Ever since my study abroad program in Shanghai in 2002, I’ve been raving to Mr. Selfish about the soup dumplings. We’ve had soup dumplings in New York, California, and Hong Kong, and I never thought that they compared to the ones I had in Shanghai. Mr. Selfish and I therefore went on a search for the best soup dumplings in Shanghai. We had both the steamed dumplings (xiaolongbao) and the fried dumplings (shengjianbao).
First, we went to Nanxiang Steamed Buns Restaurant (20号 Yuyuan New Rd.) at Yuyuan Garden for its well-known xiaolongbao. We visited the restaurant during the mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, and the outside queue was still ridiculously long. I scoped out the inside of the restaurant and discovered that you could order inside even though it was a little more expensive. After looking at the queue outside, Mr. Selfish and I figured that it would be worth it to eat inside the restaurant.
Inside the restaurant, you order from the counter, pay for your order, receive a receipt, sit down at a table, and place the receipt on the table. Eventually, a waitress takes your receipt and gives you your order. It was 25 yuan for an order of eight steamed pork and shrimp soup dumplings. We got two orders – sixteen soup dumplings. They were quite delicious and as good as I remembered. Mr. Selfish thoroughly enjoyed them as well.
The meat was savory, and the broth was scalding and divine. We ate the soup dumpling by picking them up gingerly with our chopsticks, dipping it quickly in vinegar, carefully sucking out the broth, and then eating the entire dumpling. It was a delicious process.
The only downside to Nanxiang’s soup dumplings is that the restaurant is set in the Yuyuan Gardens, which is a huge tourist trap. It was pretty but we saw two different Starbucks standing in one spot.
Verdict: The soup dumplings were delicious but they were the most expensive soup dumpling we had at 3.12 yuan per dumpling. Plus, the location of Nanxiang leaves something to be desired. It was a hassle to get to Yuyuan Gardens and then it was waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too crowded.
Next, we visited Yang’s Fry-Dumpling (60号 Wujiang Road), which is renowned for its shengjianbao. At Yang’s, you order and pay at a counter inside the restaurant, receive a receipt, queue outside the restaurant, and give your receipt to the person behind the outside counter, who’ll give you delicious soup dumplings. It cost 6 yuan for four dumplings. Afterward, you sit inside the restaurant and enjoy your dumplings.
We showed up as they were making a brand new batch. I don’t even want to think about the amount of oil that was poured on those soup dumplings.
It is probably not fair to compare the fried dumplings with the steamed dumplings, but man, were these fried dumplings amazing. I loved the sesame seeds and green onions sprinkled on top. The skin was nicely browned and a little crunchy. The meat and soup inside were utterly delicious.
Verdict: The soup dumplings at Yang’s were divine but very caloric. I loved their crunch and texture, as well as their sublime flavor. They were also the cheapest at 1.50 yuan per dumpling.
Lastly, we tasted the xiaolongbao at Jiajia Steamed Bun (90号 Huanghe Road), which is coincidentally across the street from Yang’s. Yes, we are in line at Jiajia, and we were eating dumplings from Yangs.
Here, you also order at the counter, pay up, sit down, place your receipt on the table, and wait for the staff to bring you your order. When the lady at the counter figured out that we weren’t Chinese, she gave us an English menu. It cost 27 yuan for 12 steamed pork and crab meat dumplings.
These steamed dumplings were also quite tasty. The pork and crab were plentiful, and the broth was flavorful.
Verdict: The soup dumplings at Jiajia were a little tastier than Nanxiang, and the atmosphere was certainly a lot better.
FINAL TALLY: Obviously, we ate at Yang’s twice, and it was my clear favorite. You can’t beat deep fried soup dumplings. To boot, Yang’s dumplings were the cheapest!