In case you didn't already know, it's Dumpling Month. Or at least, it's Dumpling Month at Lucky Peach, the food journal started by Momofuku chef David Chang and former New York Times writer Peter Meehan.
As part of Dumpling Month at Lucky Peach, Chang penned an ode to one specific kind of Chinese dumpling -- a dumpling he claims to be "the world's most underrated dumpling." Now, we're not sure what sort of scale you use to judge the international appreciation of dumplings. But regardless, after reading about these magical dumplings we were dead set on trying them for ourselves.
Our dumpling hunt brought us to DingHao Shanghai, a relatively new Chinese restaurant located at 2711 S. Alma School Road in Mesa. The restaurant's Chinese menu (there are two, of course) features an array of hard-to-find Shanghaiese dishes, including the magical pan fried dumpling, sheng jian bao.
According to Chang, sheng jian bao are "the dumpling that will make you forget about every other dumpling."
These dumplings are cousins to xiao long bao, often referred to as "soup dumplings," which have gained a sort of cult food status in recent years. XLB (as those in the know might say) feature a delicate, doughy skin that holds pork filling and a mouthful of hot broth. Eating them requires a tender touch: you have to lift the dumpling up without ripping the bottom and thus losing all juice. Then you can carefully bite open the top and suck out all the soup-y broth inside.
Like XLB, sheng jian bao hold hot, meat broth inside. But unlike XLB, these dumplings are made with a sturdier yeasted dough that's makes these a perfect hybrid between a dumpling and a bun. Additionally, SJB are pan-fried with a layer of caramelized sesame seeds on the crisp bottom.
If you're going to order a plate of either type of soup dumplings at DingHao, we'd recommend you do so as soon as you sit down. Both types of dumplings take about 30 minutes to come out of the kitchen, and though they're certainly worth the wait, ordering first will save you some time.
We have to say the SJB at DingHao totally lived up the hype created by Chang's dumpling ode. While we would have liked a little more broth inside, the blend of dough, fat, and crisp sesame seeds made for a seriously enjoyable eating experience. Plus, with these heartier dumplings, you don't have to worry about messing up and losing all the soup inside.
The restaurant's XLB are also rather impressive. With a nearly translucent layer of dough around pork filling, these dumplings truly are a thing of beauty.
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And to clear up any potential confusion/language barriers, sheng jian bao will be listed on the menu as "生煎包," or "Fried Steam Buns." You'll find xiao long bao listed as "小籠包," or "Steam Buns."