The Soup Dumpling Challenge: Can They Travel?
Last week, Ben and I had an animated debate on whether or not soup dumplings (xiao long bao) can travel in a to-go box and still taste delicious. I contemplated buying some soup dumplings at Shanghai Cafe Deluxe taking them uptown to my Upper West Side abode, and reheating them in a steamer. Ben shook his head in disgust: "That's not going to work. You will regret it. Soup dumplings don't travel."
He spoke with such absolute certainty that I didn't do it. I couldn't let dumplings arrive at my house DOA—y reputation as a food explorer would have taken a serious hit.
Fast-forward sixteen hours. At 2 PM I asked Ben what would happen if I walked the two blocks to Shanghai Cafe Deluxe, ordered some soup dumplings, and returned to HQ immediately. He again shook his head: "It's still not going to work. The soup dumplings are not going to travel, even two blocks. You can't do it."
Ben was laying down the soup dumpling gauntlet, and I was up to the challenge. I told him and everyone else that I would be right back, soup dumplings in hand. "NO DAWDLING," I told them. Off I went.
2:05: I ordered the soup dumplings, which were made to order right in front of me.
2:08: I received the dumplings in a plastic take-out container. I called the office to synchronize our watches.
2:11: I arrived back at Serious Eats HQ and took the dumplings out of the bag. I put one on a spoon, and it was still to hot to just pop into my mouth. I poked a hole in one to release some of the seriously hot soup into my spoon. I took a bite.
They were perfect: wrappers thin and delicate, soup insanely porky, and filling oh so tender. No different than what I remember tasting at the restaurant when I last ordered them two weeks ago.
Seven minutes later, I tried another one. The wrapper had gotten chewy and the filling slighly mushy. The soup dumplings had been reduced to sodden mediocrity.
Everyone, even Ben, agreed: Soup dumplings can travel, but no more than two blocks. And they must be eaten immediately upon arrival. If you wait five minutes to eat your soup dumplings, you invite disaster and disappointment.