Steamed soup dumpling
The word “dumpling” is likely used as a universal name for any food with flour wrappers and fillings. But in Chinese cuisine, there are two distinctly different food that uses wrapper and fillings. Their Chinese names are as distinct, one is called “Jiaozi”, the other “Baozi”. As I previously described, Jiaozi resembles the moon, whereas Baozi is round and bigger. It’s rare if a restaurant is serving Jiaozi and Baozi at the same time, though they have the same name, “dumpling”, for foreigners. But it feels so right for a Chinese, at least in the mainland, because these two are set apart in many ways.
This “steamed soup dumpling” is a Baozi. It has anything but Jiaozi –the “soup dumpling” in my previous introduction. In that soup dumpling, it has soup outside. The soup, with all kinds of ingredients, is in a strong flavor that we often ignore the dumpling itself. In steamed soup dumplings, however, it has soup inside. Focusing on the inside is what truly sets Baozi apart from Jiaozi. With almost zero outside ingredients, the cravings and curiosity are triggered by a simple round steamed dumpling. When the hot, fresh, flavored soup flows into your mouth, a sensation is wakened like never before.
Sealing the soup in a flour sheet is truly a craft. The best soup dumpling is lamp flavor. Lamb marrow, oil, and ingredients are squeezed into a jelly ball. Alone with the meat filling, it’s wrapped into a thin, round flour sheet. After steaming, the meat firms up into a little ball, the jelly becomes the soup. The dumpling itself presents almost no different from the outside, except a gel skin made by the steaming. The skin turns the flour white into a yellowish glow, making the sealing creases on the top resemble a flower.
Eating it, or in Chinese “drink it”, is truly delicate, and, famously, a lot of fun. Any rush or fumble could lead to a burning spur at the tongue or the spills of hot soup all over the face. It happens all the time, whether a regular eater or first-time visitor. The trick always brings laughs to the table –this is what tradition is all about.
The right way to eat it: Lift the dumpling a bit with chopsticks, shake a bit to gently detach it from the sticky surface of the steamer — a rush lift could end up breaking the wrapper so that the soup will mess up the steamer. Once it’s detached, quickly move it to a small plate –the thin skin won’t be able to hold for long. Poke it with the tip of the chopstick, then the golden soup flows into the plate. Suck the soup. The plump dumpling will go flat with a small stuffing inside. Dip the soy sauce if you like or, eat it neat.
The classy soup is lamb and beef –most soup dumpling restaurants are Halal. The shrimp flavor is the rising star among youngsters. The hot, salty soup calls for a cold, sweet partner –thus most restaurants serve a cold porridge “Babao”, or “eight treasures”. “Eight” gives you the idea that they use a lot of ingredients, e.g. sunflower seeds, cinnamon, nuts, and dried fruits. The real number is bigger than eight. It’s one of the best refreshments you can find in Xi’an. Interestingly, the soup’s strong flavor oftentimes makes many visitors walk out of the dumping restaurant rating the sweet porridge as the best food they have had.