Set inside London's Dumplings Legend, the video shows an anonymous pair of hands using chopsticks to pop xiaolongbao, or Shanghai soup dumplings, and letting the juice dribble out of these tiny buns and all over their baskets. The video, which isn't even a minute long, is set against a soundtrack of what seems to be a combination of deep house and elevator music. What's worse is that it's capped with a kindergarten dermatologic metaphor, one that likens this activity to pimple-popping.
To some, insisting on the “right” way to eat a certain food can sound vaguely puritanical, a directive that inherently zaps out the idiosyncratic pleasure of eating. But there's an objectively incorrect way to eat xiaolongbao, and it's in this video. Why waste the soup before it reaches your mouth? That's what separates the soup dumpling from your garden variety dumpling at all. It's as if you're treating the soup dumpling as a mere plaything, not a dish to be savored.
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The reaction was swift and appropriately furious, garnering write-ups in the Washington Post and BBC News. Most readers were rightly horrified that a travel company, ostensibly a dispensary of cultural knowledge, could be so aggressively wrong-headed in telling its readers how best to savor a dish so unique and enriching. (Scroll through the comments on that Facebook post for a survey of this anger.) This led Time Out to offer a mea culpa and own the fact that it'd screwed up in publishing this video in the first place, anticipating that it might careen into 2017's analogue to last year's pho-gate. They used this screw-up as a learning opportunity, welcoming tips on how to best consume xiaolongbao without squandering so much broth.
The internet is replete with video explainers on how best to eat soup dumplings, and though there's not necessarily any agreed-upon step-by-step rubric, all involve more gentle maneuvering than the grisly violence of the Time Out video. They suggest picking the dumplings up at the top with either tongs or chopsticks, gently puncturing the top and slurping out some soup, gradually adding some sauce to the pocket as you see fit, and making your way through the rest of the dish slowly. You take your time. Eating the soup dumpling is a delicate, difficult art for some to master, one that involves careful hand-eye coordination and chopstick manipulation. But it's worth it.
Do you ever puncture your soup dumplings before they get in your mouth? Let us know in the comments.
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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.