10 (Tue) July 2012
at Crystal Jade Shanghai Delight (Hyundai Department Store)
Xiaolongbao is a type of Chinese dumpling. The name literally means "small (xiao) basket (long) package/bun (bao)." It falls in the category of baozi, buns characterized by leavened flour skins, often making them white and fluffy; the xiaolongbao skin is lightly leavened to rise just a bit during steaming so that the texture remains soft yet chewy (by contrast, jiaozi feature translucent and smooth skins). Traditionally filled with pork, what really sets xiaolongbao apart from other dumplings is that the stuffing includes a solid aspic/gelatin component that melts when steamed and leaves a small pool of broth sealed within the wrapper. The whole dumpling is placed in a deep spoon and punctured with a chopstick to drain the broth into the vessel, then sipped like a soup, followed by the rest. Shanghainese by origin.
Xiaolongbao is often found in Cantonese-style restaurants alongside dim sum (even though technically it isn't). On my trip to Hong Kong last December, I had xiaolongbao for lunch at the famous Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao (see 2.332 Sauteed Gailan with Ginger), a branch of the Singapore-based chain, an amazing experience that had left me looking forward to discussing the dish as the main dinner item in a post of its own. Crystal Jade currently has 4 locations in Korea: Crystal Jade Palace in the Grand Intercontinental Hotel, Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao in Myeong-Dong, Crystal Jade Kitchen in Paju, and Crystal Jade Shanghai Delight in the Apgujeong Hyundai Department Store (see website). For reasons of price and convenience, the latter seemed like the place to start.
The xiaolongbao was excellent. Although the skin didn't seem to provide the same luxurious resiliency that I remembered from Hong Kong, and the pork filling seemed a bit flat in flavor, though either could have been the result of inflated expectations and exaggerated memories, the broth was just as exquisitely rich and savory. Dominic was beside himself, both from the fun of the process and the way that it tasted. 9,000 won for 8 dumplings--not too bad, given the quality of the product.
On the other hand, the Beijing Duck Rice Plate was a total waste of time and money and calories and concern. For one thing, the serving of duck was pitifully small. Second, it was more bone than meat. And third, it appeared to have been frozen and rapidly thawed in a microwave, rendering it totally dry and tasteless. 14,000 won. Ridiculous. I should've complained, but we were enjoying the xiaolongbao so much that I didn't care.