800 bowls takes our vote for best xiao long bao in Yangon, narrowly edging out Xi Yang Yang for the quality of the meat. But it still has something to learn from its competitors when it come to quantity of the trademark soup filling.
It’s not hard to judge xiao long baos, in that it’s always thoroughly enjoyable. Because, let’s be honest, even a moderately good xiao long bao is uniquely delicious.
Needless to say we’re being incredibly picky with our review to give you the most critical appraisal (and perhaps comparing to the legendary once-Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung a bit too much).
For the uninitiated, xiao long bao are small pork-based dumplings full of clear almost consommé-like broth. Paired with vinegar and finely julienned ginger and served steaming hot, they are undoubtedly one of the greatest culinary inventions on earth.
If you’re not impressed already, just try cooking one yourself: it involves creating a flavoured ‘broth jello’ and folding it inside a delicate wrapper to turn to soup whilst steaming. Impressive tekkers.
We’ll be rating them based on the quality and quantity of meat filling, quality and quantity of the soup, and the dumpling wrapper consistency.
Xi Yang Yang – Nyang Tone St, Sanchaung
(Reviewed in full here: Xi Yang Yang review – dumplings and much more in Yangon)
Xi Yang Yang is the old favorite for xiao long bao, and it’s not hard to understand why. Our number visits have hit the double digits, so we’re clearly fans. That said, we don’t think they’re the best xiao long bao in town anymore. We’ve sampled all three variations of xiao long bao here, but will focus on the pork and pork with crab roe variations for the review.
Filling: Both types of dumplings had good flavor, but let us down with the quantity and texture of the meat. The meat was slightly too finely ground and on the small side. The crab roe pork mix was almost grainy, leaving your teeth wanting much more to chew on. 6/10
Soup: This is where Xi Yang Yang shines. Out of all three places reviewed, it had the most substantial amount of broth, which was clear and rich with pork flavor. Perhaps the quantity of the soup is what – in part – displaces the amount of meat? 8/10
Dumpling wrapper: These dumplings boast a good thin wrapper, that maintains its integrity without splitting and spilling out the precious soup. However they were not the thinnest we had tasted – mostly noticeable during the first important bite of the top of the dumpling (see our tips on how to eat xiao long bao below). 8/10
Imperial Garden – Myanmar Plaza, Bahan
(Reviewed in full here: Imperial Garden review – adequate dim sum in Yangon)
No question about it, Imperial Garden offered the worst xiao long bao we reviewed. However, it’s a bit unfair given that they’re not known for soup dumplings, but rather dim sum – Cantonese tapas-style banquet of ‘breakfast’ dishes.
Filling: Decent filling, if not particularly substantial or flavorful. Don’t think there’s much else to say! 5/10
Soup: Quantity wise, there was less soup than Xi Yang Yang, but more than 800 bowls. Flavor wise it couldn’t compare to either. 6/10
Dumpling wrapper: The thickest wrapper we sampled, though it meant that there was no danger of wrapper-splitting. Doesn’t make for great mouthfeel though. 6/10
800 Bowls – Maha Bandula Road, Downtown
(Reviewed in full here: 800 bowls review – bowling over the Yangon dumpling competition)
The current champions of xiao long bao, the dumplings at 800 Bowls were not however without room for improvement. Again, we’re being picky, because these were a delight to eat. We tried the original pork, as well as the pork with crab. We’re slightly skeptical of the cheese variant (despite it being an apparent hit in Singapore), but will update the review once we work up the courage.
Filling: Best filling we tasted. The minced pork almost felt hand diced (as my grandmother would have done) given the excellent variation in texture of the meat, ranging from finely ground to small morsels. 9.5/10
Soup: This one is hard to rate. Because while the broth was by far the best out of all three dumpling joints (special shout out to the lusciously sweet broth in the pork and crab dumplings) – it was also the lowest in quantity. Half of the enjoyment of a good xiao long bao is slurping and fulling your mouth with the intensely pork-y broth. And with half the amount of (excellent) broth as other dumplings, how do you rate it? Tough decision, but it gets 8/10.
Wrapper: We’re also split on this one. Literally. These were the lightest, thinnest wrappers, but partly as a result, a fair number of them split upon picking them up from the bamboo basket. Which means you lose all of the heavenly broth (which was already modest in quantity). We’ve personally pored over tutorials on how to roll these wrappers, making them thicker at the base and thinner at the edges to prevent such travesties, perhaps this is one aspect 800 Bowls can tweak for future dumpling enjoyment? 7.5/10
Eat at 800 Bowls, unless you live, work, or happen to be close to Sanchaung. Or if you want to eat other dumplings, the fried chicken or the scallion pancakes on offer at Xi Yang Yang. Or if you just want to have a change of pace. It will be enjoyable either way.
Just make sure you eat xiao long bao properly!
There’s many a tutorial on xiao long bao etiquette. It’s not about being polite, it’s critical to whether you burn your taste-buds off or not.
This visual shows our preferred method, allowing the diner to slowly sip the steaming hot and deeply flavored broth from the dumpling itself, mingled with vinegar and ginger, before plunging in.