Xiao Long Bao, casually known as XLB, is a much-loved Chinese cuisine known for its delicate wrapping and flavorful soup filling with a powerful aroma. As famous as Xiao Long Bao is today, it comes from humble beginnings. Its creator, Huang Mingxian, was the owner of a restaurant called Ri Hua Xuan. It was while working here that he created Xiao Long Bao in the 1870s. It happened somewhat by accident as he added aspic to minced pork and then steamed it. Mingxian quickly noticed that the aspic turned liquid and the dumpling filled with soup.
The Early Marketing of Xiao Long Bao
After tasting Xiao Long Baoand realizing it was delicious, Mingxian knew that others in his village would enjoy it as well. He came up with the name Nanxiang da rou mantou, which means large bun filled with meat. He reasoned that the petite size of the soup dumplings would surprise diners and create a memorable experience for them, which turned out to be true.
Although customers came to Ri Hua Xuan in droves to taste what is now known as Xiao Long Bao, they weren’t crazy about the name that Mingxian assigned it at the time. They took to calling it by a name that they felt better described its appearance and origination. That name was Nanxiang xiaolongbao. The first part of the name described the region where the memorable dish originated from while xiao meant small, long meant basket, and bao meant bun. Over the years, people separated the words and then eventually begin referring to it as XLB.
Another Version on the Origin of Xiao Long Bao
While most Chinese credit Huang Mingxian with creating the delicious dumpling dish, some hold to an alternative theory that it was Emperor Qianlong who actually brought Xiao Long Bao to prominence. The emperor, whose life spanned from 1711 to 1789, was traveling through the Wuxi, Jiangsu province in the mid-1700s when he tasted the dumpling for the first time. People of the region called Emperor Qianlong the Swimming Dragon, which translates to Youlong in Chinese, because he typically traveled along the river.
The Emperor’s ringing endorsement of the new dumplings made it famous throughout the region. In fact, some people believed that the word long in Xiao Long Bao should be replaced with dragon instead of standing for basket. Even so, the XLB moniker has stood the test of time for at least two centuries.
Eating Xiao Long Bao Today
When a person bites into a soup dumpling for the first time, he or she often expresses a sense of wonder at their pure deliciousness of it. They quickly learn how to carefully open the dumpling and extract the juice without burning their mouths.
Although it’s served primarily as a snack or appetizer, people often want several more once they have had the chance to try their first one. Regardless of which version of the origination of Xiao Long Bao is true, no one could have predicted how much people would continue to enjoy this culinary delight centuries later or how its popularity quickly grew outside of China.
In China, A Meal is More than Something to Eat
In many countries and places, the true culture of the place can be found in the food, but it isn’t always what is eaten, although that is important, that truly showcases the social fabric. How the food is eaten is just as important. As globalization makes the world ever smaller, food may be the last true indicator of an area’s society.
Meal Time in China Conveys the Family Hierarchy
The majority of tables in a Chinese household are round, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place of honor. The most esteemed guest or the head of the household will generally sit in the chair that faces the entrance to the dining area. To the left and to the right of the head of the family will sit the next members of importance, and this hierarchy will continue on around the table meaning the youngest member of the family ends up directly across from the oldest.
Once everyone is seated, it isn’t yet time to dig in. The more traditional families will require the youngest to invite the eldest to enjoy the meal. It is also important to note that the best dishes or favorite dishes will be placed directly in front of the head of the family and the treasured guests. The first person to pick up their chopsticks and begin the meal will also be the head of the family, but once that action has begun, the younger generations can relax and enjoy the meal. Respect and duty have been served.
Etiquette at a Chinese Dinner Table
Wherever you are seated at the table, you should begin your meal with those dishes that are nearest to you. Adding a few morsels to your plate with your chopsticks before passing the dish on to the person on your left or right. No one should dig around in the plate with their chopsticks looking for a particular piece of meat or another item because this is not only very rude, but it is also extremely unhygienic.
At a formal dinner or banquet, there can be anywhere from 12-16 dishes on the table. There will generally be a handful of cold dishes such as fruit or other items typically served chilled or at room temperature. Then there will also be eight to ten dishes of heated food items. If there are items on the table that are very expensive or foods that are considered rare, this is considered an honor to the guests.
