Dumplings don’t generally signify luxury like, say, Wagyu or caviar. With one emphatic exception: soup dumplings, whose fragile skins protect contents suspended in tenuous harmony between solid and scalding. Like more overt delicacies, they rely on an outsize amount of labor, plus extensive training to manipulate fragile pleats of dough.
Seattle has long loved xiao long bao, Shanghai’s signature soup-filled dumplings. Now, an energetic counter in Bellevue, Xiao Chi Jie, offers a different iteration. Pan-fried instead of steamed, sheng jian bao have slightly thicker, crisped skin. These dumplings are larger—definitely not a single bite—with a yeasted dough that protects the contents without soaking up the pork broth within.
Sheng jian bao require similar excesses of labor says Jennifer Liao, one of Xiao Chi Jie’s owners, and an oversize cast-iron pan that holds 60 to 70 at a time. Dumplings must be packed in to hold their shape, she says, and sold off fast and fresh. For the uninitiated, they’re a fumble to eat with chopsticks, but unlike Wagyu they’re the sort of luxury you can order daily for lunch.