Thanks for all the additional suggestions. I'd love to compile an extensive list of Shanghai XLB joints so we can go out and do another sample. Many of the places we visited, Shanghai Ren Jia in particular, were oddly fancy joints. We really enjoyed the 'hole in the wall' atmosphere Jia Jia Tang Bao and are looking for more restaurants like that. Any suggestions? Also we are making a trip to the Guilin area. Any suggestions for local specialties there?
We spent last Saturday traveling around Shanghai in search of the best Xiaolongbao and Tangobao. Here is our review.
Jia Jia Tang Bao (Go early. They sell out by 1:00)
This place specializes in serving Xiaolongbao hot and fresh. They prepare them after you order, right before your eyes. The dough is perfect, thin and translucent, not gummy and not too tough. The bags are perfectly shaped teardrops, each one pinched lightly at the top. In addition to pork, this place also serves crab and shrimp dumplings. We tried a crab-pork mix and found that while delicious the crab absorbed the soup and left the dumpling a little hollow.
Shanghai Ren Jia was one of two places we found serving Tang Bao. Our giant Tang Bao were filled with warm soup swimming with bits of pork. The dumpling dough was tough and thick. Like a bread bowl, it seemed the dough functioned just as housing for the soup and was not worth eating. We had a great time drinking them through straws but they are definitely not as delicious as Xiaolongbao. They reminded us of fair food, novel, but impossible to eat regularly. Asking for Tang Bao in Shanghai is akin to asking where to buy funnel cake or elephant ears in the US. We've all eaten them but who knows where to find one?
Din Tai Fung
These were the best Xiaolongbao we tasted. However, they are ten times the price of Jia Jia Tang Bao's and only marginally better. The soup is rich and delicious. The bags are translucent and pinched perfectly at the top. The bags are so delicate, you must pick them up carefully. A false move and you'll pierce them with a chopstick, popping the bag and causing the hot soup to explode. This would be a fun place to bring a bunch of people and sample all the dumplings on the menu.
At this famous tourist destination, you can find both Tang Bao and Xiaolongbao. Many stalls sell Tang Bao, which were not served fresh. We found the dough dry and waxy and the soup oily and lukewarm. Shanghai Ren Jia's were much better.
The Xiaolongbao stall across from the giant water fountain is the most famous in Shanghai. You can't miss it. Look for the hour long line, crammed with Chinese tourists. Local Shanghainese are not impressed with this place and, after taking one nibble, we learned why. They're awful: thick, gooey, and bland. On the other hand, it's a real treat watching their operation in action!
Wang Jia Sha
Wag Jia Sha is a food court with mediocre dumplings. It is worth a stop if you're nearby but not worth a detour. The soup was tasty but a bit oily and the dumpling skin too robust.
Xiaolongbao joints are scattered all around Shanghai. These stands are not known for quality control. In any given order you will find fantastic Xiaolongbao on par with Jia Jia Tang Bao side by side with so-so dumplings. Our neighborhood joint is on the corner of Gongyuan Rd. and Tianping Rd.