In the Chinese household, a family member may show affection by placing a particularly good morsel of food on a loved one’s plate. This is considered the equivalent of telling someone you care about them. People that have a hard time talking about their feelings of affection can generally get the point across in this manner.
At the End of the Meal
Once a diner has finished eating, he or she will place their chopsticks neatly to the side of their bowl or plate. It is considered very rude to leave them stuck inside the unfinished food bits, and it is against etiquette to leave them sticking up from a rice bowl. This act invokes leaving incense on the altar of a dead ancestor, so it is considered rude and disrespectful to do so at the dinner table.
The rules of etiquette may have morphed over the years in the Chinese household, and in any other household in the world, but there is still a lot to learn in the eating rituals of other cultures. Having a meal with a family in China, or even a Chinese household in another country is a good way to experience what it means to be Chinese.
Since it’s opening, Chili House SF has taken a extraordinary amount of pride in our Peking Duck offerings. From the sourcing and preparation of the duck, to how it is carved and served to diners at their tables, the utmost care is taken to ensure quality and a memorable experience. Today, Chili House is a favored location among tourists, San Francisco and Bay Area locals, and even food bloggers and critics for top-notch Peking Duck.
To bring a contemporary Chinese twist to this otherwise traditional classic, Chili House SF is now offering Peking Duck with Caviar. While the say that gluttony is a vice, the experience of this new house special is an exquisite indulgence. From one plate diners can enjoy a perfectly served Peking Duck in it’s traditional form, with steamed pancakes, sweet bean sauce, spring onions and cucumber.
From the other plate, diners delight in bite-sized, caviar-topped slivers of crispy duck skin, shining with a oh-so-thin layer of fat on a layer of toast. The soft caviar blends with the crisp duck skin to create an incredible combination. You’ll definitely know you’re eating duck, but the subtle highlights will leave you wanting more. Ask about this extraordinary new dish on your next visit to Chili House SF!
For many people, the absolute ideal food is some sort of noodles. There are so many different styles and varieties, and noodles are extremely versatile can be delicious in a multitude of dishes.
There is one particular noodle that seems to be rising in popularity, and that is Liangpi, the cold skin noodle. If you haven’t had the opportunity to try these yet, don’t let the word “skin” throw you. Liangpi noodles are not actually skin; they are made from wheat starch or rice flour.
Liangpi originally hailed from a Shaanxi province of China, but it is now eaten in many other regions of the country. The northern and central parts of China are particularly fond of this specialty dish. However, foodies can order this particular noodle dish in restaurants all over the world. There is a very popular vegan version of this dish at Xi’an Famous Foods in New York City.
There are a few different ways to make these noodles, but generally, it starts with wheat flour, water, and salt. A dough is made and then rinsed repeatedly to leech the starch and turn it into a paste.
The starch is spread onto a plate or other flat surface in a very thin layer, and then it is boiled until it becomes similar to a pancake. The “pancake” is cut into long, thin noodles and called Liangpi!
Popular Liangpi Dishes
There are plenty of recipes made with these wheat starch noodles, and each rendition has its own special ingredients and flavors. Here are a few of the more popular ones:
- Hanzhong Liangpi– This spicy dish is named after a city in the southwestern part of Shaanxi. The noodles are combined with garlic and hot chili oil for a fiery treat.
- Majiang Liangpi– This dish is named after one of the main ingredients: sesame paste. Also included in the dish are julienned cucumbers. The sauce contains salt, vinegar, black sesame paste, and hot chili oil.
- Shan Xin Gan Mianpi– This type of Liangpi is prepared slightly differently and ends up being darker and firmer. It is served with mashed garlic, bean sprouts, Mianjin, vinegar, and chili oil.
Typically, Liangpi dishes are served cold, even in the colder winter months.
Other Chinese Noodles to Try
Once you dive into a large bowl of Liangpi, you may want to explore other popular Chinese noodle styles. Who can blame you? Noodles are delicious in any state. Here are a few other dishes to explore as well:
- Mai Fun– these are thin rice noodles that are often eaten as a dish called Singapore Noodles. This is a dish that is made with egg, vegetables, shrimp, and yellow curry.
