What Are Soup Dumplings and How Are They Made?

Soup dumplings, also known as xiaolongbao, are a type of Chinese steamed bun filled with meat or vegetables and a savory broth. These little pouches are a true culinary masterpiece that originated in Shanghai in the late 19th century.

One of the most remarkable things about soup dumplings is the way they are prepared. Unlike traditional dumplings, soup dumplings are filled with a gelatinous broth that turns into liquid when steamed.

This means that when you bite into the dumpling, you get a burst of hot soup along with the filling. The process of creating these delicate little parcels is incredibly intricate and requires a high level of skill and precision.

Soup dumplings have become increasingly popular in recent years, with many restaurants around the world offering their own take on this classic dish.

Whether you’re a fan of pork, chicken, beef, or vegetarian fillings, there’s a soup dumpling out there for everyone.

So, if you’re looking to try something new and exciting, why not give these delicious little parcels a try?

Origins and History

Soup dumplings, also known as xiao long bao, are a type of Chinese steamed bun filled with hot, savory soup and meat or vegetable filling.

The dish has gained popularity around the world for its unique combination of textures and flavors.

In this section, we will explore the origins and history of this delicious dish.

Ancient Roots

The origins of soup dumplings are often debated, but most agree that the dish has been around for over a century.

Some sources claim that soup dumplings were first created in the Shanghai suburb of Nanxiang in the late 1800s by a restaurant owner named Huang Mingxian.

He wanted to create a dumpling that would surprise and delight his guests, so he added aspic to the filling. When the dumpling was steamed, the gelatin melted, creating a delicious soup inside.

Others believe that soup dumplings have even deeper roots in Chinese culinary history.

The Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) is often credited with the invention of the first dumplings, which were filled with meat, vegetables, and spices.

Over time, different regions of China developed their own variations of the dumpling, including the soup dumpling.

Spread to Different Regions

While soup dumplings are often associated with Shanghai cuisine, the dish has spread to other regions of China and beyond.

In Taiwan, soup dumplings became popular in the 1970s after a cooking oil store was transformed into a restaurant called Din Tai Fung.

Today, Din Tai Fung has locations around the world and is known for its delicious soup dumplings.

Soup dumplings have also become popular in other parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea.

In the United States, soup dumplings can be found in many Chinese restaurants, as well as specialty dumpling shops.

Overall, soup dumplings have a rich and fascinating history that spans centuries and multiple regions.

Whether you enjoy them in a traditional Shanghai restaurant or at a trendy dumpling spot in New York City, soup dumplings are a beloved dish that continues to captivate diners around the world.

Ingredients and Preparation


The dough for soup dumplings is made with basic all-purpose flour and hot water.

Using hot, but not boiling, water helps to develop the gluten in the dough, which makes for stretchy, chewy dumplings.

Mix until just combined, then knead the dough until it forms a smooth ball. Cover the dough and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out.


The filling for soup dumplings is typically made with ground pork, but can also include shrimp, chicken, or vegetables.

The meat is usually seasoned with soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and other spices.

The filling is then wrapped in the dough and steamed, allowing the broth to cook inside the dumpling.


The key to soup dumplings is the broth that is inside. The broth is made by simmering pork bones and chicken bones for several hours with aromatics like ginger and scallions.

The broth is then strained and seasoned with soy sauce and other spices. The broth is added to the filling before the dumplings are sealed, so that when they are steamed, the broth melts into a delicious soup.

Once the dough has rested, it is rolled out into thin circles and cut into rounds. A small amount of filling is placed in the center of each round, along with a spoonful of broth.

The edges of the dough are then pleated together to seal the dumpling. The dumplings are then steamed for several minutes until the dough is cooked through and the filling and broth are piping hot.

Soup dumplings are typically served with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger. They are a delicious and comforting dish that is perfect for a cold day.

Types of Soup Dumplings

Regional Variations

Soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, are a staple of Shanghai cuisine, but there are many regional variations of this dish.

In Jiangsu province, where Shanghai is located, soup dumplings are traditionally made with a pork filling. In other regions, different meats or seafood are used as the filling.

For example, in Guangdong province, soup dumplings are often filled with shrimp or scallops. In the northeast of China, lamb is a popular filling for soup dumplings.

In Hong Kong, soup dumplings are known as “siu lung bao” and are often filled with a mixture of pork and shrimp.

Each region has its own twist on the classic soup dumpling, making it a versatile dish that can be enjoyed in many different ways.

Vegetarian Options

While soup dumplings are traditionally made with a meat filling, there are many vegetarian options available as well. In fact, some restaurants specialize in vegetarian soup dumplings.

Vegetarian fillings can include a variety of ingredients, such as tofu, mushrooms, and vegetables. Some restaurants even offer sweet soup dumplings filled with red bean paste or other sweet fillings.

It’s important to note that not all soup dumpling restaurants offer vegetarian options, so it’s best to check ahead of time if you have dietary restrictions.

Serving and Eating Soup Dumplings


Soup dumplings are traditionally served in bamboo steamers, which are lined with parchment paper to prevent sticking.

The dumplings are arranged in a circular pattern in the steamer, with the pleated side facing up.

This presentation allows the diner to see the filling inside the dumpling and appreciate the skill of the chef in creating a perfectly pleated dumpling.


When eating soup dumplings, it is important to follow a few basic rules of etiquette. First, use chopsticks to pick up the dumpling and place it on a soup spoon.

Be careful not to puncture the delicate skin of the dumpling, as this will cause the soup to leak out. Next, bite off a small piece of the top of the dumpling to release the steam and allow the soup to cool slightly.

Finally, use the soup spoon to sip the soup from the dumpling before eating the rest of the dumpling in one bite. It is customary to dip the dumpling in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar before eating.

When dining with others, it is polite to offer to share the soup dumplings with the rest of the table. It is also important to wait until everyone has been served before beginning to eat.


  • Be careful not to burn your mouth on the hot soup inside the dumpling.
  • Do not try to eat the dumpling in one bite without first releasing the steam and sipping the soup.
  • Use the soup spoon to catch any soup that may spill out of the dumpling.
  • Experiment with different dipping sauces to find the combination that you like best.

Overall, soup dumplings are a delicious and unique dining experience that should be enjoyed with care and respect for the tradition and skill that goes into making them.


Soup dumplings are a delicious and popular dish that have been enjoyed for centuries in various cultures around the world. With their delicate and savory filling, and the burst of hot soup that greets you with each bite, it’s no wonder that they have become a staple in dim sum menus and beyond.

While making soup dumplings at home may seem daunting, with the right tools and ingredients, it can be a fun and rewarding experience. From mixing the dough to filling and folding the dumplings, the process can be a labor of love that results in a delicious and impressive dish.

It’s important to note that soup dumplings, like many other foods, should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. While they may not be the healthiest food choice, they can certainly be enjoyed as an occasional treat.

Overall, soup dumplings are a culinary delight that are sure to impress and satisfy. Whether you’re enjoying them at a restaurant or making them at home, they are a dish that is worth trying at least once.

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.