Since coming back to the US, I have had a hard time finding pan-fried pork buns, called shenjian bao in Chinese.
In Shanghai, they were available on practically every street corner. Like the more widely known xiaolong bao (called "soup dumplings" in English), sheng jian bao is also filled with ground pork and piping hot soup. But unlike its steamed counterpart, sheng jian bao is panfried until crispy on the bottom, then topped with sesame seeds and chives. They're so juicy that you have to bite into them carefully, or risk having hot broth spray out onto your shirt or at your dining companion across the table, neither of which are good ways to begin a meal.
A couple weeks ago I headed out to Flushing with Kian to try Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao. Fortunately, this place has no relation to the overrated and overly touristy Nan Xiang mini-chain in Shanghai. This Nan Xiang is a plainly adorned, two-room restaurant that draws a huge lunch crowd. We ordered a handful of dishes, one of my favorites being stir-fried glutinous rice cakes with seafood. If you like your starch dishes chewy, this is one to try, and even better topped with shrimp and fish. The texture of the rice cakes is similar to that of knife-cut noodles, or maybe even gnocchi.
I grew up drink sweetened soy milk from Chinatown, but have never tried salty soy milk. When Kian ordered it, I expected it to come in a big glass, and taste a little like salted lassi. Instead, it came in a bowl like soup or congee and topped with a single piece of fried dough. It was interesting, but seemed like something I would have to try a few more times to really crave.
The signature dish of xiaolong bao was also very good, thin-skinned and filled with a good amount of flavorful broth. We ordered the crab and pork version, and the crab was picked through well, unlike other spots where you might get a fair amount of crab shell in your dumpling. But I guess I'm spoiled by having had tried some amazing places in Beijing and Shanghai. I also began thinking about the dearly departed Yeah Shanghai Deluxe on Bayard Street in Chinatown, my former go-to soup dumpling spot that is now a Sichuan restaurant. It was always a good place to go on a whim right after shopping somewhere downtown, or to bring friends and relatives visiting New York. If anyone knows of a good xiaolong bao restaurant that doesn't require taking the 7 train, please let me know!
As for the pan-fried bao in the first picture, they were different from what I expected. They were certainly panfried and topped with sesame seeds, but surprisingly had no soup to go with the ground pork inside. Almost tennis-ball-sized, they were also much bigger and fluffier than the squarish Shanghainese bao, and thus extremely filling. Still, they were juicy enough to be worth the trip to Flushing, especially when I can also have the stir-fried rice cakes to go with my meal.
Now if only the owners wanted to open a Chinatown or Sunset Park branch...
Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao
38-12 Prince Street
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