- Ho Fun– these rice noodles are wider and stickier. They are difficult to cook if you don’t have a really good wok, so you may want to try these out in a restaurant.
- La Mian– Chances are, you’ve already had these noodles at least once in your life as they are the ones used in instant ramen.
Now that you are familiar with Liangpi and several other Chinese noodles, it is time to go on a taste-testing tour. Start at Chili House SF and try our
Although Peking Duck is a dish that originated in China hundreds of years ago, no one has ever made a definitive statement about what to drink with it. This dish, which is now popular in Chinese restaurants in the United States, features crispy skin, abundant flesh, and sweetened fat. One thing that most diners agree on is that standard Asian flavors of salty, sweet, and hot pair especially well with Peking Duck. The matter of what to drink with this meal comes down to a matter of preference.
Factors to Consider for Pairing with Peking Duck
Before selecting a specific wine from the menu, diners should stop to consider the strongest flavors in Peking Duck and how to balance the bitterness, heat, sweetness, and saltiness with a chosen wine. Despite the complex, fatty, and rich taste of this dish, the most important thing to consider is its plum sauce. It tends to have both sweet and sour components with sweet edging out sour by just a bit.
White Wine Can Make a Great Choice
A somewhat off-dry white wine pairs well with Peking Duck and other types of Chinese food with a lot of sweetness to the flavor. Some specific things to look for in a white wine include a bright acidity factor, a small amount of oak or no oak, and a moderate to low alcohol content.
If diners receive their meal of Peking Duck and it’s sweeter than expected, choosing a white wine with higher amounts of alcohol, oak, and acidity can make a better match. Some specific white wines to consider include Efeste Riesling Columbia Valley, Pacific Rim Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc, and von Hovel Riesling Kabinett.
Pinot Noir a Popular Choice to Go with Peking Duck
Food bloggers have frequently noted the excellent flavor combination of Peking Duck and this type of wine. However, much depends on the cooking style of the chef since this impacts which flavors will stand out the most. Red burgundy, for example, is an excellent complement for plainly cooked roasted wild duck. Duck with Asian spices included or duck breast pairs better with a riper style of Pinot Noir.
Don’t Forget the Option of Red Wine
Some people are not fans of white wine and find that red wine makes a better combination to please their taste buds. Red wines such as Zinfandel, Shiraz, and Grenache all have the fruity flavor of berries and jam that help to draw out the flavor of the sauce. The creaminess and richness of red wines act as a buffer for the rich, spicy, and sweet flavor of Peking Duck.
Tannin types of red wine typically don’t make a good pairing with this meal since the wine’s characteristics can actually cover the flavor of the roasted duck. Some red wine considerations include Layer Cake South Australian Shiraz and Stolpman Santa Ynez Valley Grenache.
Of course, flavor combinations go beyond red wine, white wine, and Pinot Noir. True wine connoisseurs and lovers of Chinese food may find many more options by experimenting with different flavors on their own.
Aside from the dishes we are most known for, like our famous Peking Duck and Dim Sum, here at Chili House we strive to serve the widest range of authentic Chinese dishes. One of our personal favorites happens to be our delicious Beef Pancakes, a take on one of China’s most popular treats. Today we are going to take a look at the history of this storied delicacy and how it came to prominence.
The 3rd Century Origins of Chinese Pancakes
The snack, similar to what is known in China as “Jianbing,” traces its roots all the way back to the Shandong Province during the Three Kingdoms Period (220 – 280 AD). Legend has it that Zhuge Liang, the chancellor of the state of Shu Han, was struggling to find an effective way to feed his soldiers who had lost their cooking supplies during battle. As a result, Liang had cooks concoct a mixture of water and wheat flour to be cook thinly and evenly across copper-made griddles (and sometimes even using the soldiers shields as a cooking surface). The result was a light, crispy crepe that helps sustain and boost the morale of the soldiers on the battlefield.
The dish proved popular beyond the battlefield, later getting passed down across generations. Today, Chinese pancakes can be found cooking on street corners in every major metropolitan neighborhood across China. The recipe is quite simple. Start by layering and folding the wheat and bean flour pancake fries, eggs, scallions and cilantro. Finally, add chili paste, hoisin sauce and lettuce to taste. Then fold the pastry a few more times for easy eating on the go.
