January 1, 2016
We are loving Xiao Long Baos 小笼包 and they are here to stay in Singapore. Xiao Long Bao are little steamed buns from the Jiangnan region of China, and is especially popular in Shanghai. The buns are usually steamed and served in a ‘xiao long’ (small basket), and hence the name.
The Shanghai version that is so popular in Singapore restaurants usually enclose meat and a burst of broth within.
Considering how many of these Xiao Long Bao chain restaurants are opening more franchises, and even opening specialist Xiao Long Bao stalls, it’s evident that many foresee these buns as more than just a trend.
Established Chinese chain restaurants (i.e. Din Tai Fung, Paradise Dynasty, Crystal Jade) selling xiao long baos are ubiquitous, appearing in almost every mall. But are good xiao long baos only found in these highly commercialised restaurants? Could there possibly be other good xlbs?
Here, we explore some underrated xiao long bao places that are just as good and made in small batches.
In the bustling heart of Chinatown lies Chinatown Complex Food Centre, where hawker food are sold at pocket-friendly prices. Upon seeing unit #02-135, the first thing you’d see are towers of dimsum bamboo baskets stacked precariously high.
The stall is manned by a warm Chinese couple who personally makes their Xiao Long Baos and dumplings by hand everyday.
Peer through that glossy skin and you can see that layer of soup swishing around. Despite its thinness, the skin is resilient – it doesn’t break when picked up. There is a nice amount of meat that is tender to the bite and the soup is lightly flavoured. Though I would prefer the meat to be more flavourful, these 10 xiao long baos were pretty impressive.
Price wise, 10 freshly made xiao long baos for $5.50 is really cheap. Indeed they aren’t as fantastic as Din Tai Fung’s but for $5.50 these are gooood. An economically exceptional place to placate your cravings.
Zhong Guo Xiao Long Bao: #02-135 Chinatown Complex, 335 Smith Street, Singapore 050335
For those late night (and drunk) need for xiao long bao, Swee Choon Dim Sum is the place to go. At 3am-ish, I was on cloud nine eating these juicy balls of fluffy dumplings. My initial doubt about Swee Choon’s Xiao Long bao dissipated upon feasting on these babies with resilient skin that’s slightly transparent and held succulent meat with sufficient tasty broth inside.
I wouldn’t think a place that serves dim sum at such odd hours would dish out xiao long baos, much less a good one. So can you imagine the extent of my happiness to be able to feast on decent xiao long baos at such a god forsaken time.
Maybe your drunk friend would burst out crying tears of joy like how the soup bursts out of these dumplings.
Swee Choon Tim Sum: 183/ 185/ 187/ 189/ 191 Jalan Besar, Singapore 208882 | Tel: 62257788 | Website
A hawker endeavor by an ex-Crystal Jade XLB alumni, Chef Wang, Shanghai Xiao Long Bao must be pretty good. Though I can’t say so myself, he has received praise for his fresh and handmade Xiao Long Bao (from my Mom and Dr Leslie Tay ).
Chef Wang tries his utmost to uphold the quality of his XLBs and from the looks of mealtime rush hour crowd queue, I’d say he’s done pretty well. Apparently, you can even request for him to make them on the spot if you do not want to have those made and refrigerated from earlier that day, and he’ll be happy to oblige.
The xiao long baos may not be startlingly fantastic but at $3.50 for 5 pieces, it’s a good value to get your XLB fix sorted. Also, I wouldn’t mind supporting this nice humble man!
ShangHai Xiao Long Bao: Old Airport Road Food Centre, #01-109, 51 Old Airport Rd, Singapore 390051
Let’s just ignore the odd restaurant name, pouty peak of the XLBs and just proceed onto the food shall we?
When I first tried Mouth’s Xiao Long Bao at their China Square outlet I was very impressed because even though the skin broke easily, I thought it tasted pretty close to those of Crystal Jade’s/ Ding Tai Fengs. However, when I tried it at their newly opened Marina Square outlet, I was disappointed.
