Profile: Wan Shou Zhai

Former state-run restaurant keep dumplings simple and fresh as time goes by

Like fellow Xiaolongbao makers You Yi Cun, this store in Hongkou district started as part of a state-owned food company before being spun off about 10 years ago. Since then, it has become a destination for both young Shanghainese and the older neighbourhood locals willing to brave the notorious crowds for its smaller-than-average soup dumplings.

Waitresses dodge and weave through the packed shop with hot bowls of wonton soup or steaming baskets of dumplings, as the scrum slowly advances to a window at the back of the store, waiting their turn. Hu Meifen has been making xiaolong here since the very beginning.

‘Compared to other places, the xiaolong here are smaller. Most shops also have six in an order but we do eight. Why? It’s our style. The bigger ones don’t taste as good. The small ones are better.

‘We’ve been here since 1947 but only became private about 10 years ago. Before that, it was a state-owned shop, under the Hongkou Food and Beverage Management Company. I came here in my 20s, about 30 years ago. When I came, they just did dabing and youtiao. About 20 years ago, we added xiaolongbao and it became popular for them. Word of mouth. We haven’t changed them since. The flavour is the same.

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‘You could say that our specialty is the type with pure pork flavour. We don’t put anything else – no spring onion, no ginger, no huangjiu, nothing. It’s just the dumpling skin and pork. And a little sugar. That’s the Shanghainese flavour – salty and a little sweet. And our broth isn’t fatty. After we make the stock, we take off all the fat, and just use the pork stock.

‘What were the xiaolong like when I was a little girl? We didn’t have them! We were such a poor family back then, we didn’t have xiaolong. At home, we ate boiled rice and that was it. I didn’t have xiaolong until I started working here. Now, I won’t eat them at other places. They’re definitely not as good as ours. I think ours are perfect.

‘Din Tai Fung? What is Din Tai Fung? I’ve never heard of them.

‘Nanxiang and Guyi Garden are so famous for xiaolong but those places are meant for tourists. I mean, you go there, you have to eat the xiaolong. Our customers aren’t tourists – they’re old customers. Trust me,
if we made xiaolong like at Nanxiang and Guyi Garden, we wouldn’t have any customers. I haven’t been there in years.‘

Wan Shou Zhai is at 123 Shanying Lu, near Jixiang Lu. See full address details

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