Xiao Long Bao, you are apparently the ‘it-girl’ of Chinese cuisine in Richmond, and until now I didn’t even know you exist. I’m genuinely sorry about that, and will try to make it up to you.
Here’s what I know about you so far: you’re a type of steamed ‘soup dumpling’ that arrives at the table in its bamboo steamer; you’re a specialty of Shanghai; your dough is made from flour, water, and oil; your history is far more complicated than I will ever be able to explain here; and finally, I will never attempt to make you at home, because there are far too many restaurants in Richmond that make you so well. Suhang is one of them.
Today I was joined at Suhang by a group of friends for lunch. Amy, one of the owners and also our server, could not have been a more gracious host. She explained many of their dishes, helped us with our order, and away we flew to dim sum heaven (first class, because it’s my imagination and only there will I ever get to do such a thing).
In total we ordered seven dishes. In no particular order, they were:
Marinated Bean Curd with Vegetables: This was a cold dish (and they don’t mess around when they say cold, the plate and food were chill-y) that consisted of finely chopped tofu and spinach. It was healthy and flavourful.
Shrimp and Chive Dumplings: These were pan-fried and incredible. I’ve tasted few (if any) homemade dumplings in a Chinese restaurant before, and the difference is remarkable. They tasted fresh, crispy, and chewy – chewy because of the hand-developed gluten in the dough, and not because of freezer burn. Eating them reminded me of the first time I tried homemade perogies after only having had them store-bought. Incomparable, my friends, incomparable.
Turnip Cakes: These were like savoury, sesame-covered turnip pot pies, and I want more now. Right this instant. Turnip cakes at Suhang – ORDER THEM.
Baked Sugar Cakes: Flaky pastry, just a hint of sweet syrup, and more sesame seeds. Delightful.
Pan Fried Rice Cakes (Nian Gao) with Pickled Vegetables: Rice cakes are little medallions made from glutinous rice that look like sliced water chestnuts. They’re white, chewy, and until yesterday I was rather indifferent to them. However, when stir-fried with flavourful pickled vegetables and edamame, I’m on board!
Chinese Fried Doughnuts: You had me at “doughnut.” I marvel at nearly every culture’s ability to take dough, deep-fried it, and make it their own. In this case, the final product is a long, skinny length of golden pastry. They’re airy and light but not sugary at all, and we dipped them into warm, sweetened soy milk. I’ve heard you can also eat these with congee – a starch on starch combination I’m curious to try.
Xia Long Bao: Here you are again, darlings. These little packages arrived hot, steaming, and filled with both ‘soup’ and ground pork. They’re expertly wrapped so as not to allow any of the contents to spill out, and I was curious about how they do such a thing. That led to recollections of my childhood inability to figure out how the makers of Caramilk get soft caramel inside hard chocolate. My poor little noggin worked so hard but just couldn’t figure it out.
Fortunately, we now have the internet to find answers to our questions! The secret to the broth in xiao long boa is aspic, which up until now I’d only associated with the French, Julia Child, and 1950’s housewives. Here, the congealed aspic is mixed with the pork filling, and when steamed, melts into a hot and tasty broth. Hence, never eat a cold xiao long bao. The soup inside will no longer be soup.
It must take years to master these things. The dough has to be thin enough not to overwhelm the fillings, but not so thin that it bombs all over your lap (which is is entirely possible when eating them for the first time, I assure you).
Our bill came to $44.13. For FIVE people. Crazy, right? Less than $10 per person for incredible food, lovely service, and a refined atmosphere. I would definitely take visitors back to Suhang, and am already looking forward to seeking out more xiao long bao (and doughnuts!) around the city…..