To say the least, Chinese pancakes have become the quintessential snack food in China. Every afternoon, they satisfy hungry workers and students across China. In contrast to popular American street fare, Chinese pancakes are anything but fast food. Every one is cooked fresh to order, meaning there is always a line at the local vendor. In fact, many plan their commute to work around setting aside enough time to grab one!
America’s Discovery of Chinese Pancakes
Up until recently one would have trouble locating the snack outside of China and Taiwan. However the popularity and reach of Chinese Pancakes grows every year. Today, people across the US work to recreate the snack they fell in love with in China. One of the most popular variations (and one that has proved quite popular with our customers as well!) are Chinese pancakes with beef . It is quite similar to the traditional recipe, the only difference being the use of slow-braised beef instead of egg. This variation is popular in Taiwan, and has found a strong following in Southern California in recent years.
Chinese pancakes are perfect for those looking to add another Chinese culinary icon to their list of favorite dishes. We suggest searching your area for restaurants and seek out all the different variations available. Don’t forget to stop in and try the absolutely delicious Chinese beef pancakes at Chili House SF as well!
(Originally published in July of 2016 – Updated in March of 2019)
Many of the ingredients in Chinese dishes are foods that are abundant in nutrients, and they are foods that work to keep your health in good shape. You will find some of these foods listed below, along with valuable information regarding the health benefits they offer. Simply read what follows to discover the health benefits the Chinese have been reaping from these foods for many years.
Bok Choy and Broccoli
Broccoli as well as bok choy contains sulforaphane, a substance experts believe prevents cancer. Both of these cabbage family vegetables also contain lots of cancer-preventing vitamin C. Besides enhancing immunity, vitamin C reduces cholesterol, helps prevent heart disease, and aids in the prevention of gum recession. Protection from the damage caused by free radicals is another health benefit.
Green onions, also called scallions, have exhibited their ability to reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, and the chance of developing heart disease. The flavonoids contained in green onions are responsible for lowering heart attack risk, and the quercetin in this vegetable lowers the risk for colon cancer. Quercetin has also proved it can lower the risk for blood clots. Since onions are an anti-inflammatory food, they help lessen the symptoms of arthritis and the chest congestion that comes with a cold.
Tofu is soybean curd. It is an excellent source of protein, calcium, and iron. Bean curd has been known to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and it may help lower the chance of developing cancer. A drop in weight is also possible when this nutritious food is incorporated into your diet because it is low in calories.
Red and green bell peppers contain impressive amounts of vitamin C. One pepper of average size offers 150 percent of your daily value of this essential vitamin. Like bok choy and broccoli, bell peppers aid in the prevention of cancer.
White Rice and Brown Rice
Rice is a superb food for strong bones because it contains iron. Studies performed on animals indicated mammals deficient in iron had less bone density than those with adequate iron in their bodies. Brown rice is also an excellent supplier of fiber, and it is a good source of protein.
To get the most health benefits from the Chinese dish you eat, try to avoid consuming foods that are deep fried. The fat content in foods cooked this way is extremely high, and it is unhealthy because when oil is heated to such an extreme temperature it becomes carcinogenic. You will also be better off with low-sodium soy sauce instead of the regular kind that has a high salt content. If you cook your own food, read the labels on all Chinese sauces and use them sparingly since they are usually high in sodium content. Whenever you eat out, ask your waiter how your food will be prepared, and ask him what is in it.
Shumai is a traditional dish that can be made in many different forms. In the United States, the most common form is the shumai dim sum. While there are many different fillings and techniques use for this delicious treat, it usually is served as a filling of pork in a thin dough which is streamed or fried. When biting into shumai dim sum, the dumpling will burst into a ball of flavor that will leave you begging for more.
Meaning of Shumai Dim Sum
Shumai is a word that translates to “to cook and sell.” This means that dumpling is most often prepared and sold at a restaurant instead of a home. It has also been suggested it was named this way because shumai “never left unsold.”
The term “dim sum” is from a Mandarin word “dian xin” which means “touching the heart.” This speaks of the way this food is considered to be excellent for the soul. However, it is also translated as “dessert” in some situations.
