The Best Soup Dumplings in Taipei
January 1, 1970
by Michelle Chen
I lived in Taipei, Taiwan for 6 years and over the years I gained 10 pounds, because Taiwan is known for is good food. I also had a lot of friends come visit. So much so that my two sisters, my flatmate and I have developed an unofficial list of the things that you must do in Taipei, most of it is food, and we hand these information down freely to all our friends and acquaintances who ask us for advice.
So the first item on the list and the topic of this post is xiao long bao or soup dumplings.
Think of it as a normal dumpling, but when you bite into it, soup flows out. One of my friends taught us a technique to eating xiao long bao. First you dip it into some soy sauce with ginger and vinegar. You don’t put the whole thing in your mouth, because the soup inside is pretty hot. So you hold it with your chopsticks with one hand, and cup it with a soup spoon on the other hand. Then you take a tiny bite to let the soup flows out a little bit onto your soup spoon and cool down. After that you can eat it in one or two bites.
There are two places that we think has really good xiao long bao, and like most good places in Taipei, you need to line up for them.
Din Tai Fung
It’s a Michelin Star restaurant and it’s pretty clear why.
There are a couple of branches of Din Tai Fung all over Taiwan and even in other countries; I have been to one in Shanghai.
The original one is in Yongkang Street. But as I mentioned, you need to really line up for it, so the branch that I bring my tourist friends to is the one in Taipei 101 Mall, because at least you just get a number and then can shop while you wait.
They anticipate tourists from all over the world and they have waitresses from different countries who speak different languages. If they see a Japanese guest, the Japanese waitress will serve them. It feels like something airlines like Emirates do. I think it’s these little details that really sets them apart.
In some of their restaurants, like the Taipei 101 one, you can even see they chefs making the xiao long bao with high precision.
Their food is at a middle to high price point, so you can just get their original xiao long bao. But if you want to splurge, you can get their truffle xiao long bao. We always order at least one of the truffle xiao long bao, because even if it’s pricey, it’s worth it. If you want to try something different, you can get their squash and shrimp xiao long bao. I’m allergic to shrimp, so I have to take the shrimp out and give it to my friends, but even without the shrimp, the xiao long bao itself is so flavorful that you don’t need to add any sauce on it.
Aside from xiao long bao, they also serve other food, the usual Chinese flair like noodles with peanut sauce, beef noodles and fried rice. They also serve dessert xiao long bao, which are filled with red bean or taro paste. I am a big fan of the taro one, because I love all things taro.
They also have this very cute mascot that is a must photo opportunity.
Hang Zhou Xiao Long Bao
We recommend most of our tourist friends to go to Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, because of it’s historical significance and looks pretty nice in photos.
Behind Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall is Hang Zhou Xiao Long Bao, which is more hole-in-the-wall compared to Din Tai Fung, with its open layout, low stools and wait staff that shouts to each other. Also since it’s not in a shopping mall, you need to wait outside on the sidewalk.
It’s at a lower price point, so we bring a lot of our tourists friends here. Yes, this is one of the places that we would personally accompany them to. We go to Hang Zhou Xiao Long Bao so much that there was one point that I got tired of it.
Since this a hole-in-the-wall type place, there are stations where you can get your own soy sauce , vinegar, ginger, and also your utensils yourself.
Similar to Din Tai Fung, you should order their original xiao long bao. I honestly can’t decide which is the best, because they are both so good. They also have dessert xiao long bao, one of those is shaped like a tiny pumpkin with taro filling. And since I love taro, I love it, also it’s very cute.
But this is one of those restaurants, where you come in for one thing, but stay for the rest.
One of the items I always order is radish cake. Chinese use the term cake quite loosely, so you might get thrown off. For one, it’s not sweet, and second it’s not made from flour, eggs and butter. In the case of the radish cake, it’s made from radish paste and steamed to form a shape, and then it is pan fried. Radish Cake is one of the breakfast staples in Taiwan. The one that most breakfast places sell are a bit on the dry side and tastes like it’s been made in a factory. But the one from Hang Zhou Xiao Long Bao is soft and creamy, and so good.
Another item is radish pastry puffs. Again, another food term that is used quite loosely, also not sweet. This one is a bit like a xiao long bao, it has filling, in this case, it’s shredded radish, and the covered with flaky puff pastry. It can be quite messy to eat though.
The next is a red bean pancake, and it’s not really what you’d think of when you think pancake. But at least this one is a dessert and it’s sweet. It’s more like a quesadilla. It’s flaky pastry filled with red bean paste and topped with sesame.
We Chinese, we eat everything. One of them is chicken feet, even though it may not look pretty or appetizing, it’s really, really good. It’s marinated and steamed, there isn’t really a delicate way of eating it.
The next two items are not in Taipei, but are definitely worth checking out as well.
Dimsum Icon in Hong Kong
When my sister and I were in Hong Kong, we came across Dimsum Icon. This restaurant is interesting, because they change their theme every so often. There was a time when it was Gudetama themed, but when we visited it was Kobito. They would transform the entire restaurant- the wallpaper, the place mats and most importantly, the menu.
So they had dumplings and rice rolls with Kobito and his friends printed on. They were cute, but flavor wise, it was alright.
So if you are a fan of cute characters and you feel the need to eat them, check out what their current theme is and pay them a visit.
Crystal Jade in Shanghai
Crystal Jade, similar to Din Tai Fung, has branches all over the world and is also a Michelin star restaurant. The one I visited was in Shanghai. You can also expect great service, but what makes it stand out, at least for me, is their colorful xiao long bao.
They put unexpected flavors into the xiao long bao, like black truffle, foie gras and cheese. As I mentioned before, I am a fan of truffles, so I really enjoyed theirs as well; it was flavorful and it really packs a punch.
If you guys have any other recommendations, I’d love to hear it and pay a visit. If you guys try any of these restaurants, also let me know, I’d love to hear what you think.
Until next time.