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Tang bao is a form of Chinese baozi. It is thought to be originally from Jinjiang, a smaller city near Shanghai, China, and is often called Shanghai dumplings in English. In essence, tang bao is a type of steamed bread that is filled with soup and sealed at the top.
Literally translated, tang bao means soup bun, and bao refers to the Chinese bun baozi. Baozi is used in many different styles of Chinese cooking and is usually steamed. They are stuffed with various ingredients, including vegetables and many different types of meat. The Shanghainese dialect spoken in the Shanghai area calls these buns mantou.
The breading used in tang bao is thick and nearly white, often having a very soft and creamy texture. Many ingredients can be used to fill a tang bao, though crab and pork are the most popular. The soup is not a liquid when put inside of the dumpling. Instead, the filling is more of a gelatin that melts into soup upon cooking. The buns are often served in bamboo casks.
Most tang bao are eaten on the go and are usually classified more as a snack item than a meal. These buns have become so popular in parts of China that they are sometimes offered as part of a yum cha course. Yum cha refers to a style of dining in China in which dim sum courses, small amounts of a selection of dishes that are presented simultaneously, are eaten with Chinese tea.
It can be slightly difficult to eat tang bao, as the soup inside is served hot and will spill when the bun is bitten into. One of the more efficient ways to eat these buns is by biting into it while holding a spoon directly beneath the bun to catch any spillage, which can then be consumed. Another method is to hold the top of the bun and only bite a small portion from the side, allowing the diner to drink the soup from the small puncture. The rest of the bun can then be eaten as though it were a regular baozi.
Another popular way to eat tang bao is with a straw. As the bun is made, the straw is inserted into the top where the sealed knot should be. This straw can be used to drink the soup and then removed to eat the bun.
Xiaolongbao is a Chinese bun that non-native Chinese often mistake for tang bao. These buns are also filled with soup, but the consistency of the breading is different, appearing translucent and slightly thinner than tang bao. Xiaolongbao, however, also originated near Shanghai.