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What Is Inside Soup Dumplings? A Look at the Fillings

What Is Inside Soup Dumplings? A Look at the Fillings

March 6 2024

In our totally objective and not even remotely biased opinions, soup dumplings, or Xiao Long Bao (小笼包) are the single best dish to come out of Shanghai since someone figured out how to put scallions inside a savory pancake. 

However, finding out what is inside soup dumplings can seem like a bit of a mystery at first glance. Let’s explore what goes into these perfect bites of deliciousness and what makes them unlike any other dumpling you’ve had before.

Typical Soup Dumpling Ingredients

What’s in a soup dumpling? That which we call a dumpling by any other name would taste just as umami—okay, we’re done ruining Shakespeare. These are some of the classic ingredients you can expect to find in a typical Xiao Long Bao that make them unlike any other dumpling in the world.

The Meaty, Umami Center

The most common types of meat that go into Xiao Long Bao are ground pork and chicken, with shrimp serving as a common supplemental filling for that more oceanic flavor that some people love. However, just like a concert with an exceptionally talented performer like Beyoncé or Taylor Swift, soup dumplings are nothing without a few harmonizing voices to make for a rounded flavor experience.

Common additional ingredients to round out the flavor include ginger, garlic, chives, green onion, shiitake mushrooms, white pepper, and other elements that make for an umami symphony unlike anything you’ll ever taste.

The Soup (and Its Secrets)

If we had a dollar for every time someone asked us if we injected soup into the dumplings, we’d have at least a few dollars to spare—which isn’t all that much, but it keeps happening and we want to set the record straight. However, it is a fair question, especially if you’re not familiar with the science behind how making the soup works.

The secret to the science is a collagen-rich, bone-based broth that has enough gelatin to turn from liquid to solid once it’s given time to cool. Think of it as a type of aspic or “Jell-O” that we cut up and mix into the meat filling.

Then, once it’s time to steam the soup dumplings, the aspic melts back into the umami broth we all know and love. It carries the same explosion of flavors you can find in the meat alongside it, but turns it into an experience that will have you coming back for one (or 10) more.

Slightly Less Typical Soup Dumpling Ingredients

Beef

This isn’t typically a common ingredient in soup dumplings. However, we’re big fans of innovation and collaboration when it makes sense, so we love a good pho-inspired beef or Taiwanese braised beef soup dumpling. That’s why we’ve teamed up with some of our friends and neighbors in Seattle to create a soup dumpling inspired by the signature dish at Phở Bắc. Beef soup dumplings perfectly capture the comfort of a steaming-hot bowl of pho on a rainy winter day, complete with the aromatic flavors of onions and cilantro.

However, there are other beef-based dumplings we find inspiring. The Georgian khinkali is a close cousin to the classic XLB that often features beef as the star filling ingredient. Buuz from Mongolia have a similar shape, albeit with mutton as a common alternative. There are plenty of similar options around the world, but these three are the ones that are most often juicy enough to warrant the use of a spoon.

Crab

If you’ve ever experienced Din Tai Fung, either in person or through the thousands of influencers who have been there to taste their soup dumplings, you know what we’re talking about. Crab has a distinctively sweet and savory flavor, making it a perfect addition to the standard soup dumpling filling while adding a more luxurious twist to the classic.

However, crab meat is seldom the sole star of the show in a soup dumpling, and we can understand why. Unlike pork, it doesn’t have a ton of fat or collagen to hold the filling together and add the all-important broth, so a lot of high-end dumpling and dim sum shops will pair the two together so the crab has something to back it up.

In fact, we included the succulent taste of crab in a limited-time offer a few years back. This was part of our innovation process even then, and we’re always looking for new ways to incorporate our favorite crustacean into the mix.

Corn Soup

We redefined what an XLB is with this one when we came up with our limited-edition creamy corn soup-filled dumplings back in 2023. Although they didn’t have a meatball like our typical Xiao Long Bao, we filled them with creamy, chicken-filled corn soup instead. 

It was a creamy, sweet, savory homage to one of the classic dishes you’ll find in Hong Kong, and it inspired us to keep experimenting. However, as you’ve likely seen, that was just our starting point.

What We Want for Soup Dumpling Fillings

Plant-Based Options

We’re just about to crack the code on this one. Because we’d love for our plant-based friends to enjoy the umami explosion that is a soup dumpling, developing a vegan-friendly option has been a priority for the experts in our test kitchen.

Soon, we’ll be part of cracking the code on a plant-based soup dumpling like we have with Impossible Meat™ in our Chinese noodle dishes. That way, we can get our vegetarian and vegan friends in on the fun with our late-night XLB-making sessions.

More Southeast and East Asian-Inspired Flavors

Similar to our collaboration with Phở Bắc, we’d love to collaborate with other brands and creative chefs to develop a soup dumpling that takes inspiration from Korean kimchi jjigae, Filipino sinigang, and other signature dishes from our friends and neighbors all around the West Coast and beyond. 

More Seafood

We already love the bit of luxury that comes with tasting a crab and pork soup dumpling, but we’d love to find a way to take that seafood flavor even further. A lobster-based soup dumpling could be an interesting spin on the classic—plus it would give our pescatarian friends an opportunity to get in on the action.

Taste the Umami Explosion for Yourself

Looking to get up close and personal with our soup dumplings to taste what’s inside? Order your favorite filling today and get ready for your freezer to never be the same again.

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