Sunday, January 30, 2011

Food, Complicated.


if i were to translate xia long bao into a facebook status it would probably be, "Sinfully Delicious and COMPLICATED".

i don't know about you but my soup usually gets served in a ceramic bowl, in some cases served in a coffee cup, or the uniquely presented french onion soup in a bread bowl.

the bread bowl is complicated enough, but have you heard of soup served inside a steamed chinese bun (baozi)? the general pinoy idea of chinese bun is either the savory stuffed sio pao or the plain cua pao used to make patatim sandwiches or to wipe off the last bit of sauce left on your plate.

generally, steamed chinese buns use fully raised flour resulting in a fluffy white texture. on the other hand, partially raised flour results in a wrapper that is smooth, tender and a bit translucent when steamed. the ingredients are simple enough, all purpose flour, cold and hot water then a lot of muscle to knead the dough.

to filipinize the concept of xia long bao, think of thick, tasty savory molo soup with bits of chicken, pork or shrimp inside a sealed wrapper made of the partially raised flour. yes, soup inside a steamed bun.

the eating process is just as complex as it is not a simple matter of popping it inside your mouth like any dumpling as you run the risk of scalding the insides of your mouth with the steaming hot soup.

so how complicated is that? better yet, the question is how do you get soup inside the wrapper?

the process starts with creating gelatin made from seasoned meat stock and cut into cubes (the culinary term for this is "aspic"), mixed with an assortment of precooked meat and delicately wrapped inside the partially raised dough. form a bun that looks like the traditional sio pao by gathering the edges and sealing it with a twist at the top.

the small buns are then arranged on top of a layer of cabbage inside the steaming baskets and cooked until the texture of the buns become smooth, translucent and tender to the touch. the magic begins when the heating process melts the gelatin that fills the bun with savory soup.

the next problem is how to eat the xiao long bao. methods vary but the best way is to set it on top of a soup spoon, lightly bite along the side of the bun and to gently suck the soup. follow through by dipping the bun in you favorite mixture and taking it all in one bite.

if it's not complicated enough, xiao long bao is technically not referred to as a dumpling, nor is it called steamed bun. it doesn't exactly sit well with soup or main dish categories in the menu either.

with origins in shanghai china, it has since spread across the world and took a while before it reached the philippines.

i thought it would take me some time to sample this wonder if and when i get the chance to visit a friend whose uncle opened the singaporean franchise of crystal jade la mian xiao long bao in greenhills sometime in september of 2010.

then again, my eyes went wide and bright when i saw the xiao long bao emblazoned in the special menu of tsim sha tsui in ayala terraces cebu. i didn't lose time in ordering a serving just so i can taste all the little things that make the dish complicatedly delicious. my excitement turned to disappointment when the waiter informed me that they have ran out of stock.

just when we're about to end our meal, the waiter came up to me and said that there was a cancelled order of xia long bao and if we still wanted to sample the dish. i should have declined the offer but my desire to have a firsthand taste of the dish made me say yes.

the taste is everything i imagined it to be except for the visual presentation. the order that was served to me had a "deflated" looking bun set on condiment dish and swimming in soup that has leaked out of the bun.

the tsim sha tsui version does not do xia long bao any justice. good thing i can still make my complicated expectations a reality if when i get the chance to visit crystal jade in manila.

note: photo credits go to "steamy kitchen", soon, i'll have it in my library as well :)

for more incessant rambling, visit my blog.

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