Trader Joe's xiao long bao is—dare this Chinese food writer say it—pretty decent

Illustration for article titled Trader Joe's xiao long bao is—dare this Chinese food writer say it—pretty decent
Photo: Kevin Pang

If I’m forced to burn my Chinese card at the end of this review, I will grasp onto it with white knuckles until the very last second. Because I’m about to make a statement that takes one of Chinese gastronomy’s most beloved exports, and dare say a made-for-Americans supermarket version is actually, inexplicably, palm-to-forehead-smackingly, pretty dang good.


Hold on to your wigs:

Trader Joe’s frozen xiao long bao, the Shanghainese/Taiwanese-style soup dumplings, are a B+.

How?! What?! Yes, it’s true.

Let’s tackle the minuses first.

  • The dough skin, especially the pleated top-of-dumpling and the ring you grasp with chopsticks, looked pre-formed and uniform, and this gave the usually-handmade dumplings an air of artificiality.
  • That same dough felt thicker than the thin, slack dumpling skin that emerges from most xiao long bao bamboo steamers.

Here’s what worked:

  • That burst of broth when you bite into a xiao long bao whole? It’s here. It’s rich and appealing, and there’s an adequate amount of gelatin to wash over your palate slick.
  • Typically the filling is made from pork. The fact that it’s chicken wasn’t noticeable nor distracting. That meatball is tender and juicy, and the notes of ginger and scallions come through.
  • From the time I removed it from the box to the time it came steaming from my microwave took two minutes.
  • A frozen packet of six dumplings cost $2.99 at my Chicago-area Trader Joe’s.

This is not Din Tai Fung. It’s not Joe’s Shanghai. It’s a quick hit to remind you of the possibilities of real xiao long bao. It’s a starter kit and a tide-me-over. It’s, shock of shocks, an honest-to-goodness decent soup dumpling from your microwave.


Kevin Pang was the founding editor of The Takeout, and director of the documentary For Grace.



I’m going to hesitantly make this confession in light of the recent articles there have been featuring xiao long bao, but I’ve never had it and I’m not even completely sure that there are any decent Chinese restaurants in the shithole of Phoenix. There probably are, but most of the Chinese restaurants around here are the types that offer teriyaki chicken in their lineup. I definitely would like to try this, so maybe I’ll dig around on the net for some more authentic restaurants around here, but I think that visiting the Trader Joe’s down the street might be a decent toe dip into the warm, brothy water.