Soup dumpling is a type of mini-steamed-buns originally from Shanghai, and it is quickly gaining popularity in New York. Its Chinese name Xiaolongbao has the meaning “small” “steaming basket” – which explains how it is cooked.
Since many Chinese restaurants in the U.S. are based on Cantonese cuisine, soup dumplings were introduced as a dim sum dish among other Cantonese dim sums. In New York, one can often order soup dumplings in dim sum restaurants in Chinatown. But if you’re looking for authentic soup dumplings, your best bet would be elsewhere.
Joe’s Shanghai was among the first Shanghai-style restaurants in the city, with its first store opened back in 1995. While the brand is well-established, the taste of the soup dumpling is not as special as one might expect. The dumplings are too big – when presented, they look like they have collapsed in the basket.
Carla Asian Tapas, on the other hand, serve great soup dumplings that outshine any other soup dumpling places I have tried in New York. Located at 38 Carmine Street, the chic Asian tapas serves contemporary Chinese food “with Western flare”, as its owner Luguang said, who is now a longtime New Yorker with a long time dream of opening a restaurant of Asian cuisine.
The restaurant is decorated with a modern flare – a full bar, two main dining rooms with the inner one often used as a venue hosting art and cultural events, and a garden decorated with string lights.
Upon looking at the restaurant’s succinct menu, names such as “Peking Duck Tacos” and “Panko Crusted Lobster Roll” immediately jump out. They are original dishes that truly make an effort to combine flavors from the East and the West.
Both the pork soup dumplings and the crab soup dumplings here are extremely well made and taste like the ones I used to have in the popular Taiwanese brand Din Tai Fung – the chain has become so popular that it has opened several U.S. locations in recent years . Indeed, the head chef James Yang at Carma came directly from Taiwan and had worked as the Executive Chef at Din Tai Fung. While at Din Tai Fung, Chef Yang trained chefs for the chain’s international locations such as Tokyo and most recently, Dubai.
The delicate crab soup dumplings has a subtle crab meat flavor and is not overly oily. Both types of soup dumplings have tender and thin outer skin, wrapping around just the right proportion of filling inside. Out of the two, I prefer the pork soup dumpling ($10 for 6pc) as I find that the flavor of the pork meat truly phenomenal.
A note on the etiquette of eating soup dumplings: when eaten hot – which is always preferred – one should dip the dumpling in vinegar, cut a little opening on the top of the dumpling using their mouth, drink the soup first, then eat the dumpling. This procedure is to prevent the soup from filling and your mouth from getting burnt. The dumplings tend to get cold very quickly. When they are at room temperature, these dumplings can be eaten as a whole at once.
Vegetable dishes and appetizer dishes here also did not disappoint. Cold appetizer dishes developed by the chef were full of flavors and different textures.
What I find special about Carma is that while it draws from Taiwanese, Shanghai-style Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cuisines, the finished results are always delicate. The menu strikes the perfect balance of playful experimenting and staying true to authentic flavors.
One of the most exciting items on the menu, the Peking Duck Tacos, however, turned out to be different from what I had expected. Peking Duck served in Beijing restaurants has a combination of extremely crispy skin and savory, chewy duck meat. The tacos however, feature only the duck meat. Nevertheless, for taco lovers, it is a creative take to combine guacamole, crispy taco shells, and duck meat.
While creating new dishes, Carma Asian Tapas also offers Chinese classics that have truly authentic flavors.
Visit Carma Asian Tapas website: http://www.carmanyc.com/
Address: 40 Carmine Street (take the 1 train from campus all the way to Houston St and walk for 3 minutes)