The Tastiest Baos in Shanghai

August 29, 2017

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Zun Ke Lai. Image courtesy of the venue.

Welcome to Shanghai, home of delicious dumplings of all types. Xiaolongbao (小笼包) are thin-skinned, steamed dumplings filled with meat — most often pork — and brothy, flavorful soup that, for those who aren’t practiced, will end up being a delicious mess if you’re not careful to use the Chinese spoon in concert with the chopsticks. Shengjianbao (生煎包), on the other hand, are the pillowy, crispy-on-the-bottom cousins of xiaolongbao, are also filled with broth, but are thick and greasy in the most indulgent way.

Shengjianbao. Image by Kanegen.

In a clean and semi-air-conditioned space, Xiao Yang’s Shengjian slings plastic plates (or Styrofoam takeaway containers) of shengjianbao. You can order the original pork or the shrimp, with regular or black sesame seeds. They come four to an order — more than enough for one person who also plans to eat xiaolongbao across the street — so if you decide to swing by here, bring a big appetite.

Directly across the street, taunting you as you resist shoveling in your second shengjianbao, is Jia Jia Tang Bao, which will almost certainly have a queue. The menu of xiaolongbao is in Mandarin only and it’s a little grubby in there, but don’t let that deter you. The most popular fillings are pork, crab and a combination of the two; if you’re having trouble telling them apart, pork will be the least expensive and crab the most.

Xialongbao. Image by Wilson Hui.

On the other side of town at Fu Chun, it’s much the same: slightly sticky floor, menu in Chinese, queue out the door. Take a number, order when you’re called and then wait for stools to open up. You’ll make new friends sitting at the shared tables, and they’ll laugh good-naturedly at you as you try to eat your xiaolongbao without spraying soup everywhere (then they’ll hand you a napkin).

There’s no English sign at Zun Ke Lai, so look instead for the words “Honored Guest Coming”. The poster-size menu, all in Mandarin, looks intimidating, but just remember the word “xiaolongbao” and you’ll be fine. At six to a basket, they won’t leave you in a food coma, so order the crab and pork (their signature) and, if you’re still hungry, the plain pork, too.

About The HUNT Shanghai WriterSophie Friedman moved from New York to Shanghai with two suitcases, no plan and speaking not a word of Mandarin. Years later, she’s traversed Asia, learned to love squat toilets and has written extensively about her adopted city.

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