It’s raining soup dumplings in Manhattan


ACROSS Manhattan, diners are picking up their soup spoons and chopsticks and biting (ever so carefully) into the city’s hottest order. 

Xiao long bao, aka the soup dumpling, is a dim sum classic, traditionally with ground pork and/or crab or, increasingly, unconventionally with options such as matzo balls, in a little pool of molten broth within a pleated dumpling wrapper. An enduring staple of food halls in Queens and storefronts in Brooklyn, they’re also nothing new to Manhattanites. Joe’s Shanghai has been steaming them in Chinatown since 1995; more recently, places including Pinch Chinese in SoHo have presented exemplary versions. 

But this year the borough’s soup dump- ling faucet has been turned on full blast, from the East Village to the Upper West Side. 

In Midtown, Long Island Dumplings opened behind an anonymous storefront on Sixth Avenue in December. Chef and owner Jason Lee, who opened the place as an offshoot of his popular Long Island Pekin in Babylon, New York, specialises in serving plump, wobbly pork and crab options, both fortified with bone broth. He also offers a more atypical vegan truffle soup dumpling, made with both fresh and dried mushrooms and a potato base. 

On upper Broadway, at 101st Street, the homemade steamed pork soup dumplings at Moon Kee have been a bestseller since the restaurant opened in November. 

Din Tai Fung will be the most notable arrival to Manhattan’s xiao long bao scene when it opens its first New York outpost. The 26,400-sq-ft (2,452.64 sq m) space designed by David Rockwell will open later this summer in Times Square. The big-deal Taiwanese chain has been around since the 1970s and has 70-plus locations in 13 countries.

Each outpost of the chain produces an estimated 10,000 dumplings a day on average; it takes about 30 chefs to keep up with demand. Given the large footprint of the New York location, its dumpling count will likely be even higher.

A selection of soup dumplings at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bo

Also exponentially increasing the supply of soup dumplings in Manhattan is Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao. The group, which has been a staple of Queens’ Flushing neighbourhood for almost 20 years, just opened its second Manhattan location, on St Marks Place; the first opened in Koreatown in Octo- ber 2022. Each location typically serves about 700 baskets of dumplings, or roughly 4,200 individual pieces, a day. 

Michael Ma, a partner at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, said the company expanded in Manhattan because of growing demand and also to be near the New York University crowd. “The East Village has such a diverse and lively energy in the food and beverage scene. It resembles downtown Flushing, where our original location is,” he said. 

Nan Xiang’s roster of dumplings has expanded over the years as the brand’s audi- ence has grown: It now offers about a dozen flavours, including uber-comfort chicken soup dumplings and gourd luffa shrimp pork soup dumplings enhanced with the squashlike vegetable. 

A representative for Din Tai Fung said TikTok and YouTube have created a surge in awareness, via memes such as “Everything I Ate at Din Tai Fung”. The videos have generated millions of views and thousands of comments, helping spike sales of dishes including chocolate mochi xiao long bao, with its gooey, photogenic filling. 

Ma also credits TikTok and Instagram with the explosion, pun definitely intended, of soup dumpling popularity. “Social media has been the biggest impact on Nan Xiang growing into the restaurant it is today,” he said. 

Another benefit: Diners are getting better at safely consuming xiao long bao. Before the rise of social media, people vividly remembered their first encounter with soup dumplings, Ma recalled, where “they would be warned by dining companions, followed by a demonstration, carefully instructed by a server, or simply learn step by step from a placard at the table” how to eat them properly without scalding themselves with the broth. 

Now, TikTok has helped customers become experts by the time they sit down for their inaugural xiao long bao. “Everyone has their own unique way of enjoying their soup dumplings,” Ma said. “We only ask that people not try the one-bite method with a freshly steamed soup dumpling, for their safety and the safety of diners around them.” 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition