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!
While doing my research, I found out that many people favor the Xiao Long Bao from Fortune House more than anywhere else. I’m ready to just go with this verdict, but I have to figure out for myself what makes them so popular. So today, on June 1, 2019, I took my family on an adventure through the massive thunderstorm in Irving to eat at Fortune House. My left leg was sore from driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic (my car has a clutch), and we almost got stranded in the knee-deep flood on Mercer Pkwy. But man, it was all worth it.
- Price Range: $15 – $25 per person
- Parking: On-premises, Free
- Official Website
Fortune House is an upscale, Shanghai-inspired restaurant. While browsing through the main menu, I noticed quite a lot of Sichuan dishes, so I guess they are also riding the trend on big, bold flavors. Fortunately they also have a separate menu for Shanghai cuisine, which I’ll go over later. But first thing first! Let’s take a look at their Xiao Long Bao.
The Xiao Long Bao
Fortune House offers both pork-only and pork-and-crab type of Xiao Long Bao. We read from reviews that the pork-and-crab dumplings didn’t taste much like crab, an issue also present in Jeng Chi, so we decided to just go with the pork-only option. The steamer arrived (hot and fresh, with lid!) in just four minutes. I think it was so quick because they expected most guests to order the Xiao Long Bao, so they don’t even need to wait for an order to cook them – that’s how popular they are!
Just as many have praised, the dumplings were no doubt the best I have had in Dallas. The wrapper was thin and smooth like a baby’s skin, and yet still strong enough that I had to poke pretty hard to open it up. As you can see in the photo, the shape of the dumplings was perfectly conic, a tell-tale sign that they were filled with a lot of juice. If you see Xiao Long Bao with a ring of flat edge around the bottom, then it’s pretty safe to assume that it had no juice.
The best way I can think of to describe the dumpling juice here in Fortune House, is that it had “body”. There was a thickness to it which indicated that the liquid was rich in collagen. Needless to say, with so much pork skin rendered into the juice, the flavor was concentrated with heavenly umami.
Of course, if a restaurant can get the Xiao Long Bao wrapper and juice perfect, then it shouldn’t have any issue with the filling itself or any other aspects of this dish. As picky as I am, I have absolutely no problem giving Fortune House a perfect score. I just wish I could compare Fortune House and Din Tai Fung side-to-side, and see who has the upper hand. Who knows, maybe one day there will be a world-wide Xiao Long Bao competition! And I’ll be the judge! Yea right, dream on…
- The wrapper is white, thin and firm to the bite.
(Weight 20%, Fortune House’s score: 5)
- The filling is tender, juicy and still holds its shape.
(Weight 30%, Fortune House’s score: 5)
- Inside the wrapper there is a small mouthful of hot soup
(Weight 30%, Fortune House’s score: 5)
- The dumplings are served immediately after cooking.
(Weight 15%, Fortune House’s score: 5)
- Served with vinegar and shredded young ginger
(Weight 5%, Fortune House’s score: 5)
Fortune House’s total score for the Xiao Long Bao: 5 out of 5.
However, if I had the crab-and-pork option and didn’t taste any crab, I would have given it a 4 for the filling section.
The Pan Fried Pork Buns
Well, the Xiao Long Bao was awesome, but what really blew my mind was their “Pan Fried Pork Buns”. They are a local delicacy from Shanghai and the surrounding provinces. The Chinese name for it is “Sheng Jian Bao”, which means “a bun that’s pan fried while it’s still raw”. Isn’t it cool? The name just explains to us the main cooking process in three syllables.
Unlike Xiao Long Bao, pan fried buns require leavened dough for the wrapper, though the same type of filling (with the chopped pork gelatin) can be used. To cook, first a flat-bottomed pan is heated up with a layer of oil. The buns are arranged inside the pan to fried slightly. Then plain water is added to the pan to cover the buns half-way, which is brought to a boil and steam the buns. Eventually the water will mostly evaporate away and you are left with cooked buns with golden, crispy bottom and soft top. Lastly, black sesame seeds and green onion are sprinkled on top to garnish. Fortune House went a step further and covered the bottom of the buns with white sesame seeds before frying.
When I took a bite of the pan fried bun, it was like a symphony of different flavors and textures in my mouth. The white, steamed part of the bun was soft and airy. Around the fried area, only the outer layer was crisped, so the wrapper still remained soft underneath. The nuttiness from the toasted white sesame seeds made it even more mouth-watering. And finally, the juice! The abundant juice enclosed in the bun rushed out and lifted the taste up to a level that was pure sensational. There was nothing more one could ask for. So yes, if you are visiting Fortune House, these buns are a must-have.
Other Shanghai Dishes
We also ordered a few more dishes. Two of them were home-style stir-fries for the kids, but the third one was interesting: Basil Chicken in Hot Pot.
The Chinese name of this dish stands for “three-cup chicken”. What “three cup”? It’s actually a description of the seasoning used for this dish: one cup (not the standard measurement “cup”!) of soy sauce, one cup of wine, and one cup of sesame oil. I’m pretty sure the actual proportions aren’t 1:1:1 like that, but the idea is to exploit the combination of these three flavors plus a large quantity of basil. This is a dish from Jiang Xi province, which is right above Guangdong. It made its way eastward to Shanghai and eventually became a well-known Taiwanese dish. The Shanghai version is more saucy, and is served in a “hotpot” which is a hefty metal bowl heated up to keep the food hot, but there is no flame under it. The flavor of this dish is sweet (the Shanghainese people sure love their sugar!), savory and tastes strongly of Thai basil.
There were only three and half of us so we didn’t have the opportunity to try other traditional items on the menu. For those who are interested, I’m going to explain a few unique dishes that I think really worth exploring. I noticed that they mixed a lot of Sichuan and Cantonese dishes into their “Shanghai Flavor” menu, so tsk tsk!
This wonton dish doesn’t tell much in its English description, but they are actually big wontons (with a lot of filling) with pork and Shepherd’s Purse. What is that? Well, it’s a weed, but a very tasty kind. It’s slightly bitter and has a hard-to-describe fragrance, which pairs really well with pork. Try it once and you’ll keep thinking about it.
Don’t be tricked by the name! It’s not really “smoked”. It’s basically fish marinaded in soy sauce, sugar and spices, deep fried, and then marinaded again. Traditionally it did require a brief smoking process before frying, but this practice has been long abandoned. I actually grew up eating this dish quite often, since my mom was from Shanghai. I’m pretty sure she made my dad, who grew up in the North, learn the dish from my grandpa and cook for her. This dish is usually served chilled, and has a sweet-savory taste to balance out the fishiness.
What’s unique about this dish is that the fish is crisscross-scored prior to cooking, which makes it look like squirrel tails. It costs a hefty $32 in Fortune House, though.
The Chinese name of this dish says “better than crabs”, a very interesting transformation of eggs. To make this dish, egg whites are mixed with chopped seafood (usually fish) and stir-fried with grated ginger and vinegar. There are a few different variants, some with the egg yolk stir-fried separately to imitate the treasured crab roe, and some with just the yolk served raw. The idea behind this dish is to make the eggs taste like crabs, and since eggs are more abundant and easier to shell, it gets “better than crabs”. Below is Fortune House’s official photo of this dish. The broccoli is just there as a filler.
In my opinion, this classic dish is the best companion for a bowl of steamed rice. The ground pork is mixed with chopped water chestnuts, which add a nice crunchy texture to the tender meatballs. A good amount of chopped fatty pork is added too, which renders away during the initial frying process, resulting in an uneven surface on the meatballs that resembles the heads of stone lion statues. The meatballs are then slowly braised with soy sauce and baby bok choy, and served with the braising liquid which is often poured on to steamed rice.
It’s actually not fried rice, but rather white rice steamed together with chopped bok choy and salt-cured pork. Very simple, no tricks, just an infusion of all the flavors for an easy dinner. I’m pointing it out because the salted pork is an important part of Shanghainese cuisine. It’s like un-smoked bacon seasoned with Sichuan peppercorns.
No restaurants should claim to serve Shanghainese food without offering this soup on the menu. The name means “salted meat stewed with fresh meat”. It’s prepared by briskly boiling salted pork, fresh pork belly, and bamboo shoots together for hours, and let the boiling water agitate the fat and emulsify it into a white cloudy soup. The meats are then chilled and thinly sliced to serve with the soup. Bean curd knots are often added at the end as a garnish. The key characteristic of this soup is the unparalleled strong umami extracted from the meat and bamboo shoots. If you have an extra sixteen dollars to spare, don’t let go of this opportunity at Fortune House!
These are just a few of the Shanghai dishes on the menu, and there are still a lot more authentic ones for us to experience, which aren’t offered in any other restaurants in Dallas as far as I know. The dishes are pretty costly, but that’s the price we must pay for all the time and labor consuming cooking processes. As for me, I’m just gonna work hard and make more money, and then go back there for another treat!