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Thursday, September 29, 2016

THE BEST SHANGHAI SOUP DUMPLINGS

A week ago I lunched at Mandalay on Shanghai Soup Dumplings and dried scallop soup.  Yesterday I found a closer and cheaper place to have these dumplings.

However, the first time I had xiaolongbao was in Shanghai at least three decades ago.  I don't even remember the hotel name and tourism to China was still an adventure.  So, anyway, I went into an adjacent restaurant and asked if there was something memorable worthy of my consideration.  Xiaolongbao, or Shanghai Soup Dumplings, were suggested.  I fell in love with them and will forever be addicted.

They are called xiaolongbao, because they are prepared in a small bamboo steaming basket, xialong in Chinese, with bao, or more correctly, baozi, the term for steamed bun.  This dish was invented in the Jiangnan region of China, of which Shanghai and Wuxi are two cities.  The Wuxi version is a bit sweeter.

Ironically, a restaurant chain from Taiwan is now the most famous for Shanghai Soup Dumplings (SSD).  You can find Din Tai Fung (DTF) also in China, Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Dubai and....the USA--several in the Los Angeles area and one in Seattle.

Yang Bingyi, who escaped the Chinese civil war in 1948, found a job selling cooking oil in Taiwan.  In 1958 he opened his own oil store, but added dumplings and noodles in 1972.  The world of cooking oil changed (to cans), so in 1980 he focused on XLB.  You can still go to the original restaurant on Xinyi Road, Taipei.  

Forbes called SSD "the world's greatest dumplings," while Zagat has said "little morsels of Heaven."  The New York Times in 1993 named DTF one of the top ten restaurants in the world.  Two of them in Hong Kong now each has a Michelin star.  Paradise Dynasty (not a DTF) in Singapore is one of my favorites, for they serve the original (pork hash), plus garlic, ginseng, foie gras, black truffle, cheese, crab roe and Szechuan, each, of course, a different color.

Okay, so what about this best place for XLB/SSD in Honolulu?  An easy downhill walk for me to the Chinese Cultural Plaza is Fook Lam:



You will notice several things.  First, the leafy stuff below the six dumplings is Chinese cabbage or won bok (I SHOULD WARN YOU THAT MY COMPUTER HAS THIS TROUBLING TENDENCY TO CHANGE MY SPELLING, SOMETIMES OVERNIGHT, THUS BOK KEEPS BECOMING BON).  Secondly, that sauce is Zhenjiang vinegar with ginger slivers.  I should add that these are soup dumplings because the pork hash is swimming in soup inside the thin skin.  If prepared well, you must be very careful, for the soup is very hot.  That Rolling Rock can of beer cost all of $1 at a shop in the adjacent mall. Fook Lam is a bring your own bottle place.  The tea is free.  The whole meal above cost me around $10.  If you never have tried Shanghai Soup Dumplings, I can highly recommend Fook Lam (Chinese Cultural Plaza at top left next to Nuuanu Stream and River Street).

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Tropical Storm Chaba will soon strengthen into a Category 3 typhoon.  All models show the eye of Chaba still over Naha, then a path towards the western side of Japan:


In the Atlantic, Hurricane Matthew at 75 MPH will soon weaken, then again become a hurricane, possibly into a Category 2 after a turn to the north.  Landfall can be predicted for Cuba, with a path along the Eastern Seaboard.

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