While out in Flushing for lunch with my family, a sudden thought crossed my mind as I relished the mouth-savoring taste of the mini soup dumplings. Perfect in size, I seemed to be unable to prevent myself from continuously popping them into my mouth. With the exploding bursts of flavor that sent my taste buds into a frenzy, I wondered, who was the genius who came up with this delicious idea? And, how did it get here? Of course, most importantly, what were these?
As depicted in the photographs, these delicate little buns are known as 小笼包 or xiǎo lóng bāo. Originating from a small food truck in the area known as Nanxiang, China, the soup dumplings have now grown in both size and popularity. The mastermind behind this invention was a man named Huang Mingxian. Vying with the vendors for the attention of customers, Huang Mingxian had to think of more creative ideas to sell at his growing shop. His first goal was to make the buns even juicier, by lessening the amount of pork skin used. The skin would be ground into jelly, then added to the mince. The aspic, which is “a savory jelly made with meat stock”, would blend together with the juices emitted
from the pork after boiling to become the aromatic 汤, or soup, in the buns. In addition, Huang Mingxian also decreased the thickness of the buns, and ended up successfully being able to make them as thin as dumpling wrappers! Lastly, he made sure that every 包子 was pleated exactly 14 times, creating a cinched spiral at the top. To top it off, he placed them in bamboo baskets. 小笼包 was born.
When Huang Mingxian first created it, he had actually named it “打肉馒头“, or dǎ ròu mán tou. As time went on, the moniker was eventually reformed that seemed more fitting, 小(small)笼(basket)包(bun). While Huang Mingxian’s was quite famous, it wasn’t until Din Tai Fung, a cooking-oil store turned restaurant located in Taiwan, sent the 小笼包 catapulting into international fame.
Wow, I almost can’t believe that what was once just a clever idea being sold at a cart in Shanghai would now become a classic dish in Chinese culture. Today, 小笼包 is constantly being enjoyed by eager mouths all around the world!