Shanghai Soup Dumpling Index: The nerdiest food guide ever?
Chef-turned-food writer Christopher St. Cavish is striding toward the front door of the Welcome Revered Guests restaurant when he stops dead in his tracks. “They don’t like me here,” he says, frowning.
It’s not that he has panned the eatery. In fact, he gave it his highest rating. Rather, what has annoyed the staff here is the way St. Cavish judges the quintessential Shanghai snack: soup dumplings known as xiao long bao.To get more news about shanghai Chinese cuisine, you can visit shine news official website.
On his last visit to Welcome Revered Guests, he ordered nine baskets of the handmade dumplings, then spent the next hour analyzing them like a lab tech, using an electronic scale accurate to 1/100th of a gram, digital calipers capable of measuring 1/100th of a millimeter (Mitutoyo model 500-196-20), and a set of 140-millimeter shearing scissors.Scientific tools in hand, St. Cavish has probed the thinness of the dough, the volume of the soup and the weight of hundreds upon hundreds of pork meatballs at dozens of restaurants. He has even conducted a time study of how the structure of xiao long bao changes upon leaving the steamer and starting to cool in a bid to determine the ideal window in which to devour the hot little pouches before the skin thickens too much.
The numbers have been crunched into what just may be the nerdiest restaurant guide ever, the Shanghai Soup Dumpling Index. Welcome Revered Guests, or Zun Ke Lai in Mandarin, landed on top.
Xiao long bao — eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even to satisfy the midnight munchies — have become an object of obsession among foodies the world over; the Shanghai government has even listed them as one of 84 “protected traditional treasures” of the city. Debate over who makes the best rages from Shanghai to Hong Kong to Taipei to Southern California, as anyone who has ever queued for hours at the Arcadia branch of Din Tai Fung can attest.
St. Cavish, a 34-year-old native of south Florida who worked as a chef in Miami and the Hamptons for a decade before coming to China, is perhaps more qualified than most to attest to the superiority of the dumplings here at Zun Ke Lai. Since late 2013, he has worked his way across this sprawling city of 24 million, paying surprise visits to 52 purveyors of these delicacies on a quest for the ideal xiao long bao.
“They were [angry],” St. Cavish recalls, glancing through the front window to see whether the older woman who had to hand-make his infuriating 54-dumpling order is behind the counter today. “When I later told her Zun Ke Lai came out on top of my index, she was totally unimpressed. She looked at me as if I had just told her I had a toenail problem.”
It has been more than 30 years since Harold McGee brought a chemist’s eye to American home kitchens with his 1984 book, “On Food and Cooking,” and in recent years science-inflected cooking shows such as “Good Eats with Alton Brown” have become cable TV staples in the U.S. But St. Cavish’s detailed dissection of dumplings has been greeted as something of a revelation in China, where food is generally regarded as art, not science.
News outlets across China have reported on the index, which St. Cavish has published in the form of a bilingual, scientific-looking foldable chart (cost: $8), featuring tongue-in-cheek academically pompous text alongside wonky triangle diagrams illustrating the proportion of filling to skin, the thickness of the pastry and deviation from average weight. The Guangzhou Daily has praised the “foreigner’s meticulousness and standards, which can increase efficiency and accuracy. We should all learn from it.”