Xiao long bao (soup dumplings) + dinner in Taipei
I’m currently visiting Taipei, Taiwan, where my parents live.
Anyone who knows their food in Asia will tell you that steamed xiao long bao (小籠包), otherwise known as soup dumplings, is a must-try. Whether you’re in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or China, this dish is loved by all locals alike.
But not all xiao long baos are made equal. Ding Tai Fung (鼎泰豐), a Michelin-starred chain with many international restaurants, originated in Taiwan and is argued to have the best xiao long bao in the country. So when a friend claimed that he knew a better place, I had to see for myself.
And that’s how I ended up at Yi Ping Qiao Chu (一品巧廚) in the Tien Mu neighborhood for dinner.
Like many traditional eateries in Asia, this one provides order forms listing everything on the menu. Instead of firing dishes at the waiter, all you need to do is mark how many of each dish you’d like. Probably because Tien Mu is home to Taipei American School and Taipei Japanese School, this restaurant also has an actual menu with dish names in English as well as pictures.
Upfront, there are shelves of self-serve small dishes like bean curd and pickled veggies that are popular as appetizers (top and bottom left). We also ordered some snow pea shoots that was slightly greasy for my tastes, but this is typical of any eatery here. Though I’ve had crispier, the fried pork chop was still delicious — and the scallions certainly didn’t hurt.
I’ve had better fried rice, but this wasn’t terrible. Tien Mu just has a lot of really good fried rice. And look how cute! Only in Asia…
Now this thin-sliced pork I definitely loved. Don’t be put off by the fatty bits — it adds a deliciously chewy texture to the meat. And since it’s boiled, you could argue that the cooking method balances out on the health factor. Besides, the dipping sauce is a garlic lover’s dream. (It’s literally garlic made into dip with soy sauce.)
But enough dillydallying. On to the star of the show: so named for the juices trapped inside, soup dumplings are usually eaten in one big bite. This way, you don’t risk losing any of the “soup.” Simply dip in vinegar and soy sauce — with some ginger if that’s up your alley — and it’s a party in your mouth.
So were these at Yi Ping Qiao Chu better than the ones at Ding Tai Fung? Because I haven’t been to the latter for a long time, I don’t honestly think it’s fair to rank one restaurant above the other. But I will say that these xiao long bao sure are comparable: the meat is flavorful, the skin is soft, and broth abounds.
Whether or not it’s infinitely better, the price is definitely cheaper and the lines much, much shorter. So if you want to maximize your funds and skip the long lines, I’d vouch for these xiao long bao as a more than satisfying alternative to the world-famous chain.
And if anyone’s been to both these restaurants, please feel free to chime in on the comparison!>