The Origins of Xiao Long Bao (XLB)
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.