“In every street, every laneway and every shopping centre you walk through, you can always find xiao long bao,” says Emily Liu. She's describing Shanghai, her hometown.
“The difference between the xiao long bao in Shanghai and other cities is that their skin is thinner, there’s more meat inside and they’re juicier and sweeter,” she adds. “The xiao long bao from Shanghai are number one compared to all others. People from Shanghai are very proud of them.”
Not only was Liu born and bred in Shanghai, her family owns two restaurants specialising in these famous soup dumplings – one of them has been open for more than a century.
Her great-grandfather was a chef at the palace and the emperor enlisted him to cook at the Chinese tax office. That’s where he perfected his xiao long bao technique, preparing them for employees. “He first had to work for the government, but after China modernised, he was allowed to open his own restaurant,” she explains.
The family now runs two Yulongfu restaurants in Shanghai and Wen Zhou. The name of the restaurant refers to how these dumplings bring happiness. Liu and her husband Yong are the first of the family to open a Yulongfu overseas, in Melbourne, as they want to bring some of that happiness to Australia.
Liu has been making dumplings using her family recipe since she was a child, but in her CBD restaurant, she prefers to work on the floor. It’s her husband Yong who folds the xiao long bao, and you can admire his work through a large window.
Making the dumplings takes a whole day. The process starts by making the gelatine, which is the secret to the distinctive soup. Pork skin and chicken feet are simmered in water, then the water is left to cool. Once the gelatine is set, it’s cut into small pieces. The filling is made with pork, which is minced fresh everyday. It’s seasoned with soy sauce, garlic, salt and coriander. Finally, the dumpling skins are simply made with flour and water.
The assembly is where it gets tricky. Yong first weighs the dough, which must be exactly nine grams, before using a dough stick to roll it into a wrapper. He then adds the pork filling and a piece of gelatine and starts folding.
They are folded 16 times. “It can’t be less or more,” says Liu. Yong makes it seems easy, but it takes years of practice to get to his level.
“He loves to make dumplings, he makes all of them. My husband’s xiao long bao are the most beautiful. He’s very picky, so he has to be proud of every single one he makes,” she says. “Every xiao long bao is a piece of art for him.”
At Yulongfu, the couple also serves truffle xiao long bao. You’ll recognise them by their black wrappers, coloured with active charcoal powder. The recipe is pretty much the same, with the addition of a drop of pungent black truffle oil in between the pork filling and the skin.
“In China, people love truffles. When you put pork and truffles together, they work together so well, it balances the yin and yang,” she explains.
"My husband’s xiao long bao are the most beautiful. He’s very picky, so he has to be proud of every single one he makes. Every xiao long bao is a piece of art for him.”
The truffle xiao long bao have proven popular in Melbourne as well, with some customers coming back every week to eat them.
If you’re a fan of the soupy xiao long bao, you’ll also want to try the restaurant's sheng jian bao, another specialty from Shanghai. These dumplings are also filled with pork and soup, but have thicker skin and are fried in a pan rather than steamed.
Xiao long bao
Start this recipe the day before.
- 225 g pork skin, cut into 2.5cm strips
- 5 chicken feet, skin only
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 cup plain flour
- 6 tbsp warm water
- 450 g pork mince from pork legs (preferably the 2 front legs)
- 4 tbsp salt
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 tsp light soy sauce
- 1 handful chopped coriander
- To make the gelatine, place the pork skin and chicken feet in a small pot.
- Cover meat with water and bring to boil. Immediately drain the meat and rinse in fresh water.
- Rinse pot and add ingredients back into pot. Cover with 4 cups of water with 2 tbsp salt.
- Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover with lid and simmer for 2 hours.
- After 2 hours, remove the pot from heat and allow the broth to cool.
- Strain liquid into a bowl. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate for 8 hours until set.
- To make the wrappers, add flour to a large mixing bowl and slowly add water – 1 tbsp of water at a time.
- Work and knead into a dough – this will take around 15-20 minutes.
- Once dough is soft and smooth, cover with a cloth and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
- Once the gelatine is ready, take 1 cup of gelatine and cut into 1.25cm pieces.
- To make the pork mince filling, place the pork mince in a bowl and crumble with a spoon or your hands.
- Once pork is smooth and paste-like, add the remaining ingredients for the filling.
- Mix thoroughly for 2 minutes to combine and create a light, airy and fluffy filling.
- Cover and transfer to refrigerator until you’re ready to make your dumplings. If you’re ready right away, transfer to the freezer for 15 mins until the filling is firm.
- To assemble the dumplings, dust a clean bench with plain flour and roll the dough into a long cylinder shape – about 2.5 cm in diameter.
- Cut dough into small equal pieces, so it resembles gnocchi.
- Roll each individual piece into a round disc – around 7.5 cm in diameter.
- Prepare your bamboo steamer – line with baking paper if needed.
- Take out the filling. In the middle of each rolled-out dumpling case, heap 1 tbsp of filling. Add one piece of gelatine in the centre of the filling.
- Seal your xiao long bao by pleating it – each dumpling usually has 18 pleats. Ensure the top is tight, but allow a tiny pinprick for perfect steaming.
- Place in bamboo steamer, with space between each dumpling. Do not overload the steamer.
- To steam the dumplings, place a large pot of water on high heat.
- Once boiling, place the steamer on top of boiling pot. Cover with steamer lid and steam on high heat for around 8 minutes. Remove from heat immediately and serve.
They say a sign of a good manti is how small they are and while these manti are bigger than the traditional dumplings, it’s my version and they’re delicious! I call this the minestrone of Korea. Sujebi is a comforting and wholesome soup, filled with potatoes and hand-torn dumplings, that’s perfect for cold weather. A Thai sweet made for special occasions and religious ceremonies, khanom tua paep can also be eaten for breakfast or as a morning snack. Pierogi are the most famous Polish dumplings. The filling combinations are endless and you can use any leftovers, too.
They say a sign of a good manti is how small they are and while these manti are bigger than the traditional dumplings, it’s my version and they’re delicious!
I call this the minestrone of Korea. Sujebi is a comforting and wholesome soup, filled with potatoes and hand-torn dumplings, that’s perfect for cold weather.
A Thai sweet made for special occasions and religious ceremonies, khanom tua paep can also be eaten for breakfast or as a morning snack.
Pierogi are the most famous Polish dumplings. The filling combinations are endless and you can use any leftovers, too.