The skin still broke easily, the soup and meat lacked flavour. The broth also brought a mushroom-y aftertaste. Overall, it didn’t really taste like I was having a Xiao Long Bao?
Either there were some discrepancies in their recipe or my taste buds are bipolar, I can’t guarantee. Still, I really hope Mouth Restaurant ensures consistency because I believe their Xiao Long Baos have potential (especially the China Square outlet). Especially if they want to price them at 3 for $4.80 (which my friend belaboured as too expensive and unworthy), Mouth has got to put those in their mouths and work on it.
Mouth Restaurant: 22 Cross Street, China Square Central, South Bridge Court Shop House #01-61, Singapore 048421 | Tel: 6438 5798 | Website
Let us observe a minute of silence to appreciate You Peng’s creation – the quintessence of xiao long bao beauty.
There are at least a dozen of those luscious folds and just look at that mouth-watering cushion of soupy goodness. You Peng scores 10/10 for their XLB aesthetics, I swear it looks good enough to lay on. The conscientious effort to uphold the quality of their food is admirable.
If you don’t live in the West, you probably wouldn’t know Beauty World Shopping Centre had a Food Centre upstairs. (Ahh, Beauty World… Known for the innumerable maid agencies around that area that al-Jazeera condemns as 21st century slave trade in a first world country.) Now that you know, you could probably drop by when you’re around for some value for money Xiao Long Baos.
You Peng Fresh Mian Jiao Zi Guan’s XLBs and other dumplings are all handmade daily, ensuring freshness for customers. When picked up, the skin did not break, displaying its adequate firmness despite the thinness of the skin. The broth has a decent savoury stock that I felt could personally be more flavourful. The meat tasted good but was packed loosely, crumbling upon the first few bites and its texture, was too powdery for my liking.
I’ve patronised You Peng quite a few times for their Xiao Long Baos and Guo Tie/Jiao Zi, which in mu opinion is better than their XLB. So if you wanna know if I’ll come back again, yeah I already did.
You Peng Fresh Mian Jiao Zi Guan: Beauty World Centre, 144 Upper Bukit Timah Road, #04-23, Singapore 588177
Fancy sucking soup through a straw from a Giant Xiao Long Bao? Yes? Then Ye Chun is where you need to be in, mate. This palm-sized crab roe and minced meat xiao long bao is made specially for xlb soup lovers – so go on stick it in! And suck it up!
Although Ye Chun Jiang Nan specialises in Jiang Nan delicacies and Jiang Nan style hand-pulled noodles, their xiao long baos are not bad. Their regular xiao long baos are a tad larger than the usual, with glossy resilient skin that’s smooth and enjoyably chewy. The meat holds well together and is tender to the bite.
But upon that first slurp, I was startled by how overly seasoned the soup was. Immersed in the stock, the meat was also too salty for my liking. The taste however was good if only they could reduce the saltiness then I’ll be here plenty more times for xiao long baos.
Disclaimer: I did not try their Steamed Minced Pork and Crab Roe Broth Dumplings (aka Giant XLB)
Ye Chun Xiao Jiang Nan: 6 Raffles Boulevard , Marina Square #02-181/182 , Singapore 039594 | Tel: 6333 4038
Yes, the name and the signboard bears uncanny resemblance to Chinatown Complex’s Zhong Guo La Mian Xiao Long Bao. Whether or not they are a franchise of each other I’m not sure as I haven’t gotten the chance to go down to clarify. That aside, it’s a good place to satisfy your cravings if you’re around the Bukit Merah area.
This xiao long bao has sufficient flavour, a balanced skin-to-filling ratio, while its soup tends towards the sweet side. It is cheap and tasty (praised by Makansutra, slowchomp.com, AromaCookery and my lau peh), consequently garnering itself a steady lunch-hour fan base. So if you want to give it try, perhaps avoid meal times. Why eat 4 IKEA vanilla ice cream when you can eat 7 xiao long baos with $4.
