Sunday, May 03, 2009

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant

I have love for the gentle readers of this blog, and I'm strangely proud of my xiaolongbao review section. With an afternoon free, instead of doing something really interesting like studying, I went to Shanghai's cheesy old town shopping complex, and got in line for some Nanxiang Steamed Bun xiaolongbao! Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant is the most famous xiaolongbao in the city, at least with tourists. Due to the location and a long line, it's also a place that is apparently exclusively frequented by tourists – or in my case, when my friends or family visit the city. It's easy to find, right next to the 9-turn bridge and the entrance to Yuyuan Gardens.

Somehow it's on the checklist as a must-do for visitors to this fair city, alongside that viewing platform on the Bund. On a nice day around lunchtime, the line can be expected to last somewhere around an hour. The line tends to move in bursts, as a fresh batch of xiaolongbao gets ready – so frustratingly enough, there's no moving at all, for maybe ten minutes at a time. You do a lot of looking at the xiaolongbao getting steamed:

So how do the xiaolongbao rate? I don't think they're worth a trip to Yuyuan Gardens, nor do I think they're worth waiting in line a long time for, but they're pretty good, certainly better than average. The skin is soft, if a little spongy. The meat is tasty, but dense and too chewy, it's a little like a sausage with wet bread around it. There's no soup inside – that's one of the basic components that makes xiaolongbao be xiaolongbao! Compensate for the dryness by pouring on extra vinegar, there's a big pitcher of vinegar by the counter.

There's not any specific dining area, so people try to get a seat at the nearby benches or steps. The xiaolongbao are sold by a basket of 15 or so, for 12 kuai/basket, that's about $1.80. It's quite a lot of xiaolongbao, more like a small meal than a snack. Currently, after 5:30 they switch to crab xiaolongbao, for 20 kuai/basket. I understand there's also a crowded upstairs dining area with tables and a shorter wait, where the xiaolongbao costs more, but I've never been.

Really the best bet is to visit one of the other xiaolongbao restaurants I've rated – with the exception of the mediocre Din Tai Fung, which has a branch and a whole lot of advertisements nearby. Oh, and there's no business relation to Shangweiguan Nanxiang Xiaolongbao - Nanxiang is the suburb of Shanghai where Shanghai-style xiaolongbao was supposedly invented, it's sometimes used as an adjective to describe local-style xiaolongbao.

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