Sheng jian bao might be one of the most difficult dumplings to get right. They’re part yeasted bun, part potsticker and a soup dumpling all in one. The best sheng jian bao have a thick, crispy bottom, a fluffy middle, a thin and chewy top and a filling full of juicy pork and hot, flavorful soup.
Sheng jian bao are a popular street food in Shanghai, and you can find a handful of versions around Los Angeles. I've had many arguments with friends over the years regarding who makes the best, but when people ask for a favorite, I send them to Kang Kang Food Court in Alhambra. These are the gold standard.
The specific contrast in textures is an art form, and it's something Kang Kang Food Court owner John Chin Yu Yeh knew he needed to get just right when he sought out a dumpling chef for his restaurant more than two decades ago.
"I always missed one thing we cannot find in the United States, which is pan-fried small bao, we call sheng jian bao," Chin Yu Yeh said during our visit. "If you ask people from Shanghai, 'What do you miss?' Sheng jian bao."
The sheng jian bao at Kang Kang Food Court are crunchy and soupy, chewy and perfect. The tops rise while the bottoms crisp up in the pan.
It’s a dumpling Britney Wang, known as Chef Bao Bae on her social channels, has also been trying to perfect for years. Like Chin Yu Yeh, Wang started making sheng jian bao because she missed them. Growing up in Hawaii, it was impossible to find dumplings close to the ones she ate with her grandparents as a child in Shanghai.
A few years before the pandemic, she quit her job in finance and went back to Shanghai to visit her grandparents. While she was there, she took a dumpling class and fell in love with making them. She created an Instagram account called Chef Bao Bae and started hosting dumpling classes with friends. During the pandemic, she transitioned from classes to pop-ups where she sold sheng jian bao and a variety of other dumplings.
On this week's episode of "The Bucket List: Dumplings," I brought Wang to Kang Kang Food Court to help me learn more about how sheng jian bao are made.
"The first time I had sheng jian bao in the U.S. was here," she said. "I came here my first month in L.A. and was like, oh wow, this reminds me of home."
While Chin Yu Yeh kept some of the recipe for his sheng jian bao a secret, he did give us an exclusive look inside the kitchen and a lesson on how best to eat the dumplings. You'll have to watch the episode above for his four tips.
"If you follow those four, you won't burn your mouth and you won't hurt other people," he said.
After our visit, I invited Wang to our Los Angeles Times Kitchen to teach me how to make her version of sheng jian bao. She even gave me a lesson in folding too.
"I want to create the perfect sheng jian bao because that's something that I love to eat," she said.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.