By Hart Hagerty
August 20, 2014
Shanghai's Best Soup Dumplings
Credit: iStockphoto

Shanghai’s most iconic food is without a doubt the xiao long bao—a delicate dumpling starring a savory pork meatball and luscious porcine juices (the soup). Devouring a bamboo basket of xiao long bao is at the top of every visitor’s to-do list. It’s a right of passage. So delicious, it’s a religious experience for some. Given the cult status of this famous snack, Shanghai has more xiao long bao dumpling joints than you can shake a chopstick at. So where is the good stuff? Go where the locals eat. While wandering the streets, you can hone in on hole-in-the-wall finds by looking for stacks of steaming baskets and a line. If there’s a line, stand in it—the longer the line, the sweeter the prize. It will move quickly and patience will reward you with the most perfect dumplings imaginable. However, one line to avoid like the plague is at Nanxiang Mantou dumpling restaurant in Yu Garden. While the dumplings are perfectly fine, you can do way better than that tourist trap. To save you the legwork, here are five places—from delightfully seedy to a standby chain—where you can dig into basket upon basket of this Shanghai delicacy.

Jia Jia Tang Bao

Shanghai’s xiao long bao soup dumpling scene is a fiercely competitive one. Nevermind an attractive ambience and stylish décor, to reign supreme hinges all on the dumpling itself. At least, that’s the message we get at the city’s most famous xiao long bao spot, Jia Jia Tang Bao, where flavor exponentially outshines finesse. Because this place is so slammed, you must go early to snag the ever-popular crab and pork dumplings, which brim with roe and sweet meat.

Li Long Fang

For some reason this secret hasn’t spread like wildfire yet: Li Long Fang makes the same delicious dumplings of renowned Jia Jia Tang Bao (above), but without the long waits. While the two restaurants are run by the same people, smaller Li Long Fang remains under the radar despite its spot-on dumplings and more inviting atmosphere with dark wood interior reminiscent of old Shanghai.

Fu Chun

Fu Chun is my go-to introductory experience for out-of-town guests hankering to chow down on some xiao long bao. This bustling neighborhood joint has a friendly diner feel. Locals remain fiercely loyal to Fu Chun because the kitchen churns out seriously authentic, extra-hearty soup dumplings. Once you’ve had your fill (impossible!), tuck into steaming bowls of other comfort food, like wontons and noodle soups.

Din Tai Fung

Diehard street foodies might groan when they read this suggestion. Some argue that Din Tai Fung lost some of its local flavor and street cred as it expanded globally during the last few years. Regardless, the restaurant is synonymous with dumplings around the world. Their xiao long bao - especially the crab roe and pork version - are delicious. Bonus points for being served in a refined, casual setting. Din Tai Fung also boasts an open kitchen, allowing curious onlookers to observe the delicate art of dumpling-making.

De Xin Guan

De Xin Guan is nestled in between People’s Square and The Bund. This mid-sized eatery is a more comfortable and sanitized version of a hole-in-the-wall dumpling shop, yet was not wiped cleaned of its local charm. De Xin is mostly known as a noodle shop – famous for their pork trotter noodles - but also serves a mean basket of authentic Shanghainese xiao long bao.