Why Vinegar Works So Well As A Dipping Sauce For Soup Dumplings

Just as there is a particular set of rules that pertain to sushi, there is also a traditional way to eat soup dumplings. Despite the name, these dim sum delicacies aren't eaten in soup. Instead, they have a soupy ingredient that liquefies in their thin, expertly crimped dough pouches. Also known as xiao long bao, these tasty morsels can be stuffed with fillings like pork or crab. When steamed, the gelatin inside melts into a savory broth that mixes perfectly with black vinegar dipping sauce, a staple in Chinese cooking. It's the top condiment for soup dumplings because of the complementary, umami-packed acidity it brings to the dish.

One of the most common types of vinegar used is Zhenjiang (or Chinkiang) black vinegar, which tastes sweet and is made from fermented rice. Another popular kind is Shanxi aged vinegar, which is made from sorghum and has a stronger, sour taste to it. Chris Kimura, a professional chef specializing in Asian cuisine, tells Reader's Digest that using lots of Shanxi vinegar is his preferred way to eat dumplings for its "robust, earthy, and smoky" flavors. He goes on to explain the reason why black vinegar is the best choice for soup dumplings, noting that the "acid from the vinegar, mixed with the aromatics from the ginger, helps to balance the rich fattiness from the dumpling."

How to use black vinegar with xiao long bao

Making soup dumplings can be a tedious, time-consuming process, so many people opt to grab them at some of the best Chinese food restaurants around. Popping that first chewy bite into your mouth can be a heavenly culinary experience — if you let it cool for a few seconds. Eating them too quickly will scald you if you're not careful. To avoid that, place a soup dumpling in a Chinese-style soup spoon and bite a little off the top to allow some steam and broth to escape.

While this is the extent of the etiquette surrounding how to eat xiao long bao safely, you can get a little more creative with your dipping methods, as long as you aren't submerging or soaking your dim sum in the vinegar. This can upset the balance of flavors of the overall dish, so it's better to use a little at a time. Traditionally, soup dumplings are eaten by splashing on black vinegar, biting off some of the dumpling to ventilate, slurping a mouthful of the broth that made it into your spoon, and then eating it whole. Some may prefer to mix the broth with a touch of vinegar and chili oil, taking intermittent bites and spoon sips, while others will pour a bit of the condiment into the nibbled opening in the dumpling so it can meld with the filling.