Xiao Long Bao or Shanghai Dumplings are delicate little steamed dumplings with not only a lovely filling inside (pork, crab, vegetables etc) but also a light soup or broth. It’s therefore really important not to pierce or tear the skin of the dumpling with your chopsticks when transferring it from the bamboo steamer to your bowl, as the precious soup will spill out. The base of the dumpling may also stick to the steamer when you try to lift it up, unless you’re dining at Lung King Heen, where each dumpling sits on its own ‘basket’ (see above) or Din Tai Fung, where the steamer is lined with muslin.
So use your Chinese porcelain spoon together with the chopsticks. The spoon provides crucial support at all times. Lift the dumpling up carefully with the chopsticks, holding the spoon underneath. Dip it into the dish of shredded ginger and vinegar, then place the dumpling into the spoon. To make the most of the dipping sauce, if there isn’t already a small hole at the top of the dumpling, I sometimes use one of my chopsticks to make one, then with a teaspoon, spoon a little sauce over the dumpling (still in my spoon). What I want to avoid is leaving a mess in the dipping dish, particularly if it’s a shared one.
Then I eat the dumpling, using the chopsticks to lift it from the spoon to my mouth. This is much easier than holding the dumpling (it’s quite weighty and the skin tears so easily) with chopsticks and dipping it into the sauce, then transferring it into my mouth. Anything could happen during this process!
The filling and soupy sauce are both extremely hot, so be very careful when you take your first bite. I always find it hard to avoid a squirt of soup, even after so much practice, but it is a sign of a very good dumpling! You could eat the whole dumpling in one mouthful, in the sense that it’s small enough, but you could well burn yourself, and I wouldn’t do this. Poking a small hole near the top helps cool the dumpling down a little. There are plenty of different ways to eat xiao long bao, but this is my tried and tested way. With a bit of practice, you’ll look like an expert!