In Nanxiang, China over a century ago, legend says the soup dumpling made its humble entrance into the world. Next to a famous garden on the outskirts of Shanghai, a man started selling these precious soup-filled pouches in his shop. Called a "xiao long bao" (which literally translates to little steamer buns), this unique soup dumpling caught on and soon found its way to downtown Shanghai. In the past several decades, it has spread around the world.
This fervor reached Taiwan, which still houses my favorite soup dumpling place in the world. It also made its way to America (lucky for us!). And thankfully, finally, it came to the East coast. In the mid-nineties, the xiao long bao craze took off in New York, culminating in the opening of Joe's Shanghai in 1995.
This place quickly had a cult following, and it's easy to see why. Their soup dumplings are very authentic, filled with hot, satisfying soup housed in delicate, thin, yet chewy skins.
Bryan and I had a chance to visit this iconic establishment during our last trip to New York for a quick, Saturday lunch.
The original Joe's Shanghai is in Flushing (which, by the way, is an aboslute mecca for Taiwanese dining if you ever get a chance to go there!), but several more have opened up in places like Chinatown and Midtown. It's been said that the one in Chinatown is better than the one in Midtown. Though we would have loved to trek down to Chinatown, we were staying in Midtown and didn't have much time, so we walked the few convenient blocks to 56th street to try this outpost.
Crab and Pork Xiao Long Bao - $6.65
This is their most famous dish, and definitely the one that made them famous - a must-get if you come here. The dumplings are juicy and flavorful, and the skin is good. I still much prefer the xiao long baos at Din Tai Fung, but these are probably among the best dumplings you'll get in the East Coast. It definitely beats the soup dumplings in Boston.
Pork pan-fried dumplings. $4.65
These were solid, with a chewy skin and a flavorful filling. Not being a huge meat person, I couldn't help but wish there were more vegetables inside, sort of like my favorite dumplings at Din Tai Fung. Of course, that is a matter of personal preference. I also wished the skin was a bit thinner - again, a matter of personal preference.
Here's a closer view . . .
We asked the waiter if he had any suggestions for a noodle dish, and he suggested this pan-fried seafood noodle. I'd say pass on this and stick with the dumplings. It was alright, but probably similar to what I can get an a normal Chinese restaurant. I will say that the noodles were reasonably chewy, which is always nice.
Overall, the food was good, and this is definitely a solid and safe choice for excellent soup dumplings. After having tried (what I think is) the best dumpling in the world, it's hard not to be just a bit disappointed every time I try a soup dumpling elsewhere. I'm curious whether the one in Chinatown or Flushing is significantly better than this Midtown one. Anyone have thoughts on this? Please comment!
In any event, you should definitely come and try some soup dumplings, especially if you have never tried one before. Just be careful - the soup can be hot! Oh, and it's totally OK to slurp. 😉
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