I-Shanghai Delight (Fremont)

Soup filled pan-fried buns, a subset of sheng Jian bao, were a Bay Area anomaly a year ago. Unless I’m mistaken, Shanghai Flavor Shop was the only place that had more than a dribble of loose soup, if it wasn’t all absorbed into the dough. Since then, soup filled SJB have popped up at Shanghai Bistro in Newark, and now I-Shanghai delight. I didn’t have an opportunity to try them on my visit there last week, but they look promising— the bottoms have a golden crust that climbs the sides. I peeked into the ones on the table next to me and saw lots of juice sloshing inside.

There were a few items on the menu I have not eaten elsewhere, and the main one that caught my eye was a deep fried shrimp ball that someone on Yelp suggested was filled with soup! The outer breading is wispy and not too oily, and the shrimp ball was bouncy and firm, the type made from a paste. A bit off center of each shrimp ball was a small cavern filled with a milky colored salty and savory substance. The angular shape of the cavern suggest that the shrimp paste is placed around a cube of gelatin/ stock. Pretty damn tasty.

The other dish I got was braised pork belly with chestnuts and quail eggs. The yolk of the quail eggs taste great with the savory sauce, and I love how the squid like snap of the egg white separates them. The braising liquid is more savory and sweet, and not intense as the one at Taste of Jiangnan, which does a similar dish with chicken eggs and without the chestnuts.

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Cheers for the report. How was the wait? Have you had the chance to try the xiao long bao?

No wait when I got there on Friday at 6pm, but there was a short wait by 7pm. XLB looked great.

It’s funny. A few years ago, I communicated with the guy who did the Soup Dumpling Index in Shanghai. I at first encouraged him, and he me, to do a similar project measuring XLB around here, but the lack of logs consistency and quality discouraged such a venture. Now would be a good time for someone to grab calipers (not it!)

Btw, the building appears to be new and they put a lot of thought into interior design, from a glass encased corner where the dumpling makers work to photographs to other contemporary design elements.

I-Shanghai Delight is weeks old now. There was mention online that the XLB chef came from Nan Xiang Xiaolong Mantou, the famed XLB restaurant near City God Temple in Shanghai, serving Nanxiang style xiaolongbaos for decades. The restaurant has multiple floors. The higher you go, the better the quality of the XLB and the pricier they get. This connection to is what prompted us to go try the XLB.

The XLBs were constructed with precise techniques with the pleats neatly created and symmetric. City God Temple or not, the chef has skills. The skin was thin. Not as much gluten as some other places like Din Tai Fung so the skin did not have as much bounce. The meat had a bit more bounce than just typical ground pork, and it tasted fresh. The tangbaos contained a large amount of steaming soup. Both the meat and the soup, however, tasted very sweet, to the point that they tasted equally sweet and savory. Generally I preferred the filling to be more savory. I don’t know if this is a Shanghai trend.

In general, we thought its a well-made XLB for the East Bay and its fine for the local area but SF probably has something similar. (@souperman).

Shengjianbao had soup inside and tasted a bit bland with probably a bit more pan frying and/or more fat needed to pan fry the exterior. I also had the fried shrimp balls with gooey white soup. I tasted mostly the shrimp balls as the soup was scalding hot and the soup taste was somewhat masked by the balls. The fried rice cake was unremarkable.

I asked the female server where the XLB chef was from and she gave a pretty long answer about Shanghai that I didn’t catch. I asked which specific restaurant and she said the temple. I asked which floor. She clearly knew where I was going, just smiled, and said, upstairs. Shortly after I asked the other, more junior, male server. It seems like the two servers talked just prior and before I finished the question, he just started grinning at the question.

There was a very strong VOC smell from the new furnishing. Time will solve this problem. No wait at 530pm Saturday. There is a wait by the time we left. 2 servers for the size of the room seemed to be one headcount short.

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I visited Sunday night around 6:45 with a group of friends (that crying baby was my table, yup) as I was enticed by the promise of real SJB.

That said, the hunt continues. Skin too thick, slightly undercooked, bottoms were well fried and crunchy but because the dough was more leavened than it should be for SJB, the textural crunch was off as well. Lastly, still not enough soup.

The meal was a bit weird overall, they were serving only SJB/XLB and noodle soup dishes it seems. No cooked/wok fired dishes whatsoever.

This led us to order: XLB, SJB, two bowls of noodle soup, a bowl of vermicelli soup with some stuffed gluten puffs and stuffed tofu skins, and lastly, bok choi and mushrooms.