History of Dim Sum
The earliest documented consumption of shumai occurred during the Song Dynasty at Chinese teahouses where merchants stopped in to rest while traveling the Silk Road. During the Tang Dynasty, more teahouses were introduced as a way to offer meditation as well as food and drink. While teahouses originally did not serve food, dim sum became standard over time. Shumai dim sum was originally consumed as an afternoon snack but over time became a staple of lunch and breakfast meals. In Cantonese culture, mealtime is a time for great company and conversation.
While business can be discussed over dim sum, the meal is largely considered a time for enjoyment. It is unknown if shumai was born along with tea and other foreign foods, but it is believed to be likely. If so, it may have been in existence even before the Song Dynasty where it was documented.
Traditional Serving of Shumai Dim Sum
Shumai dim sum and other dim sum dishes are most commonly served on a metal cart that is pushed around the entire restaurant. Steamed dim sum may be served in steamers made of bamboo, while other types are most often served on typical plates. All the fresh offerings will be on the plate and you call out to a server who brings you what you order. In many cases, dim sum will come in sizes of small, medium, and large.
At traditional United States restaurants, there may not be carts and instead your chosen dishes will be served to your table, as is the typical American restaurant behavior.
How Shumai is Made
The most common ingredients in shumai dim sum include ground pork and shrimp, along with a small amount of vegetables and unleavened dough. Additional spices and herbs are also included to give the fragrant, tasty dish its popularity. If you haven’t tried this exceptional dish, it is something everyone should consume at least once. Give it a try!
People who live in the Sichuan region of China know that the food there is varied and that each dish has a sophisticated as well as a complex taste. Unfortunately, this knowledge doesn’t translate well to Western culture. In the United States, people primarily consider Sichuan Chinese food to be extremely hot and spicy and little else.
Understanding the History of Sichuan Chinese Food
The reason so many Westerners don’t fully appreciate Sichuan food is that they don’t understand the history and culture of this region of China. For one thing, it isn’t easy to reach China’s Sichuan basin because it’s surrounded on all four sides by mountains. Another important fact about the Sichuan basin is that the Qinghai-Tibet plateau sits to the west of it. Many Chinese citizens and immigrants alike saw the difficulty in reaching the Sichuan basin as a challenge to overcome. As immigrants continued to pour into the region, they brought new cultural and culinary customs with them.
A Primer on the Flavors of Sichuan Dishes
Increased appreciation for food from the Sichuan region of China can also come from having a greater understanding of its main flavors. Although more than 20 exist, five of the most common ones include:
- – Fish fragrant: Chefs don’t really use fish to create this flavor. Instead, they combine seasonings popular with traditional fish cookery in China. These include ginger, garlic, pickled red chilies, scallion, soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar.
- – Garlic paste flavor: For the first step, a chef simmers soy sauce with spices and brown sugar. He or she then combines it with chili oil, mashed garlic, and sesame oil. This topping is especially popular on cold pork.
- – Scorched chili flavor: To prepare this seasoning, a chef fries dried chilies inside of a wok until they show signs of toasting and darkening. He or she then adds several other ingredients to the wok, including Sichuan peppercorn.
- – Spicy sesame: This basic ingredient typically tops cold dishes. It comes from a combination of dried red chilies and Sichuan peppercorn.
- – Wine fragrant: Chefs create this flavor primarily from rice wine and rice wine lees. It produces a fragmented flavor that Westerners might recognize from Chinese dishes from the region of Shanghai. However, a dash of Sichuan peppercorn helps to differentiate it.
Some Well-Known Sichuan Dishes
Even though they may not recognize the above flavors, many Western diners do recognize popular Sichuan dishes served here. Kung Pao Chicken, for example, is a staple on the menu of a lot of Chinese restaurants. It includes diced chicken along with golden peanuts and dry red peppers. Dan Dan noodles, also known as Dan Dan Mian, is another well-known Sichuan Chinese dish in America. An authentic serving of Dan Dan noodles contains vegetables, chili oil, Sichuan pepper, and minced pork. While it’s more on the bland side outside of the Sichuan basin, it’s known for its strong nutty, savory, smoky, and spicy flavors in its home region.
These are just two of the many dishes Sichuan dishes Americans can enjoy in their own country. To truly experience Sichuan culture, they should consider expanding their taste buds and try several others.
