Saturday, October 16, 2010

What Happened To The Xiao Long Bau?

Paradise Dynasty's multi-colored, multi-flavored Xiao Long Bao
The flavors (from left): Original, Ginseng, Foie Gras, Black Truffle, Cheesy,Crab Roe,Garlic and Szechuan.
Xiao Long Bao or steamed soup dumplings are a favorite not only among Chinese all over the world, but with Westerners as well. Said to have its origin in Shanghai, it was more recently 'discovered' by the West than the Siew Mai and Har Gau of Cantonese dim sum, and today no self-respecting Chinese restaurant from London to San Francisco would be without xiao long bao on their menu.
Xiao Long Bao's novelty lies in the liquid [soup] that it is held inside the skin. Thus, eating a xiao long bao becomes a delightful experience as your teeth sinks into the meat-filled dumpling and hot soup mixed with meat gushes into your mouth. The secret of putting the soup inside the dumpling is to fill it with meat that is in aspic [gel] and as the dumpling is steamed, the apsic melts and voila! you have filled the dumpling with soup The origin of the xiao long bao name is rather mundane. These dumplings are served in small bamboo baskets and xiao long merely means small basket, whereas bao is a dumpling. Time and again, some restless cooking soul will attempt to modify classic time-tested dishes, and that's what has happened to the humble xiao long bao. Just as the
Indian plain fried pancake bread roti prata [also known as roti Chennai in Malaysia] was mutated into exotic versions that contained cheese, bananas, tuna, and even banana, we now have fancy xiao long bao with exotic fillings that cost S$1.75 per dumpling when I can eat xiao long bao in the backstreets of Singapore's Geylang district for 60 cents each. Paradise Dynasty, an upstart restaurant with its location in the upscale Ion Orchard mall, has invented the multi-colored multi-flavored xiao long bao. The photos above show the colors and flavors of a set of eight (lucky number). The dish even comes with a set of instructions and personal advice from the server, not to dip the dumplings into the traditional black vinegar and ginger that this dish is usally eaten with. The instructions on "How to enjoy the Signature Dynasty Xiao Long Bao" says: "to ensure the optimum tasting of these 8 distinct flavors, start from the original flavor and in the following sequence ending with the Szechuan xiao long bao". How impressive! I did not follow the sequence as by the time I read the instructions, I had already eaten two of them (the Ginseng and Crab Roe). Was I able to distinguish the flavor of each dumpling? I can say that while the Szechuan, the Garlic, the Ginseng and the Cheesy were distinctive in their flavors, the rest, including the expensive sounding Truffle did not make much of an impact. Is it a heresy to mutate the xiao long bao, just as the Chinese mutated the common Carp into horrific Lionhead and Bubble-Eye Goldfish, and created the Pekinese dog which could never have survived except as a toy dog? My feeling is that multi-colored, multi-flavored xiao long bao are just a fad and soon we will all revert to craving for the original xiao long bao. At any rate, at S$13.80 for eight small dumplings that leave you hungry, I don't think I will order this dish again

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