(Grace, at Shanghai Café, serving some of the 1000 dumplings the restaurant serves every day)
I’m always on the prowl for good xiaolongbao (pronounced shou long bou) dumplings. Xiaolongbao are commonly referred to as Soup Dumplings in the West because in addition to a meat filling, they’re full of a flavorful soup broth. You can find Soup Dumplings at a lot of Chinese restaurants, but unfortunately the real thing is hard to find outside of China, specifically Shanghai where they are originally from. I’ve eaten at dozens of restaurants across Chinatown New York and Flushing, Queens (an area in Queens that feels like a city fresh off the boat from China) and I’ve only found one place that has Soup Dumplings that I truly crave: Shanghai Café in Chinatown. I highly recommend the crab and pork Soup Dumplings.
What makes a good Soup Dumpling? I would gander that it has to do with the thickness of the dumpling skin and the “soup” inside. At the Shanghai Café, the skin is so thin that it’s almost translucent and there is so much soup inside each dumpling, that it’s best to eat them with a spoon so as not to lose the soup. I went there yesterday on the impulse of a craving and while I was waiting for my dumplings, I spoke with Grace, a waitress who has worked at the Shanghai Café at least as long as the six years that I’ve been going there. She was only too happy to talk about why their dumplings are the best in Chinatown. “The dumplings are the best because we only use fresh ingredients,” she told me. “If you come in late in the day maybe there are no more because we run out of the fresh pork and crab meat.” She said that dumplings are by far their most popular dish with well over 1000 dumplings prepared and sold each day in their cozy-sized restaurant.
Grace then pointed directly at two unsuspecting customers and told me what I already knew: Shanghai Café is a great deal. She said, “see those two college students over there? They just ordered two trays of xiaolongbao, two beers, and green beans and it’s only costing them $12! This is not possible at other places in New York.”