At Chili House SF, in addition to Sichuan cuisine, much of our food is inspired by or comes from dishes native to the Beijing Region. To truly appreciate this style of food, one must travel to Beijing itself. However, Our authentic cuisine here in the Richmond District of San Francisco is the next-best thing.
For those lucky enough to get to experience Beijing in person, here are 7 sights not to be missed!
China has long been associated with a sense of exotic mystery, and its recent political history means it’s still something of an unknown quantity for even for the most intrepid traveler. However, the last few decades have seen the country open up to western visitors, and it is now a viable destination for the adventurous tourist.
It would take a lifetime to explore the entire country, but these seven sights in and around the capital Beijing offer a fascinating taste of China, from its imperial past right through to its modern, fast-developing face of today.
The Forbidden City
Spread over an area of 178 acres and made up of over 870 distinct buildings, the Forbidden City is the biggest palatial complex of its kind in the world. The site served as the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties from 1420 to 1912 and remains a treasure trove of Chinese imperial history, culture, and architecture. It is now home to the Palace Museum, which is among the world’s most visited museums, with close to 15 million visitors each year.
The Great Wall
It’s often said that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space. This is, unfortunately, a myth, but there’s no doubt that this ancient fortification is one of the planet’s must-see structures from solid ground.
The wall stretches for close to 4,000 miles in full, but several parts are within easy reach of the capital – particularly Mutianyu and Jiankou, to the northeast of downtown Beijing. Around 70,000 people visit the wall each day, but its sheer size means that you won’t feel too crowded out. However, be aware that the authorities take conservation of the wall extremely seriously, and dropping garbage and similar actions can quickly land you in hot water, so be sure to behave respectfully.
The vast, hundred-acre Tiananmen Square in central Beijing is perhaps most widely known in the West for the grim events of 1989, when a pro-democracy demonstration was ended with lethal force. Although the square is worth visiting for its impressive architecture and monuments, including the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, it is nonetheless most notable for this recent history. A trip to this largest paved square in the world brings it home to the visitor that despite the recent transformation, China is still a unique, complex country behind the modern western-style facade.
Yonghe Lama Temple
The Yonghe Lama Temple in Dongcheng dates back to the Qing dynasty, with construction started in the late 17th century. Although it was off limits for 32 years following the communist revolution, it is now open once more as both a working Tibetan temple and a popular tourist attraction. Perhaps the most impressive sight is the huge statue of the Maitreya Buddha, reaching nearly 20 yards in height, and carved from a single piece of white sandalwood.
Beijing visitors have no shortage of imperial splendor to marvel at, contrasting sharply with the fast-growing modern cityscape of the capital’s downtown area, but there’s yet another side to Chinese life no visitor should miss. The hutong neighborhoods such as Donxujuaominxiang, Yichidajie, and others are labyrinths of narrow streets and alleyways which once covered the city, but are slowly being lost to redevelopment. However, the remaining areas still give a powerful taste of old China and make a fascinating destination for a leisurely stroll through the hubbub of daily life.
Food lovers willing to look beyond their hotel dining room will find plenty to thrill here, not least the delicious Beijing duck (aka Peking duck) available from handcarts and stalls spread throughout the area.
Wangfujing Night Market
If the Beijing duck has whetted your appetite for Chinese cuisine in all its many forms, then the Wangfujing Night Market in the Dongcheng district should be your next destination. This market is a mecca for street food and is beloved of locals and visitors alike. Be warned though – with the snacking options covering everything from scorpions to starfish, this is no place for the squeamish.
Lastly, fascinating as Beijing can be, there’s no doubt the bustle and size can be a little overwhelming. Recharge your batteries with a trip to the Ming Tombs on the Changping district, 26 miles to the north of Beijing city center. The complex hosts 13 mausoleums of the Ming dynasty emperors and is as impressive as you’d expect from this pedigree. However, one of its main charms is that it was constructed according to feng shui principles, with a peaceful valley backing on to protective mountains, and makes for an ideal change of pace for weary tourists.
China remains on the list of destinations that only the more intrepid travelers will attempt, and there’s no doubt it can be a little more challenging than other more conventional tourist locations. However, the impressive delights of Beijing and surrounding areas make it well worth the effort for anyone with a love for oriental history and culture.