Those were the words I uttered when I saw these in the freezer aisle. Those were the same words A uttered when I showed him the box. Oh no indeed. This could be bad. Really bad. Like, thank-you Trader-Joe's-for-RUINING-one-of-the-best-foods-ever bad.
Y'all have to understand. Even in the real world, good soup dumplings are hard to come by, unless you live in Shanghai or Taipei or near a hole-in-the-wall joint where they
Steamed dumplings, also known as "Xiao Long Bao" originated in the Jiangnan region of China. They are traditionally made with pork and steamed in small bamboo steamer baskets. our version is made with chicken and comes in a convenient microwaveable steamer tray. Each dumpling packs a strong punch of flavor due to the copious amounts of ginger.
They even included instruction on the proper way to eat this. I give them extra points for the cultural competence, though I still want to know why it wasn't marketed under "Trader Ming" when this is CLEARLY Chinese food.
iPhone 6 for scale. Not the biggest babies out there. Kind of disappointing size-wise. But guess what, one box = 1 serving size.
We passed on the nuking and went for the steaming method. Yes, I lined the plate with non-Trader Joe kale leaves as a precaution to prevent sticking, which protects you from accidentally ripping open the skin while trying to pick it up. Keeping the skin intact is essential for retaining whatever amount of soup these little soup dumplings might have!
I'm still straddling the post-college and married adult life. We only had 4 forks for the first 4 months of marriage, okay, so obviously I wouldn't have any proper soup spoons around. :P
Well guess what, it wasn't that nightmarish at all. In fact, I set my expectations for this SO LOW that they exceeded them. These actually taste pretty close to the real thing. TJ's, ya got me there. I think it's the "copious amounts of ginger" and a bit of green onion that lend the authenticity, although it didn't really taste "copious" to me. It just tasted..normal. Once I figured out that TJ's really tried to make an edible soup dumpling, I switched to the real grading scale I have used on every soup dumpling I've ever tried.
- Not enough soup. A agrees. This is the most important bit about soup dumplings and the hardest part to get right. Yes, it was savory. Not overly salted or soy-sauced. Unfortunately, the product didn't have enough soup for me to grade it any further.
- Skin was okay. A said "WHAAAAT?" I said, "I didn't say GREAT. I said okay, meaning it's passable for the real thing." Not thick or chewy enough for my liking but holds together well. Not too thin either.
- Chicken meat! That didn't taste anything like those chicken wontons. It actually had FLAVOR! It would have been great if they used pork or shrimp, but I understand they were trying to keep it healthy. I mean for crying out loud they used WHEAT FLOUR. But that's how they got it down to 250 calories, 7 grams fat, and 16 grams protein for 6 soup dumplings. (And yes 1/4th of your day's sodium intake but that's a minor detail)
I'm quite curious to find out who the supplier is. TJ's is very tight-lipped about that. They don't even tell you the city of origin - San Francisco? Brooklyn? I'm assuming it's domestic, because if it was international they'd said that on the package.
The price per dumpling comes out to $0.50 each, which is pretty standard and actually cheaper than what you would pay at a restaurant. It tastes close enough to the real thing that for $3 a person, I could stock up on this and be prepared in the event that 1) snowpocalypse coincides with an intense soup dumpling craving or 2) our go-to soup dumpling place gets shut down for violating the fire code, violating some health department standard, losing the grandmother that is trying to work as fast as she can
as an underpaid slave to churn out those soup dumplings, or something else only hole-in-the-wall places could do. Not too shabby. A gives his stamp of repurchase approval as do I.
TL;DR: Trader Joe's Steamed Chicken Soup Dumplings. I can't believe it's moderately close to the real thing! 6 out of 10.