All the non-bao dishes were fine for most of us, simply flavored, a bit savory from the use of a little white dried shrimps. One in our group thought everything was a bit oversalted except for the vegetable noodle soup.

The XLB - both normal and crab - suffered from a similar fate as the SJB - skin just a bit too thick, and not quite enough time in the steamer. Also not a generous quantity of soup inside. I didn’t remember reading that the chef came from the NXXLB in Shanghai until the post from @sck reminded me of that - but reconnecting the dots now, the flavor was a dead ringer for NXXLB. The crab XLB did not have a strong or even sufficient crab flavor and my friends could barely find any crab in the meatball.

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Do you have any local favorites for crab XLB? All the ones I’ve tried seem like gimmicks that dont deliver on flavor.

I’m curious about their vegetable XLB, which they were out of the night I went. The server said they are completely vegetarian and had a mix of vegetables. She was busy and I didn’t have a chance to grill her on whether the aspic is truly vegan— That would be a first for the Bay Area ( The only ones I can think of that don’t have pork our shrimp and loofah at a few odd places )

Did the server initially mention “lao cheng huang miao” as the area where the chef cooked? That’s what locals call the area.

Your description sounds about right for the Nanxiang’s XLB. They will be on the sweet side (though not as sweet as Wuxi XLB) and have thicker skins, less soup and more meat than the DTF Nanjing Tang Bao style everybody seems to be trying to imitate.

To tell the truth, I’ve given up on trying to find exemplary XLB in San Francisco, and seldom get to the burbs. On my last Shanghai trip in 2011 I stayed at a hotel that was a 5-minute walk from Jia Jia Tangbao’s #2 location on Liyuan Lu and had XLB for breakfast there precisely every other day for a month (forcing myself to seek variety on alternate days). On my return I decided to end my 20-year quest for good XLB stateside, and never make it a destination food any more. I do, however, make it a point of eating XLB every April 7, the anniversary of my XLB epiphany (yes, at the Nanxiang), and this year I might try to make it to this Fremont joint since it’ll be my 25th.

Since the original owner of Shanghai Dumpling King went south (literally, to San Mateo) my guess for the best XLB in SF might still be at Shanghai House, but I haven’t eaten there in years.

Found this in my stuff just the other day: an unused napkin from the Nanxiang.

I am not fluent in Mandarin. But she said “Cheng huang miao”, after she said some other stuff.

If you go, go early. Someone on Yelp said that late in the service the restaurant ran out of xlb and sjb for them. Which would really suck if you trek all the way to Fremont and they do that to you.

I think their crab xlb price would agree with your observations. At $1.3 more than the regular xlb, that seems like hardly enough money to add much of any crab.

I’m impressed by the overall menu and how representative it is of the breakfast stuff you’d find at Shanghai chains like Qiao Jiashan and Shanghai Lao Cheng Huang Mao. Lots of relatively obscure (over here) fare like pork cutlets and brown sauce over rice cakes (pai gu nian gao), both “xiao” and “da” wontons, vegetable rice with salty pork, small soups like beef-bean thread and fried tofu-bean thread soups, even doufu hua, which I assume is the fiery version, not the sweet version.

{Edited to add one glaring omission from my own wish list: no xian doujiang!]

I went today, a Monday, at 11:50 AM and there was a wait. For my party of 1 (and it is a party when I don’t have to share my dumplings!), I waited 20 minutes for a place to sit. I shared a 4 top with a party of two. Once seated, the food came out 10 minutes after I ordered. The sheng jian bao had a thinner crust than the only other baos I’ve tried at Shanghi Restaurant in Oakland. I liked them much better at I-Shanghai Delight.

I’ll order the XLB and sheng jian baos again. I also tried the fried gluten stuffed with fish. The flavor was good, but the sauce was too salty.

Not super relevant to this location, but I just discovered an i-Shanghai in Old Sacramento. They sadly replaced Cellar Bistro (owner use to be Jack’s Cafe in El Cerrito if I’m not mistaken).

I wasn’t aware of any association with the i-Shanghai in Fremont (just thought it was a new place to check out when I was in the area). I also failed to take any pictures… … but the food looks pretty much like the ones pictured in this post. I tried these deep fried shrimp balls with soup, the pork chop noodle soup, beef noodle soup, XLBs, and their pan-fried SJB. All pretty good, though for my tastes I found things on the sweeter side.

The interior decor of the place in Old Sacramento, as I’ve seen on Yelp pics, is the same as at the Fremont location.

Glad to hear the new locations was good— let’s hope that doesn’t diminish the quality at the original location!

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold