New York City’s Chinese and Chinese American populations total around 570,000, making this the largest concentration of Chinese outside the mother country. The first Chinatown in Manhattan dates to the 1870s, and while it continues to grow, it has also been joined by other Chinatowns, including one in Flushing, Queens. That is where Joe’s Shanghai opened its first location, in 1995—though the two in Manhattan, on Pell Street in Chinatown and West 56th Street in Midtown, will be more convenient for most travelers. You can expect a wait for a table, and when you are seated you may be sharing it with strangers. The restaurant can be noisy, and as soon as you have finished your meal, you’ll be encouraged to settle up and leave. In other words, people don’t come here for the atmosphere or the service. Instead, the excellent and generous renditions of favorite Chinese dishes, especially the restaurant’s signature soup dumplings, are the draw. The dumplings are served in bamboo steamer baskets and each one holds a pork or crab meatball in a hot broth, all wrapped up in a doughy package. It may prove to be the most flavorful moment of your trip to New York.

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Don't Be Afraid to Sluuurp It Up

When I was introduced to soup dumplings by a NYC friend in Chinatown, I was immediately intrigued. They’re a strange experience the first time, the sort of food that has to be played with a little before it can be eaten. Even while I was eating, a little maneuvering was still needed and the slurping sound that inevitably came out my mouth was a little disconcerting. I’m sure it isn’t helped by the fact that at many dumpling places, you end up sitting with strangers at communal tables but that’s half the fun when you get over inevitable social awkwardness. Start by using your chopsticks to place one dumpling on the large soup spoon, bring it to your mouth and bite a small hole which you can then use to pour out the soup onto the spoon. Then, with one bite if you can manage, slurp the soup and dumpling into your mouth for an experience that’s awkward but so rewarding. Even on a hot day, soup dumplings seem to satisfy some sort of the comfort food category which can’t be touched by macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese and tomato soup at any other time. I imagine this dish tastes best in Shanghai, where it’s called Xiao Long Bao, but if you can’t cross the ocean - Chinatown in New York City can certainly suffice. Joe’s Shanghai is just one of many places in the neighborhood that fully encourages a good “slurp”!

Soup Dumplings in NYC's Chinatown

While spending the weekend in Brooklyn with friends, we decided to take a trek across the Brooklyn Bridge by foot and make our way to Chinatown. My goal was to introduce my 5 year old daughter to other gastronomical delights of Asian flavor besides the take out dumplings she adores. Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant is famous for its soup dumplings. For the uninitiated, soup dumplings look like a cross between a fried dumpling and a steam bun and served in bamboo steamer trays. You pick up this delicate treat with a wide miso soup style spoon and gently pry open the dumpling with chopsticks to reveal the fatty broth inside. Absolutely delicious!

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