How to Find the Best Soup Dumplings Near You
It’s becoming easier than ever to find Xiao Long Bao at restaurants and grocery stores across the country. However, finding the best soup dumplings can be trial and error. Luckily, this guide serves as a blueprint for what to look for, both in the soup dumplings themselves and the places selling them.
What to Look for in a Good Soup Dumpling
At MìLà, it’s safe to say that we’ve probably eaten thousands of soup dumplings in our lifetimes. We’ve tasted some that were like a full meal in a few bites, and we’ve had some that made us sad because the bottom of the dumpling tore off while it was still frozen, guaranteeing that particular dumpling would be a dud.
These are the three criteria to keep in mind when you’re looking for good authentic soup dumplings.
1. Thin Dumpling Wrappers
If we wanted a thick wrapper, we’d be writing about baozi instead. Soup dumpling wrappers should ideally be paper-thin, but still able to maintain their structural integrity once the dumplings are ready to eat.
If the wrapper is thick enough to remind you of your first attempt at making dumplings on your own, you might want to look for a different soup dumpling. It should be easy to bite into or puncture with a chopstick and let the soup come flowing out into a spoon.
At the same time, it shouldn’t be gummy or doughy—it should almost be a melt-in-your-mouth texture that you don’t notice on its own.
2. Good-Quality Filling
This is a difference you’ll be able to taste. Once you’ve gotten to the point where you can take a bite out of the soup dumpling, it should have a clean, meaty taste that pairs well with the broth. If you take a bite and the meat starts crumbling faster than your first sand castle when you went to the beach as a kid, that’s not usually a good sign.
There also shouldn’t be a huge amount of fillers. After all, most people don’t want a mouthful of just cabbage or scallions when they’re biting into a soup dumpling. Some vegetables are fine, but they’re the backup singers compared to the meat that should be taking center stage.
Unlike some other soup dumplings, our classic Xiao Long Bao don’t use cabbage. While we include scallions and shiitake mushrooms in the mix to enhance the umami flavor, we always feature meat as the first ingredient, no matter which flavor you’re enjoying.
3. A LOT of Broth
There’s a balancing act at play here.
A dry soup dumpling is a sad soup dumpling—and we’ve had plenty of sad soup dumplings over the years. Instead, there should be enough broth inside each one to fill up a soup spoon with ease.
On the other hand, a soup dumpling with too much broth comes with its own set of drawbacks. This is usually a byproduct of putting too much gelatin into the mix before cooking, but it can mean the soup overflowing and ending up on your plate or bowl. Even more, it also often means the meatball filling inside the soup dumpling is smaller since more of the space inside was taken up by the gelatinized broth.
The broth should also be fragrant and savory, making for a bomb of umami flavor as soon it comes flowing out. This will enhance the natural flavor of the whole dumpling and complement the meat surrounding it.
Where to Find the Best Soup Dumplings
Now that you know exactly what to look for, it’s time to hit the streets (or the internet)! These are some of your best options when you’re searching for where to get soup dumplings in your area.
Option 1: Find a Restaurant Specializing in Dumplings/Dim Sum
For this option, you’ll need to look beyond that Cantonese-inspired restaurant that you order from when your Thanksgiving dinner plans fall through. Instead, look for a dedicated dumpling restaurant.
In many cases, these restaurants will have soup dumplings as one of the flagship items on their menu. They’re usually available alongside more classic potsticker-style dumplings with meat or vegetables in the center.
Most of these dumpling shops are the classic, mom-and-pop businesses that focus on what they do best. However, depending on where you live, you can find larger international chains like Din Tai Fung that have multiple gourmet filling options.
Even though Xiao Long Bao aren’t usually considered a type of dim sum, they are also a common sight on the menu at your typical dim sum restaurant. This way, you’ll be able to get your soup dumpling fix while also enjoying other classic plates like baozi, rice noodle rolls, and egg custard tarts.
Option 2: Find a Chinese Grocery Store
If you live near even a modestly sized metropolitan area, you likely have a Chinese grocery store near you. It might be either part of a larger regional or national chain, or it could be a small mom-and-pop place serving the local community.
In either case, these specialty grocery stores have a lot of ingredients you won’t easily find in a Western-style supermarket, including frozen soup dumplings if they’re large enough to have a freezer section. You’ll typically find them in the same part of the freezer where you’ll find frozen jiaozi, baozi, and other staples for when you just don’t feel like cooking a full meal from scratch.
However, there’s one important thing to remember about using this option: The options your local Chinese grocery store has available can be somewhat limited. They often have to cap their availability based on what their customers have been willing to pay. In many cases, that leads to either subpar frozen soup dumpling options—or no availability at all.
Option 3: Buy Frozen Soup Dumplings Online
For those of us who don’t live near a city with a dedicated dumpling restaurant or a Chinese grocery store, this is our best bet. Mail-order soup dumplings are easier to find than ever, and they often have the same (or better) quality as you might find in a restaurant.
Frozen soup dumpling makers have mastered the art of keeping your products frozen until they arrive at your door. For example, we use dry ice and insulated liners to keep your soup dumplings frozen in transit. This is part of our “Melt-Free Guarantee.” If there’s a delay in transit that causes your soup dumplings to melt, we’ll ship your order to you again to make things right.
The best frozen soup dumplings you’ll find online also come with multiple flavor options, including pork, chicken, and blends of pork and shrimp. No matter which flavor you choose though, they’ll all have a juicy, meaty center and a rich broth that leaves you feeling satisfied, whether you’re making a batch for dinner or have a bunch of friends over for a late-night snack session.