Food News

Please Don't Do This to Your Soup Dumplings

April  3, 2017

Last week, Time Out London released a video on Facebook that’s been described as "heartbreaking" and "the food lover's version of a snuff film," and I’m afraid these hyperboles aren’t too far off.

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.


sammy April 3, 2017
yeah. agree with E and Mayukh on this one. while there are arguably a few "right" ways to eat a soup dumpling, most of which involve a soup spoon and some very thoughtful nibbling, this is definitely and horrifically the wrong way to eat a soup dumpling.
E April 3, 2017
BUT THERE IS A RIGHT WAY TO EAT SOUP DUMPLINGS - or else don't eat soup dumplings! I appreciated this article because if you are saying "I'm going to eat a soup dumpling" and let the broth seep into the basket, what you are eating is a subpar dumpling. When I was new to soup dumplings, I was scared so I ate them in not the best way such that the broth would seep out and the remaining dumpling was kind of dry. So if my only impressions of soup dumplings was something without the actual soup, I would think that they're pretty bad / not worth eating. So that video basically was showing "hey! eat it this way, and you def won't want to eat soup dumplings again."

When eaten the way Chinese people eat it, by putting it in a soup spoon and nibbling the top to let the steam out and cool a little, then you pop it in your mouth (or in my case, a few bites) - it's truly revelatory. So idk, I thought this was a good article highlighting why food is more than just the cooking. It is also the purpose behind it, and how to eat it such that you are experiencing it at its best form.
Timothy R. April 3, 2017
Normally I really enjoy your articles, but you must be bored today.
Joy H. April 3, 2017
Every time I see the picture that accompanies the "Yes, You Can Make Soup Dumplings at Home" article I cringe because they're so flat and, well, ugly. Maybe the reason that picture was used is to make people feel like homemade soup dumplings are more accessible, but it's totally possible to make beautiful, plump soup dumplings at home! Please re-shoot the soup dumplings; they deserve so much more than that picture.
Sean April 3, 2017
It's almost as if someone punctured the author with a chopstick and allowed all the self awareness to drain out before he wrote this article. To wit: did anyone else get whiplash from reading this after his (classic) "Columbusing" article above? Which scolds, among other things, people who opine about a right (or wrong) way to eat a food of a certain ethnicity when they are not of that ethnicity?
sammy April 3, 2017
agreed, john.
Whiteantlers April 3, 2017
I have yet to eat a soup dumpling for fear of searing that part of my mouth that always gets the burned, loose, flappy bit of skin from too hot pizza but I will keep this article in mind for when the time is right. : )