The Shanghai Soup Dumpling Index was a faux science project that “applied a quantitative framework to the existing qualitative colloquial descriptors of the ideal Shanghai soup dumpling” in order to come up with a ranking of the city’s dumpling shops. It looked at how thin the wrappers of the dumplings were, how much meat they contained, and how much soup could fit in there. It took me more than a year and 50+ restaurant visits, purchasing (though not consuming) more than seven kilograms of soup dumplings. The guide found viral success in Shanghai and did well abroad. But there’s just one little thing.
It is completely useless.
The index was designed this way, to be part-science and part-satire but I really did do the legwork, hauling a pair of calipers and a digital scale around to restaurants for months, and dissecting dumplings at the table. A 1930s booklet to the fish in Shanghai’s markets which included both highly scientific information but also suggested cooking methods was one inspiration for creating a guide that is utterly useless and highly useful at the same time. Favoritism and wanting to have a water-tight argument for my favorite shop also played a part. A boring corporate research job and working in that language were another factor.
But instead of using my time to finally go to college like maybe I should have, I went to 52 soup dumpling restaurants over the course of 2014 and then created the index with designer Ailadi Cortelletti in 2015. In 2017, I spent a 48-hour period going to 21 restaurants, old and new, in order to update the index. (I skipped the three dozen ones I learned were bad the first time around.)
The intention of this booklet is to be the practical guide that the index never was, or was meant to be, and to lead you through an actual tour of Shanghai’s 18 best soup dumpling shops. It is best served with the updated poster, an infographic representation of the city’s dumpling landscape, also available from Gumroad.com. — Christopher St. Cavish, May 2017