and ancient herbal cures. And yes, xiao long bao, or as we call it in English, soup dumplings.
Literally translated, xiao long bao means ‘little basket bun’ and not considered a dumpling by the Chinese for it is pinched at the top as opposed to dumplings, which are pinched along the semicircle. Mistranslated as it is, it has made its way from Shanghai’s province of Nanxiang into surrounding Asian nations and into the United States. They are made using partially raised flour that results in tender, almost translucent dough but one that won’t break while cooking, and traditionally pleated 18 times. The broth inside is produced by wrapping the filling with a gelatin based aspic or by grounding it into the filling. As the buns steam the aspic melts and the result is that lip smacking deliciousness that is the xiao long bao.
Joe’s Shanghai opened its first store back in 1995 in Flushing, New York. Since then they’ve opened 2 other locations, one in Chinatown and another in Midtown. They also have 3 stores in Japan where xiao long bao has a cult following of sorts. A visit to Joe’s during peak hours inevitably means a wait but turn over is fairly quick and a half hour wait is more than worth it for their xiao long bao. Since the serving portions are rather large it’s best to go with a group of 4 or more. Try both the pork and crab xiao long bao. To consume them minus the painful hot broth burn place a bun on a spoon, gently nibble off a piece of the dough to let the steam out, season with the vinegar sauce, and savor the bun together with the broth.
Aside from the xiao long bao the mix of Hunan and Szechuan dishes are delicious but none are particularly exceptional in comparison to other Chinese restaurants. The service is quick and practical. And don’t be surprised if you get seated with another party. If you can manage with the noise, the cramped space, and the wait staff that focus on efficiency rather than being helpful then this is the place to enjoy authentic xiao long bao from Shanghai.
9 Pell Street
(b/t Bowery & Doyers St.)
24 W 56 Street
(b/t 5th & 6th Avenues)
Report Card (out of 5 stars):
Ambience: 3 stars
Food: 4 stars
Service: 3 stars