The Soup Dumpling: Is there a Proper Way to Eat It?

Photo By Lauren Musni

The honorary soup dumpling; a squishy little bun filled with the meaty flavor we all crave with its savory filling and broth. However, I realized that not many people had expanded their palates to try the soup dumpling over the past few years. Whenever I ask my friends to go out and eat some, nine out of ten times, they have no idea what I’m talking about, and I have to explain what it is. Then when these little beauties are in front of them, they look at it with the most puzzled look — unsure of how to eat it or pick it up.

And in all honesty, I even question if I’m eating it the right way sometimes.

So, what is the soup dumpling?

The soup dumpling originates from China and is also referred to as the xiao long bao (xiao-long-bao), which is translated to “small basket buns,” because of the bamboo basket they are cooked in, according to Thrillist.  Unlike the traditional dumpling that has that solid meat filling, these dumplings have both the flavorful filling and rich broth, adding warmth with every bite or slurp you take. You can find these on almost all Chinese dim sum menus varying from pork, crabmeat, or vegetarian.

How are these made?

A lot of people wonder: how exactly does the soup get inside the dumpling? Usually, the broth is made beforehand with gelatin — this is the key ingredient in getting the soup inside the dumpling. The broth is then poured out onto a sheet pan and then chilled in the refrigerator for a long period of time until it solidifies into a jelly-like consistency. Afterward, it is cut into small individual squares before being stuffed inside the soft, plushy dough.

When assembling the actual dumpling, you have to make sure the dough is flattened to the right thickness and length, so all of the goodies are secured and stay in place. Use the palm of your hand and place the filling in the dough’s center, then place the broth square on the top. Cup your hand, use your other hand to grab all sides of the dough, and bring it to the top. Twist and secure to make sure nothing, ESPECIALLY THE SOUP, falls or leaks out.

When steaming the dumplings, the broth jelly will melt, turning back into soup!

How do I even pick them up?

These dumplings are extremely delicate, so the slightest movement can break them and cause that umami soup to end up everywhere. You can pick them up two ways, but you still have to be cautious either way.

One way is to use a spoon to pick them up. Make sure to have your spoon at a certain angle as if you’re trying to shovel the dumpling out of the basket. This isn’t my favorite method because you really have to make sure the spoon is at the surface underneath the dumpling. Remember: the dough is pretty thin and most of the juices are at the bottom. You won’t really know if you got to the bottom until you pick it up and see whether or not your dumpling is in one piece. By that time, it could be too late!

Another way, which is the way I use, is to use chopsticks and grip the top. Then gently lift the dumpling from the basket. This has given me fewer soup leaking incidents, and I feel it’s easier to transfer it straight to your soup spoon for consumption.

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How do I eat them?

Alright, now time for the fun part. How in the world do you eat these? After researching all of the different ways of eating these and observing how my friends and I eat them, I realized: there is no proper way to eat them. It really is based on personal preference.

I would not recommend eating these whole because the soup inside is piping hot. So, if you don’t want to leave a third-degree burn on your tongue, here are a few tips:

  • Give it a few minutes to cool down: these dumplings are cooked to order so they will be steaming when it gets to your table. Please wait a little bit by letting your phone eat first: take a picture or post an Instagram story of them!
  • Slurp the soup first: once the dumpling is on your spoon, you can use the chopsticks to make a little hole. Using the chopsticks again, lift the dumpling and watch the broth slowly drip on the spoon. Slurp the broth slowly to truly appreciate and savor the warmth and umami. 
  • Eat the rest of the dumpling with the dipping sauce: No, it isn’t just soy sauce. The sauce that restaurants suggest you have with the dumpling is a mixture of black vinegar, a touch of soy sauce, and ginger. You don’t have to use it, but this sauce blends well with the dumpling by enhancing its flavors instead of overpowering it. Notice I used the word enhance as the dumpling is already flavorful enough on its own. Please don’t put the sauce directly inside the dumpling but instead, put a little bit on the spoon and then put the dumpling on top before putting it in your mouth.

Soup dumplings are the perfect little treat for cold winters, rainy days, or just eating them with friends and family any time. Now you have all the information you need to successfully enjoy these hot little gems without burning your mouth.