Say “sod it” to overrated IKEA food. Eating at this hidden gem of a xiao long bao stall in a large ‘vintage’ kopitiam is the way to roll.
ShangHai La Mian Xiao Long Bao: Alexandra Village Food Centre, Blk 120 Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-56
Impressive noodle-pulling stance.
“Do you even pull dough, brah?”
“Check out my hand-pulled noodle biceps.”
Does that make me want to try this stall’s la mian and xiao long bao? ….Yes
Featured in our article for Best Breakfast Places in Singapore, Dong Ji offers sumptuous xiao long baos at hawker prices. Not only does Dong Ji have an impressive man in noodle-pulling stance on their signboard, they have some pretty impressive Xiao Long Baos too.
The high number of folds and transparency of the skin are indicators of quality xiao long bao. Cutting through soft smooth dough, feel the eruption of the savoury broth before sinking your teeth into a flavourful chunk of minced pork. This xiao long bao might just make your heart go “Bedok, Bedok, Bedok”.
Dong Ji La Mian Xiao Long Bao: #01-14, Bedok Interchange Food Centre, 207 New Upper Changi Road, Singapore 460207
NanXiang is the very birth-place of our favourite steamed dumplings and with the very first iconic NanXiang Steamed Bun restaurant at ShangHai’s Cheng Huang Temple revered for their century old history of dumpling-making.
NanXiang has crossed borders and opened up an outlet in Singapore, bringing us traditional NanXiang Xiao Long Baos with a modern twist.
NanXiang’s traditional minced meat Xiao Long Bao is indisputably good considering that it hails from a culinary icon with over a century old history. They also offer a minced meat and crab roe version, a rendition that is gradually gaining popularity as well.
Another Giant Xiao Long Bao for the hardcore soup lovers. So satisfying to see the folds running so smoothly and unequivocally down the sides of the Xiao Long Bao that sits perfectly in its basket. With this you can slurp to all your hearts (and mouths) content. Do note that the skin for this giant Xiao Long Bao was intentionally made thicker to hold the soup so it would not be of the silky thin quality we usually seek.
These vividly coloured buns are what NanXiang dubs as their Four Seasons Crab Roe Bun. The basis of the flavour is the original giant minced meat crab roe bun but they are tweaked with the addition of seasonal vegetables. They almost look too good to eat!
NanXiang Steamed Bun Restaurant: Junction 10, 1 Woodlands Road #02-18 Ten Mile Junction, Singapore 677899 | Tel: 68927915 | Website
When you see this collection of shredded ginger, you know the restaurant knows their dumpling stuff.
My friend (who eats a lot of these ginger slices) commented that xiao long baos have to have good ginger too. He strongly believes that one cannot just simply have fat, ugly soggy ginger for it spoils the holy xiao long bao experience. Hence upon seeing a container full of chilled crisp slices, I knew Hand in Hand meant business.
These plump beauties were presented in front of our faces with unrelenting steam like smoke machines building anticipation to a star’s performance. And these beauties did not disappoint! With light silky complexion, innumerable precise folds and a delicate pinch at the peak that was not overly floury – the exterior was beyond satisfying.
But it’s beauty on the inside that counts right? One bite of this XLB and you know Hand in Hand sure got an A in Math.
There was so much soup I had to slurp continuously for several seconds to prevent the precious liquid from spilling over. Considering that heavy amount of soup, the broth was, thankfully, lightly flavoured and not overwhelming. Inside, nestles a generous dollop of meat that is tender yet holds well enough.
It was like a symphony in my mouth. At that very moment, my inner petulant-xiao-long-bao-craving child was at peace.
Hand In Hand BeiJing Restaurant: 141-143 Jalan Besar, #01-01, Singapore 208859