Joe’s Shanghai has been a Chinatown mainstay since 1995. While it was the second restaurant opened by Chef Kiu Sang “Joe” Si and restaurateur Mei Ping “Barbara” Matsumura, it is perhaps the more famous location. Their success led to a local boom of Shanghainese restaurants in the late 1990s. Since then, Joe’s has flourished into a mini-chain with three locations in New York City and three in Japan.
The must-order dish at Joe's Shanghai is xiao long bao, soup dumplings filled with crab and pork or just pork. This Shanghainese specialty from the city of Nanxiang translates to “small basket bun.” The buns, or dumplings, are served in the round bamboo steaming basket in which they are cooked. These doughy pouches delicately encase ground meat bathing in hot, gelatin-heavy broth. When eaten in one bite, the liquid interior pops, releasing the delicious soup to mingle with dough and meatball. An alternative and potentially messy option is to nibble away at the dough, slurp out the soup, and dip the now liquid-less dumpling into a ginger-laced black vinegar sauce before eating.
Xiao long bao are thought to have originated in the late nineteenth century when restaurant owner Huang Mingxian, facing stiff competition, had to get creative to win over customers. In 1871, he designed a new kind of dumpling with a surprise soupy interior. Keeping liquid inside dough was a challenge, but Mingxian got around it by spiking the soup base with aspic. The meaty gelatin allowed the broth to gel at colder temperatures and return to a liquid state when reheated. Mingxian’s new dumplings were a hit and have since become an international sensation. In 2006, the Shanghai government proclaimed xiao long bao to be one of the city’s 83 protected folk arts.
While Joe’s Shanghai is undeniably famous for their soup dumplings, their menu is full of other delicious offerings. Shanghainese food is known for its cold marinated appetizers – try the cold marinated dry bean curd with mixed vegetables and the spicy pickled cabbage.Jean Nihoul