Address: 9 Yongkang St, Taipei (台北市永康街9號)
Telephone: (02) 2393-2333
Open: Wednesday to Sunday 9am to 11pm, Monday and Tuesday, 9am to 10pm
Average meal: NT$500 for two
Details: Chinese, Japanese and English menu; credit cards not accepted
Qunxiangpin is a non-descript restaurant that has been serving up steamed pork dumplings (小籠包) for over a decade. Like most restaurants specializing in xiaolongbao, Qunxiangpin's kitchen is located out front so that the steam wafts onto the street and not into the interior. Inside, the restaurant has about 15 tables with high back wooden chairs that are surprisingly comfortable.
Connoisseurs say there are two ways to assess the quality of steamed dumplings. Crimping stretches the dumpling and makes the skin at the bottom thinner, revealing the juice released from the pork filling during steaming. The more juice at the bottom of the dumpling, at least on the meat variety, the more delicious - or fatty - the inside.
The second assurance of quality is the flour used in the dough. Higher quality flour is more elastic than it's lesser quality brethren, which create dumpling skin that notoriously tears easily.
With Qunxiangpin's regular pork dumplings (NT$120) and shrimp dumplings (NT$180) I counted a consistent 13 crimps, and for the drier vegetable dumpling (NT$150) I counted nine, all within the acceptable range expected by the experts - my Taiwanese dining companions. The skins were well stretched and didn't break when using chopsticks to lift them into a spoon.
Dumplings should be eaten as soon as they are served as they quickly become less palatable, and the skin more likely to break, as they cool.
Virtually all dumpling restaurants provide condiments. Most Taiwanese mix sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar together in small dishes, only occasionally adding ginger. Few add chili paste. I say take a risk. And do so as soon as you sit down.
First, spoon out a hill of chili paste onto your dish than add the vinegar and soy sauce (I leave out the oil, though the spicy variety adds that extra zing). Finally, add the fresh ginger to the mixture, stir it around and let it marinate until the dumplings arrive. When they do, place a dumpling into the center of the small dish and cover the top with the marinated ginger. Take the whole thing and pop it into your mouth. If juice spits everywhere, don't fret about your table manners as that's what happens when dining at an establishment that serves up fine dumplings. After all, dumplings shouldn't so much as melt in your mouth as explode.
Qunxiangpin also serves delicious pork (NT$100), ham (NT$100) and shrimp (NT$120) fried rice.