It's Spring, and this old man's fancy turns to... xiaolong bao. I have no explanation for this phenomenon, other than the fact that I had my xiaolongbao epiphany in Shanghai in early April, 1992 and April is the time we most often go back to Shanghai. But here it is almost April, and I find myself craving XLB more than ever. Now, if I can only get them to serve it at Pac Bell Park...
In addition to chasing down restaurant xiaolong bao that I haven't tried before, I've also been rummaging through food market freezer cases looking for heretofore undiscovered specimens (freshly make XLB lends itself quite well to freezing). I've discovered two brands in the last couple of weeks to report on:
1) Prime Foods, made in Brooklyn(!), $3.19 for 20-21 per package at Wing Scene, Clay and Stockton Streets.
2) Nature's Scent ("Shanghai Gourmet Chef Series"), imported from Shanghai, $2.99 for 12 baozi at San Yang Market, Broadway between Stockton and Grant.
The Brooklyn-made brand contained pork and shrimp, and was the clear winner. Ironically, it was closer to "classic" Shanghai xiaolong bao than the Shanghai import, which more closely resembled New York "soup dumplings".
The Brooklyn XLB had just about the right firmness, texture and soupiness. It was a tad on the bland side, for my taste. My wife and stepdaughter found them tasty, but I thought I tasted too much lard in the wrapper.
The Shanghai import, even though steamed the recommended 10 minutes, turned out as flaccid as the soup dumplings at Joe's Shanghai in NYC. The baozi contained ample but watery soup. I had to resort to picking them up by the top-knot instead of by the base, so squishy were they. The filling, which include shrimp, crab, mushrooms and, oddly enough, water chestnuts, didn't taste as good as it sounded. Fortunately, I ate them accompanied by a bowl of my wife's excellent won tons.
In sum, neither brand came up to the "live" xiaolong bao experience that can be had at a handful of restaurants in the SF area; nor did they deliver as well as the frozen takeaway XLB at Shanghai Restaurant on Judah St., though the Brooklyn brand came fairly close.