One of my favorite dumplings of all time is what is commonly known as the little soup dumpling, or xiaolongbao.
As a child abroad, I enjoyed the times when my mother would steam some of these frozen goodies bought from the freezer section of the local Chinese grocery. She always told us to be very careful while eating these little parcels as they were filled with hot soup and could easily scald us. We tried to listen, but they were so tempting, we often did just what she told us not to.
Xiaolongbao is usually filled with minced pork and a pork broth. It's always a test of our chopstick skills: Pick up a dumpling, dip it in the dark vinegar with ginger slivers, and get it to our mouths without breaking the thin wrapper.
We often wondered how they managed to wrap soup in the dumpling. I thought they froze the broth and added it. It seems I was not too far off. The soupy filling for the dumplings is made by adding a gelling agent to the broth. When it had turned to jelly, it would be cut up in cubes and mixed into the mince and seasoning.
When the dumpling is steamed, the heat turns the jelly back into soup.
In my years in Hong Kong I have tried many soup dumplings and compared notes with friends on where the "best" ones are.
One of my favorites was in a basement restaurant near tin Hau subway station. Unfortunately, as with many small independent restaurants, it did not survive the high rents and running costs.
For consistently good xiaolongbao, the Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung is the place to visit. Originally from Taiwan, the chain has two outlets in Hong Kong, one in Tsim Sha Tsui and one in Causeway Bay.
There is an open kitchen area near the entrance where you can watch the cooks rolling and wrapping the dumplings. They are incredibly fast and the dumplings are always perfectly formed.
Another Michelin bib gourmand restaurant chain is Crystal Jade. The brand is Hong Kong-owned but now Singapore-based, with three branches listed in the 2011 Michelin guide, and numerous outlets throughout Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the New Territories.
Their xiaolongbao is worth the effort of getting out of bed on Sunday and they never disappoint. Long before the Michelin guide, you had to wait patiently in the queue for your chance to try their dumplings .