I voted on the Miele Guide a month or 2 ago and I’m really happy to see Jia Jia Tang Bao (佳家汤包) on the list! And then I realized I’ve been meaning to write about the restaurant since June last year (yes, 10 months ago) … and I still haven’t gotten around to doing it. I will do so right now.
Let’s just say no food blog would ever be complete if Shanghai was the subject and Jia Jia Tang Bao wasn’t mentioned. And that’s saying quite a bit about the restaurant already. If you think Din Tai Fung is good (well, it is), Jia Jia Tang Bao is better – by quite a bit … but DTF is still pretty good (notice I’m being very cautious not to aggravate the Din Tai Fung camp here). And if I were to ever put together a “Top 10 Best Culinary Experience I’ve Had”, this restaurant would also be up there on my list. Wow. Along with Xiao Yang Sheng Jian (小杨生煎馆), which I’ll briefly mention later.
Anyway, given how good this place is, I think it deserves a little story-telling about how I (or rather, my very good friend Vince) found out about the restaurant:
It was in late 2005 when both Vince and I were working as consultants in Shanghai and let’s be honest – what else is there to do then, other than watch pirated DVD’s, eat and clubbing? I think he grew sick of always dining at fancy restaurants (he stayed at the Marriott serviced apartments for 9 months, paid for by the client, of course) and so he went on a mission to scout out good local hideouts. Jia Jia Tang Bao was relatively unknown at the time and he found out about it by asking a taxi driver where he goes for xiao long bao, and you can’t really go wrong with that! Btw, I really think the restaurant should write Vince a cheque and cut him a piece of their profit for spreading the word back in the day … but we’ll have our legal department do that later.
And that was the original Jia Jia Tang Bao, which was located on Henan Nan Lu near Zhong Hua Lu Wen Miao Lu (Thanks for the correction there V). It was literally, a hole-in-wall restaurant with really dirty floor, tables, chopsticks, etc. You can probably fit about 10 customers inside the restaurant and another 10 outside. Opening hours are usually from 11:30AM to about 5-6PM; and that’s because they have limited food supplies every day. Once they’re done selling all their xiao long bao, they’re closed for the day. And just like Din Tai Fung, all of their xiao long bao’s are made fresh every minute.
Because of Huangpu District’s plan to expand Henan Nan Road, that original store had to make way for the district government. If you try to visit that same location today, you’d be standing in the middle of a very busy road. But the owner had strategically opened a newer (and cleaner) branch on Huanghe Road near Nanjing Road (north of People’s Square). This location has been around for close to 3 years now and continues to be frequented by a lot of tourists (mostly from HK), expats working in Shanghai and some locals as well.
Here are some pictures from the Huanghe Road restaurant and their fooooood:
If you try to visit the restaurant from 11:30AM to about 2:30PM (or maybe even 3PM), expect to wait in line for about 20-30 minutes. Either you go really early, like before 11:30AM, or you go after the lunch rush, which is around 3:30, but if you go any later than say 4:30PM – 5PM, you’ll risk missing out on some of the dumplings since they only make so much each day and if they’re sold out, then they don’t bother making any more!
See, no holes in the wall!
Here’s a Seaweed and Egg Soup (紫菜蛋皮汤), which cost RMB 2 and is absolutely tasteless and MSG-filled. I don’t know why I get this every time – I guess I like the seaweed, but I think its a good way to warm up for what’s coming next.
The Pork Dumplings. This can be quite salty sometimes, but it really brings out the flavour from the fatty pork, which is basically what the juice / soup is inside the thin layer of skin. I really like my xiao long bao skin thin, and while this might not be quite as thin as the ones from Din Tai Fung, the ones here are really damn close.
Whats even more important than thin skin, is how tough it is. I don’t think I’ve ever had a soup-breakage accident here unless the tang bao’s been sitting in the steam basket for much longer than it should’ve. You know that feeling when you think you have a good grip of the xiao long bao with your chopsticks, only to have the pork ball and soup fall out, leaving you with only the skin? Yeh, non-existent at Jia Jia Tang Bao. Its almost like they had a team research on the skin in a science lab.
