Unwrapped: Xiao Long Bao From Jeng Chi (And Sichuan King)

Unwrapped: Xiao Long Bao From Jeng Chi (And Sichuan King)

What is this about?

Recently, I started a “project” to find the best Xiao Long Bao in Dallas. Xiao Long Bao has become a new trend in the past few years and many restaurants jumped on the bandwagon, but not all of them are made or served the right way. Please see the introductory blog post if you are interested in learning more about the soupy pork dumplings!

Located in the old-school DFW Chinatown, Jeng Chi had a long history of serving hand-made dumplings. A family from Taiwan started it since 1990, and has been operating it for almost 30 years. Their specialty was northern Chinese wheat-based dishes like pancakes, noodle, dumplings and pastries. It was actually the first restaurant I went to (about nine years ago) that served boiled dumplings instead of just steamed ones. But more on that later!

I went to Jeng Chi this time for the Xiao Long Bao, which I didn’t realized was on the menu for years! The last time I went there was in 2017, but since then the restaurant had been completely renovated. The old, cramped dinning area was lifted into a large hall, with a big open kitchen where you can watch the staff making dumplings. One important change was that they also began accepting credit cards – a huge convenience for me!

I decided to try the pork and crab Xiao Long Bao, since not many places in Dallas offers this combination. It’s a bit pricey – $10.50 for only six. In addition, I ordered the boiled dumplings with leek (Chinese chives), pork and shrimp, just so that I can refresh my memory.

The food arrived in 10 minutes, which was a good sign: they took their time to cook the dumplings fresh. The first thing I noticed was that the lid of the steamer was closed – just the way I wanted. Along with the Xiao Long Bao was also a good amount of shredded young ginger, and the server poured some table vinegar into the ginger for me. Once the lid was removed, my appetite was immediately lifted by the sight of six perfectly wrapped dumplings. Their surface was smooth and white, with no blemishes or water dripping damages, and they stood in perfect conic shape. The tip of each dumpling is decorated with something orange to indicate that it contained crab meat. I’m suspecting that it was grated carrots, though traditionally it should be crab roe (not gonna happen, I know…)

OK, enough looking, time to eat. Lift one up by the tip, place in a spoon, open a “window” on the wrapper, and carefully drink the juice rushing out. Yep, check, check and check. Everything about this Xiao Long Bao was text-book-meticulous. But… something about the juice wasn’t right. I think it was lacking some flavor. It just felt like watered-down pork soup with some salt and vinegar added.

I proceeded with dipping the dumpling in vinegar and gave the whole thing a big bite. Um, where is my crab? That was my first thought. The pork filling was tender, juicy and held in shape, but I absolutely didn’t taste a bit of crab. That was a major bummer since I paid almost two dollars for each of these pork and “crab” dumplings. I believe the problem was that they didn’t use crab oil. Crab oil is made by frying the internal organs of crabs in oil. It sounds simple, but definitely contributes the most to the flavor. For the rest of the batch I tried my best to detect the crab to no avail. So yea, please do yourself a favor and don’t order the crab option, since Jeng Chi doesn’t give a crab about making crab dumplings (pun intended).

The best way for me to describe the boiled dumplings was that it tastes exactly like what I made at home. The wrapper was thin and chewy, and the filling had the consistency of pork meatballs, with adequate seasoning. I have to say that it didn’t impress me that much since I’m used to having good dumplings, but I’m sure they taste delicious for everyone. You may wonder why I’m making such a big deal of boiled dumplings. The fact is, boiled dumplings take a lot of work and skills to get it right. The wrappers must be hand-made from scratch, since pre-made wrappers will quickly fall apart in boiling water. Also, they must offer all-around “protection” for the filling, or the flavor would dissipate into the water while cooking. No matter what, I always have respect for restaurants who put in the time and effort to craft boiled dumplings from scratch.

Pork, Chinese Chives and Shrimp Boiled Dumplings

Alright, it’s time for scoring. Overall, I think Jeng Chi got the wrapper right, pretty much the best I’ve seen and very comparable to Din Tai Fung. However, the crab taste didn’t stand out, and the juice tasted bland. One saving grace was that they cooked them freshly and brought them to the table with lids closed. And of course, the presentation was top notch as well. So, here goes the scoring according to these criteria:

  • The wrapper is white, thin and firm to the bite.
    (Weight 20%, Jeng Chi’s score: 5)
  • The filling is tender, juicy and still holds its shape.
    (Weight 30%, Jeng Chi’s score: 4)
  • Inside the wrapper there is a small mouthful of hot soup
    (Weight 30%, Jeng Chi’s score: 3)
  • The dumplings are served immediately after cooking.
    (Weight 15%, Jeng Chi’s score: 5)
  • Served with vinegar and shredded young ginger
    (Weight 5%, Jeng Chi’s score: 5)

Jeng Chi’s total score for the Xiao Long Bao: 3.85 out of 5.

More Dumpling-Hopping

Wait… I wasn’t done yet! It just happened that there was a Sichuan restaurant right next to Jeng Chi, called Sichuan King. A fellow Redditor informed me that they also served some sort of soup dumpling. Out of curiosity, after leaving Jeng Chi I went straight to Sichuan King and ordered their “Pork Gravy Bun”. This time the steamer came to me without a lid, but I can tell why – the bowl of vinegar and ginger was placed in the steamer as the center piece.

Comparing to Jeng Chi, Sichuan King’s wrappers were rather “amateur”. The surface wasn’t smooth and showed signs of over-steaming (it did take 12 minutes for my only order to arrive). It was much thicker too, and the tip part was particularly so. However, the juice was a whole lot tastier than Jeng Chi’s. They clearly gave a lot of respect to making the pork stock! I loved its concentrated meaty flavor and slight viscosity from the collagen. Unfortunately, the meat filling was very crumbly. When I opened up the wrappers, all I saw was small lumps scattered everywhere. Finally, the vinegar was very sweet for some reason, which for me didn’t go well with the dumplings. The ginger was also the old kind, so it was very spicy. I pretty much didn’t touch the dipping sauce.

I have to say that for a restaurant not specializing in dumplings, being able to serve them hot-and-fresh is already very respectable. If you happen to eat in Sichuan King (for their Sichuan dishes), I would recommend ordering the dumplings as appetizer. But I wouldn’t go out of my way just to have the dumplings, if it wasn’t for making this blog.

  • The wrapper is white, thin and firm to the bite.
    (Weight 20%, Sichuan King’s score: 2)
  • The filling is tender, juicy and still holds its shape.
    (Weight 30%, Sichuan King ‘s score: 3)
  • Inside the wrapper there is a small mouthful of hot soup
    (Weight 30%, Sichuan King ‘s score: 5)
  • The dumplings are served immediately after cooking.
    (Weight 15%, Sichuan King ‘s score: 5)
  • Served with vinegar and shredded young ginger
    (Weight 5%, Sichuan King ‘s score: 2)

Sichuan King’s total score for the Xiao Long Bao: 3.1 out of 5.

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