Some foods come and go, but I think in the case of Xiao Long Bao (XLB), it has gone past the stage of being a fad to becoming a firm favourite amongst Singaporeans. And I would not be surprised if 20 years from now, XLB is considered as Singaporean as Hokkien Mee. Although it is still sold mainly in restaurants at the moment, we are beginning to see some stalls beginning to sell them in Hawker Centres.
Now, you might think that it is far fetched to say that the XLB will become a Singaporean dish, we might as well say that Pasta will be considered a Singaporean dish since we are beginning to see lots of stalls in hawker centres selling Italian food. But there is one big difference. We are going to have a bigger population of Singaporeans of Northern Chinese descent in the future. Right now, they are still considered “China born Chinese” but their offspring will become Singaporean and bring with them their own cuisine and culture. So as our Dialect mix of mainly Southern Chinese become more diluted with the Northerners, our “local” food will surely change as well.
Anyway, I for one have grown to like this little dumpling a lot and whenever I hear of a new eatery selling it, I am always tempted to go try them out. So when Sumosumo started raving about the food at this place, it did not take us long to organize a makan session to check out the XLB.
I think part of the success of the XLB is the fact that it is a dumpling with distinct characteristics. It is easy to tell if the XLB is good or not even before you put it into your mouth. When you get presented with your rack of XLB, the first thing to observe is the number of folds it has and whether the skin is thin enough to see the pool of soup inside. Then comes the acid test which is the ability to pick up the XLB without the skin breaking. Some restaurants take so much pride in this that should your XLB burst before you put it in your mouth, that they would happily replace the XLB should it burst before its appointed time.
Well, the XLB here certainly passed the skin and soup test, what remains is the taste of the meat and the soup which I thought was very good but just lacks that X factor to make it truly exceptional. At $6.50 for a rack of 8 XLB, it is certainly good enough to make me think of coming back and ordering 2 racks and a pot of tea for a nice lunch. 4.25/5
There were several other dishes here that were surprisingly good. The homemade Seaweed Tofu was unexpectedly good. This is one of those really popular dishes that a lot of restaurant and Cze Char places are dishing up nowadays, so I have had it on numerous occasions, but this one really stood out. The tofu itself was very eggy and there was something in the sauce that had that “eat more rice” quality about it. 4.5/5
The other dish that we ended up ordering extra plates of was the Sliced Pork Belly with Garlic and Chilli Oil. Everyone was quite unanimous about this dish. It is quite addictive and is an excellent first dish to wet your expectation for the rest of the meal. Actually we had it as a first dish and the last dish since we couldn’t get enough of it. 4.5/5
The bittergourd dish drew mixed responses. Some of our kakis really loved it but I felt that the combination of bitter with salty just did not do it for me. Bitter goes well with sweet, like coffee or Durians, but bitter with salty is a difficult combination to get right. 3/5
The Pancake with Chives was a little different from the usual as it had minced pork in it. For $6.80 it was excellent value I thought. Tastewise I felt that the crust lacked a certain amount of chewiness underneath the crispy crust. However, the mince pork gave it a great savoury flavour. 4/5
Fancy finding a Little Chinese Restaurant in Little India. If you are looking for an alternative place for your Xiao Long Bao fix, you might just like to pay this place a visit. Parking is convenient, prices are reasonable and there are a couple of dishes that will make you go “Phwaa!”. Another great thing is that they open till midnight, just in case you suddenly get a craving for XLB late at night.
What to do next?
We did a poll to see how people eat their XLB, the results are here
Hand in Hand Beijing Restaurant