The tangbao is twice the size of a standard soup dumpling and filled to the brim with soup and crab roe.
Soup dumplings originated in China, but they are now popular around the world and come in various shapes and sizes.
The standard soup dumpling, xiaolongbao 小笼包, is about the size of a golf ball. Eating it requires great care, as the skin is delicately thin and the filling consists of piping hot broth.
Few soup dumplings, though, are as big as the tangbao 汤包, which is twice the size of a standard xiaolongbao, putting it more on part with a bagel than a dumpling. It still needs a delicate skin, but it also has to be strong enough to hold all the soup.
“The biggest soup dumpling we ever made was 500 grams [1 pound],” says Miao Xianghong, a chef at the Hongyun Hotel in Jingjiang, China. “But our standard size, for a group of six, is about 140 grams.”
Tangbao is a specialty of Jiangsu Province, just outside Shanghai. The filling is made with pork, as well as meat and roe from crabs raised in lakes along the Yangtze River.
“This type of crab, the Chinese mitten crab, when you eat it, the meat tastes a bit sweet,” says Miao, who’s been making soup dumplings for over 20 years.
The meat is mixed together with aspic, a gelatin made by boiling pork skin and bones for several hours. When the broth cools, it becomes aspic. When it’s steamed, the gelatin turns back to liquid, the soup in soup dumplings.
Wrapping the filling inside the dough skin is the hardest part of the process, says Miao. A typical xiaolongbao has 16 to 18 folds, but the larger tangbao requires up to 33 folds.
“A tangbao should have about 28 to 33 folds,” Miao says. “Under 28 folds, you can’t close it. Over 33, and it’s too big.”
The dumpling is steamed for five minutes in a bamboo steamer and then ready to eat. Contrary to popular belief—and what you see on Instagram—it should not be eaten with a straw.
“The inside temperature of a soup dumpling is quite high,” Miao says. “If you use a straw and suck in the soup, you’ll burn your throat.”
Instead, Miao recommends customers bite a small hole on the dumpling skin and slowly sip out the soup. “In your mouth, you can control the temperature,” he says. “You can drink more or less, and slowly swallow it.”
In Jiangsu, he says, there’s a saying for how to properly enjoy a tangbao: “Lift it lightly, move quickly, open a window, drink the soup, and finally, gobble it all up.”