Saturday, September 13, 2014

For the Love of Xiaolongbao

From the time I moved to Shanghai, I have been obsessed with Shanghainese Soup Dumplings, aka Xiaolongbao.  Xiaolongbao is the perfect marriage of pasta, meatballs, and soup.  They are usually presented scalding, in a bamboo steamer.  After a five to ten minute wait, it is safe to puncture the translucent pasta skin, suck out the meaty broth, and savor the remains with a little vinegar. 

The perfect xiaolongbao has a delicate pasta shell and a juicy, meaty inside.  This is the ultimate Chinese comfort food.
The flavor of the xiaolongbao is enhanced with Chinese vinegar.  
If you haven’t eaten Xiaolongbao, I highly recommend stopping by Din Tai Fung, or another dumpling restaurant to try them out.

My favorite Xiaolongbao joint is Linlong Fang in the Dapuqiao Metro Station.  One can get 12 xiaolongbao for 12RMB.  (That's about $2.00 USD)  Places like Din Tai Fung are a tad pricer.
One of my biggest fears of repatriating is I will be deprived of this amazing dish.  For the last two years, I have been asking my local friends how to make Xiaolongbao so I will be able to eat them anytime anywhere, and they have always given me the same response,

“Xiaolongbao is so difficult to make.  I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” Or “If you learn how to make them, please show me how.”

So, Chris signed us up for an advanced Xiaolongbao class at The Kitchen At so we will never be without.  I have to tell you, making Xiaolongbao is that tricky.  I hope I am able to recreate what we learned.  Here’s how we did it.

First we mixed 200g of flour and 100 ml of cold water to make the wraps.  It was extremely important for this mixture to be well mixed.  Otherwise the xiaolongbao wrappers would be too dry. 
Then we covered the dough and let it rest for about 30 minutes. 
While the dough rested, we combined 250g ground pork belly, 30g ginger, 5g salt, 30g sugar, a dash of white pepper, sesame oil, and soy sauce.
We then "whipped the meat" by kneading the mixture and throwing it in a metal bowl.  This process was extremely messy!  Ground pork flew all over our recipe and workspace. 
When the mixture felt "glutinous", we added 50ml of water until and continued mixing until it felt "glutinous" again.  We repeated this process once.
After the water had absorbed, we added 100g of pork skin jelly to the mixture.  In case you were wondering, pork jelly is made of pork skin, chicken feet, lean pork leg, shiitake mushrooms, water, spring onions, ginger, yellow rice wine, and salt.  It takes at least 6 hours to cook and even longer to chill.  After I read this part of the recipe, I knew there was a slim chance of this dish ever being recreated in my home. I'm not that gifted of a chef.
After we gently combined the pork jelly with the meat mixture, we grabbed our dough and started to make xiaolongbao wrappers.
We rolled the dough into long logs.

Then we snapped pieces of dough off the log to make little dough balls.  
We rolled the balls into wrappers...
...and stuffed them with the meat mixture.

Then we pinched the dough in special folds to finish the dumplings.

I was quite proud of my first two xiaolongbao!
These were the instructor's xiaolongbao.
These were my xiaolongbao.  I think they were the ugliest xiaolongbao I have ever seen. 

After 6 minutes in the steamer, the xiaolongbao were ready to eat!!!  They were pretty tasty, but restaurant xiaolongbao is MUCH tastier.

Needless to say, it is MUCH easier and cheaper to buy Xiaolongbao than make them from scratch.  However, it is comforting to know I could hypothetically make these in the States.  In the meantime, I will stick with Linlong Fang and Din Tai Fung for my Xiaolongbao fix!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Not Your Ordinary Cup of Joe

One of the perks (pun intended) of living in Shanghai is there are an abundance of coffee shops.  In my new hood, it seems like there are Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Pacific Coffee, and McDonalds around every corner.  While they don’t serve the Pumpkin Spice Lattes, they do serve many coffee beverages that I can find at home. 

If you are in need of a quick caffeine fix, check out your local Starbucks.  I know Delivery Hero delivers Starbucks, however the wait time is usually pretty lengthy and the website is in Mandarin.

Most Starbucks sell many of the same beverages found in the US, however they frequently add seasonal drinks that appease local palates. 
While my tall, caramel Frappuccino takes care of my caffeine needs; sometimes it’s fun to branch out to see the good, the bad, and the absurdly themed coffee shops.  If you prefer a little adventure with your caffeine, check out some of these joints.

The Old Film Café
I am a sucker for a good movie, so when I heard of the Old Film Café in Hongkou, I had to check it out.   The café wasn’t quite what I expected.

When we reached the statue of Charlie Chaplin, we knew we were at the right place.

We also had a good time looking at old movie props.
Many of the cafe descriptions said the owners play old movies on TVs around the cafe.  While we sipped, a very garbled version of the original Pride and Prejudice was on our TV.
The Gone With the Wind like seating was quite comfy.
The menu contained all sorts of amusing drinks.  
I enjoyed my creamsicle like "a phrase used for praising a pretty girl".   
My friend's green tea smoothie was more like a green tea snowcone.  It was pretty yummy.
 When dining here, be sure to check out all of the silver screen snapshots on the walls.

221B Baker Street
This summer I became hooked on the BBC Series Sherlock.  On Rujin Er Lu near Fuxing Zhong Lu, there is a coffee shop for everyone who has become Sherlocked.  My friends and I had a great time checking out everything Sherlock Holmes over a pot of tea.

This gift shop/ coffee shop is perfect for Sherlock addicts. 
The interior of the coffee shop is a replica of Holme's flat on 221B Baker Street.  It was fun to point out artifacts from the show.
The rooms had props and pictures from many different Sherlock Holmes movies and TV programs.
After ordering, our number came attached to a Holmes like top hat.
My friend's latte came with the 221B logo.
Sherlock's violin sits in the corner of the cafe.
Vampire Coffee
I wanted to indulge my darker side, so I visited Vampire Coffee.  Instead of being spooked, I ended up laughing at the bizarre assortment of food and beverages in this tiny, dark watering hole.

Vampire Coffee was more silly than scary. 
We had a great time eating the gothic themed treats like these shortbread and almond witches fingers that were garnished with ketchup.
The gingerbread bat cookies were pretty tasty.
The chocolate coffin cake was the highlight of our snack. 
My blood bag beverage tasted remarkably like a cherry Capri Sun.  I never thought I would've enjoyed drinking from a blood bag. 
In case you wanted to know a little more about Vampires, the blood bag gave a great explanation.
Central Perk
If you are a fan of the 90’s TV sitcom Friends, it is crucial to check out Central Perk.  Chris and I had a great time reliving our college days while watching Ross and Rachel debate if they were really on a break.  Check out this post from last May for more details.

The next time you are looking for a good cup of coffee, I highly suggest branching out to one of these themed cafes!  There’s nothing like a good beverage in a great environment!

For directions to the cafes, click on the links below: