2.332 Xiao Long Bao


3 (Sat) December 2011

Xiao Long Bao


at Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao

(IFC Mall)

-Hong Kong, China Special Administrative Region-

with AUSOM colleagues

Research Trip to China (Day 3 of 4)

In Hong Kong.  With a contingent from AUSOM, we are here to attend the Frontiers in Medical and Health Sciences Education Conference (Friday and Saturday), hosted by the University of Hong Kong Li Kai Shing Faculty of Medicine.  I delivered a presentation on my health ethics course.


Crystal Jade is an international Chinese restaurant chain.  Founded 1991 in Singapore.  Currently over 100 restaurants in 10 countries.  Specializes in a wide range of styles, mostly Shanghainese.  Different locations focus on different item: for example, Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao (noodles and dumplings).

After the conference had wrapped at noon, our group headed for Crystal Jade, where we were issued a number that wouldn’t be called for nearly 2 hours.  Internet reviews that I’d read were unanimous in their praise for the restaurant’s xiao long bao.  I’d been contemplating Crystal Jade for dinner on my own, though I was reluctant to spend my limited time in Hong Kong waiting in line for something not strictly local. 

Xiao long bao is a type of Chinese dumpling.  The name means “small (xiao) basket (long) package/bun (bao),” in reference to the bamboo steaming vessel in which they’re traditionally cooked.  It falls in the category of baozi, buns characterized by leavened flour skins, often making them white and fluffy; the xiaolongbao skin is lightly leavened to rise just a bit during steaming so that the texture remains soft yet chewy (by contrast, jiaozi feature translucent and smooth skins).  Traditionally filled with pork, what really sets xiao long bao apart from other dumplings is that the stuffing includes a solid aspic/gelatin component that melts when steamed and leaves a small pool of broth sealed within the wrapper.  The whole dumpling is placed in a deep spoon and punctured with a chopstick to drain the broth into the vessel, then sipped like a soup, followed by the rest.  Shanghainese by origin.  Xiao long bao is often found in Cantonese-style restaurants alongside dim sumeven though technically it isn’t.

Steamed Gailan in Oyster Sauce (2.0): oversteamed.
Stir-Fried Beans with Pork (2.5)
Kung Pao Chicken (3.0)
La Mian with Mushrooms in Shark-Bone Broth (3.0): interestingly, the taste and texture of the broth were reminiscent of beef bone broth.
La Mian with Seafood in Oyster Sauce (3.5): my colleagues were so relieved finally to get a dish that was reminiscent of Korean-Chinese food.

The xiao long bao was a revelation.   Oh boy was it worth the wait.  Silky skins.  Richly flavored soup.  Moist and tender and flavorful filling.  Perfection in every element.  It may have been the best dumpling of any kind that I’ve ever had in my life.  This is the first overseas 4.0 rating of GMTD.


Seeing this reminded me that I was, in fact, hungry; the restaurant where I had dinner was just 2 doors down.

On our last evening in town, the members of the group went their own ways, giving me free rein to eat whatever I wanted.  I should’ve maximized the opportunity by spacing out several small meals at various locations.

But I wasted so much time shopping for refrigerator magnets that it was suddenly 2100 before the thought of food entered my mind.  At that point, judgment clouded by fatigue, I stopped at the first random restaurant with bright lights and big pictures.

Barely capable of resisting the in-store advertising at McDonald’s, I was utterly powerless against the awesome array of photos depicting everything that the kitchen had to offer – more tantalizing than a webpage of porn thumbnails.

A plate of gailan led to a beer, which led to a plate of fried rice, which led to another beer.  And so went dinner.


Later that night, I took a break from packing my bags and went off in search of the last outstanding item on my food checklist.  I went back to the late-night diner near the hotel from the night before.  And finally, for the first time in Hong Kong this trip, I encountered a server who could speak English.  And finally, I got exactly what I wanted.

Deep-Fried Egg Noodles with Shrimp and Egg (3.0)

In American, the phrase “Hong Kong style noodles” typically refers to deep-fried egg noodles, but the description is obviously way too restrictive, given that Hong Kong itself embraces so many types of noodles, none of which is necessarily the representative style.  In fact, the first 4 noodles dishes that I had on the trip consisted of either starch-based glass noodles or flour noodles, nary an egg noodle in sight.  I’m just saying.

Whenever traveling abroad, I purchase several bottles of single malt Scotch at the duty free store at the airport on the way out, some of which I’ll drink in the hotel during my stay.
Whatever’s left at the end of the trip, I’ll transfer the whiskies to marked water bottles and pack them in my checked luggage; at home, I’ll pour the whisky back into an empty bottle, if it’s the same one.

(See also FOODS)

(See also PLACES)

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