The vegetable dumplings at Xi’an Famous Foods are now listed on the menu as being vegan. Previously they were not listed as such and when I first visited the Upper West Side location the cashier told me they contained eggs and thus were vegetarian but not vegan. The new vegan versions taste just as good as the prior vegetarian versions. Each year Xi’an Famous Foods wins Dumpling Hunter’s Best Vegetarian Dumpling category, unless a miracle happens I expect this year they will win Best Vegetarian and Best Vegan Dumplings.
David Chang just released a thoroughly binge-able food/travel series on NetFlix called “Ugly Delicious”. The show co-stars Peter Meehan, Chang’s partner in the sadly departed Lucky Peach magazine. These two are clearly old friends and have a great chemistry on screen that flirts with being bro-tastic without being grating. The show features Chang’s commitment to rejecting purity and piety within food culture. “I view authenticity like a totalitarian state,” Chang declares, in the show’s first episode, adding, “It’s not that I hate authenticity, it’s that I hate that people want this singular thing that is authentic.”
Episode 8 of the series stages a mock debate about the virtues of dumplings verses Italian stuffed pastas, the blurb for the episode reads “Time for the ultimate showdown: Italian stuffed pasta vs. Asian dumplings. Will xiaolongbao or tortellini carry the day?”. There is a scene I love, of Chang eating dumplings in Shanghai and his dining companion negs on Din Tai Fun, which is a famed dumpling spot that I think is way over rated.
This past week the NY Times published a great article on Shanghai, “Conquering High-Priced Shanghai, from Dumplings to Modern Art“. The author, Lucas Peterson, describes an epic dumpling eating tour and calls out the greatness of the Sheng Jian Bao, which he describes as the “intersection of steamed bun, fried pot sticker and soup dumpling”. Shanghai’s Xiao Long Bao gets all the foodie love, but I think the Shen Jian Bao is just a superior dumpling. In New York City you can get excellent Shen Jian Bao at China Blue and really good ones at Coffee Break, and Shanghai Asian Cuisine.
I have been to, and loved, Yang’s which is a Shanghai Shen Jian Bao institution and gets a mention in the article (my review here). Daniel Food Diary has a good article about Yang’s, which indicates that they have been upgrading their restaurant outlets and giving them a fast food joint feel. When I went to one of their original locations on Wujiang Road in 2012 it had a very low rent, street food vibe, which I prefer to the newer sleeker look shown in Daniel’s article.