Btw, if you want to try all of the different flavours, you must work your way up (i.e. have the “simpler” dumplings first … and then proceed to the more “complex” dumplings). Using the price of the dumpling to tell is generally a good gauge, but make sure you tell the lady at the counter that’s how you want it. During the lunch rush, they might just throw whatever is ready at you … which could potentially ruin your culinary experience there.
Here, we made sure the flow was:
- Pork Tang Bao (纯鲜肉汤包) – ¥7.5
- Crab Roe & Pork Dumplings (蟹粉鲜肉汤包) – ¥19.5
- Pure Crab Roe Dumplings (纯蟹粉汤包) – ¥81
Next up was the Crab Roe & Pork Dumplings (蟹粉鲜肉汤包) (above), which is a mix between what we just had and what we’re about to have. But I would say its still 80% pork and 20% crab roe. The strong and sharp flavours from the crab roe is unmistakenly there, but it was still pretty much a pork dumpling mixed with small orange oil drops from the crab roe.
All of their dumplings come in a dozen in a steam basket, but the pure crab roe dumplings come in 6 per baskets and they give you 2 baskets. At RMB 81, this is definitely not cheap by Shanghai standards, but what they give you is, as the name suggests … PURE crab roe, crab meat and crab roe oil / essence. Til this day, I have yet to find anything close to the quality / quantity of roe they give you in these pockets of culinary orgasm. Each piece of this dumpling is like eating a mouthful of the best part of a hairy crab – only without all the effort. Enough said.
What remains a mystery to me is that the hairy crab season is between late September to December of each year. So how are they able to serve this dish throughout the year? And how is it that the quality remains the same (assuming they have folks taking out the crab roe and meat from hairy crabs during the fall / winter season every year and put the stuff in the freezer).
Well, that’s not something I should dwell on anyway.
What I should really be concerned about is what a dozen of these pure crab roe dumplings would do to my cholesterol level after every visit. I swear, this or sea urchin will kill me one day.
Just look at that!!!
Our battle trophies.
This place continues to be one of my gratifying culinary experiences ever … but to those 2 ladies below … it was just another day at Jia Jia Tang Bao. Such simplicity and zero-pretentiousness = Shanghai’s most underrated restaurant.
Two items were sold out already as we were leaving …
Jia Jia Tang Bao (佳家汤包)
Huanghe Lu (near Nanjing Road West)
Oh and if you’re still not full (although I’m pretty sure you will be stuffed) … look across the street and you’re find the equally famous Xiao Yang Sheng Jian, but that definitely deserves its own little post. Here’s a glimpse of the Huanghe Lu branch (not Wujiang Lu branches).
If you want to do it the Shanghai way, try visiting the restaurant in your PJ’s, just like that gentleman you see in the middle. It was like 4PM!
If you’ve never seen how real shen jian dumplings are made, have a look … it always amazes me how they’re able to handle a burning metal plate with ripped cardboards as grips.
These 2 are must-try restaurants in Shanghai. And yes, you can quote Siuyeh. You won’t regret it … but be warned. If you’re having more than 4 shen jian bao’s from 小扬生煎馆 for lunch, you can pretty much forget about dinner.
Filed under: China, Shanghai | Tagged: Best Restaurant in Shanghai, China, Culture, Din Tai Fung, 黄河路, Huanghe Lu, Huanghe Road, Jia Jia Tang Bao, Miele Guide, People's Square, Restaurant, Restaurant Review, Review, Seaweed and Egg Soup (紫菜蛋皮汤), Shanghai, Shanghai Most Underrated Restaurant, Sheng Jian Bao, Xiao Long Bao, Xiao Yang Sheng Jian Guan, 南京西路, 小扬生煎馆, 佳家汤包 | 6 Comments »