Xiaolongbao小笼包 is a famous Shanghainese delicacy that, in my humble opinion, is only edible when it's good. I say that because I have tried it at so many restaurants in my one year here, including at the famous Nanxiang Xiaolongbao chain of restaurants (with long queues everywhere), and I have arrived at the conclusion that I would only bother to eat those served at Din Tai Fung鼎泰丰 - very expensive they may be.
Needless to say I wanted to know how it was made so when JW came to visit I arranged for us to attend a private cooking class at the Chinese Cooking Workshop - a cooking school mainly attended by expats in Shanghai. They have opened a branch here in Pudong which saved us the trouble of going all the way to Puxi for the lesson.
JW all geared out for the lesson
Every Shanghainese, when I mentioned that I would be attending the class, laughed in my face. "It's too much trouble, just buy it from a shop!" was the usual advice. My driver told me that he has not eaten them for a long time, "They don't taste as good as they used to..."
Pudong branch of the Chinese Cooking Workshop (also premises of the Bakery Kitchen)
We did make xiaolongpao that morning, albeit pretty ugly ones. The difficulty lies in making a wrapper thin yet flexible and strong enough to wrap the meat in, in making the jello for the meat filling, and especially in wrapping the dumpling.
We were given a recipe for making the meat filling but did not get to see how the jello was made. The jello provides the broth in the dumpling when it is steamed. It is derived from boiling animal parts that provide the gelatine, left to cool then cut into tiny cubes to be mixed with the meat.
Rolling out the wrapper
There is a technique for rolling out the skin, another for wrapping it around the meat. Not at all easy for first timers like us.
The instructor was an experienced cook but I felt that she must have simplified her recipe for her students because the wrapper was yellower and thicker than they should be. She also made us use a lot of the filling - and I do not like my dumplings too meaty or big.
Xiaolongbao - steamed
Still, it was satisfying making my own dumplings and I hope to find the time to try out the recipe on my own in the near future.
Flower rolls - freshly rolled out
At my request we also learnt how to make Steamed Flower Rolls. I was told that mine were very pretty though I have no idea what I did to make them so.
Flower rolls - steamed
I may consider attending other classes organised by the Chinese Cooking Workshop when I have friends visiting because they provide a fun introduction to Shanghai and give us something interesting to do together. Other than that do not expect value-added instructions that more experienced cooks may need and unless you speak Mandarin the young lady they provided as interpreter was only good for simple instruction.
Chinese Cooking Workshop
Room 418, Bldg 1
3611 Zhangyang Lu by Jinqiao Lu
Tel : 139 1732 6055