I'm sure many of you heard of 小笼包, the steamed pork dumpling that has raised in popularity in Singapore over the years, thanks to competent quality from Crystal Jade and renowned chain Ding Tai Fung. But as a half Shanghainese (and all along people thought I'm a 100% Hong-Konger), my favourite is not the Xiao Long Bao, but its pan-fried cousin, 生煎包!
小杨 is a restaurant chain in Shanghai that has been known to serve consistently good 生煎包. Similar to XLB, the skin is handmade by chefs (though thicker) and stuffed with pork fillings, it is then pan-fried on a huge iron plate and sprinkled with sesame seeds and spring onion before serving.
生煎包 (RMB5 for 4)
Jaw-dropping price, you could hardly get a Char Siew Pao for $1 in Singapore these days, let alone four! Now there's a trick to eating this, else you would be scalded by the really hot juice inside! Take a small nibble on the soften side and slowly slurp on it, or like what I like to do:
Pour the juice out onto a spoon and drink it all up! I can assure you that it is not one mass of greasy oil that I'm drinking, but hearty soup-like liquid that has been simmered with pork bones! Now all that is left is the flavourful minced meat within and my favourite part, the thick bottom crust that was intentionally burnt for its crunchy texture. I can eat all 8 of it myself!
Curry Beef Soup with Beancurd Skin and Vermicelli
Want something else to go with your bao? Try one of the soups on the menu! Shanghainese rarely take spicy food, so the curry stops merely at the flavour without the spiciness. What I really liked was the quality of the vermicelli that was thin, springy and chewy.
It's sad to say that I have yet to find a decent 生煎包 out of Shanghai. Whenever I see it on menus in Hong Kong and Singapore, they always turn out to be way below expectations. So if you happen to be in Shanghai, do give this one-of-its-kind pork dumpling a try!