Restaurant-Quality Soup Dumplings Are Finally Available at the Freezer Aisle

Yep, you can eat authentic xiao long bao at home.



When Caleb Wang was a child, he would spend summers with his extended family in Shanghai, eating soup dumplings. In 2018, memories of those dumplings, specifically sheng xian bao (fried pork soup dumplings), became the impetus for Xiao Chi Jie, the food stall in Bellevue, Washington, that he co-owns with his wife, Jen Liao. During the pandemic, Wang and Liao were forced to pause service at the stall, but they didn’t stay closed for long — within three weeks, they came up with a plan to freeze and sell their xiao long bao (steamed soup dumplings) for local customers to enjoy at home. Now, they’re extending their reach nationwide through their brand MìLà. It’s an opportunity, Wang feels, for increasing people’s understanding of Chinese food and culture. He describes it as maturing the Chinese food ecosystem and, after spending a decade working in finance, says, “This is the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. It actually ties to my upbringing and heritage.”

Perfecting frozen soup dumplings was not an easy feat. Xiao long bao are made with a meat filling and a collagen-rich broth that gelatinizes when cooled, allowing it to be encased in dough. When the dumplings are cooked, the solid broth melts into a liquid, moistening the filling. It’s an ephemeral food, one that for a long time was best experienced hot out of a restaurant steamer. Unlike other frozen versions on the market, which are cooked and then frozen, Wang and Liao flash-freeze raw dumplings to be steamed at home by the consumer. Their product testing began at a grassroots level — they asked their mothers and their parents’ friends to evaluate their frozen dumplings and also requested feedback from a local Seattle restaurant Facebook group. “A lot of people said, ‘It’s exactly how I would eat them [in Singapore],’” says Liao. Their business grew quickly: In 2021, they began shipping dumplings and dipping sauces across the country. Today, MìLà’s wares can be found in the freezer aisles of stores like Sprouts, Target, and Costco.

They’ve also brought in actor (and Marvel superhero Shang-Chi) Simu Liu as their chief content officer. “Chinese or Taiwanese American people understand soup dumplings and [our] other products,” says Liao. “But now we have somebody working with us who’s able to transcend those borders a little bit, beyond our core audience, and talk about culture.”

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Wang and Liao don’t always stick to traditional Shanghainese recipes — fillings have included corn and cheese, beef pho, and a jackfruit-based vegetarian blend, reflecting their experiences as Chinese Americans. “With a lot of ethnic food, there are questions like, ‘Who is the arbiter of authenticity?’” says Liao. “We know what food we grew up with, what our parents made for us, and what we tasted in restaurants, and that can mean bringing in flavors and influences from other Asian cuisines. It’s authentic to our experience.”

“Soup dumplings are just one product,” Wang adds. “There are dumplings, wontons, rice bowls, baos, a whole list of things that we can ultimately extend into. And we want to have a place in sharing those types of foods with the American consumer.” And the way he and Liao see it, that’s the bottom line.

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