I knew one of the first foods Greg and I needed to try when we arrived in Shanghai was the dumplings. I knew because Anthony told us we had to. That’s Anthony of the Travel Channel’s show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. It was included as part of our research when learning we were moving to China.
Today, while we were out on our house hunting trip in the Xintiandi (shin-tea-n-dee, does that help?) district of Shanghai we had lunch at Din Tai Fung and knew we had to try the dumplings.
The menu was simple and easy to read with both Chinese characters and English and also included pictures. The dumplings were one of the first items listed under hot features. Xiaolongbao is the name of the dish. Xiaolong meaning small bamboo basket and baozi meaning steamed buns. The whole name is translated literally as little basket buns.
After we had placed our order with the waiter, a waitress brought over to our table a flash card and set one out for each of us. The flashcard was to share the proper way to eat the dumplings. A dummies guide to eating the Xiaolongbao dumpling.
How helpful. We studied the card and knew that the first small dish to arrive with an upright stack of thinly shredded yellow fibers was ginger. We knew to doctor that dish with a bit of soy sauce and vinegar because the flashcard told us. When our dumplings arrived in a bamboo steamer and the waiter took the off the lid, we each gently grabbed a dumpling with our chopsticks. Truth be told, Greg gently grab, I more like attacked, I’ll get this chopstick thing down, I’m sure. We dipped the dumpling in the ginger sauce and then placed it on the spoon, inside the small bowl and stabbed it with the chopstick to let the very hot broth seep out into the bowl. We followed all the directions and enjoyed our ground pork filled dumplings. They were delicious. The order had 5 small dumplings and we had to fight over the last one.
As I was laying awake at 2am suffering from jet lag, I got to thinking. What american dish would we provide a flashcard to a foreign guest in an effort to share with them the proper way to eat it without making fools out of themselves? Well, first I had to come to terms that we would probably never go to this effort. But let’s say we did, what food would need explaining?
Corn dogs. Corn dogs is what i came up with at 2:20am. It took me 20 minutes to filter out all the food not original to America to come up with the corn dog. I had to look it up to be sure, and sure enough it originated in the U.S. around the 1920s.
It was fun to design the flashcard in my mind first showing the corn dog in a red and white checked paper bowl/plate. You’ve seen the bowl/plate. They use them at fairgrounds, ballparks and I think you can buy them in mass quantities at Costco.
A bottle of ketchup and mustard would be shown in the next frame. A large hand squeezing the ketchup into the corner of the paper bowl/plate followed by the squeezing of the mustard. A warning would appear in the next frame showing one lifting the corn dog by the stick to the mouth “contents are extremely hot and may cause burning of the mouth and blisters that can last for days.” Use caution when biting into a corn dog would be the obligatory, legal sign off.