From bone broth cups to Hong Kong egg waffles, Ramen-san has always been a reliable ambassador of food trends in Chicago. One of the city’s foremost contemporary noodle spots, the River North fixture is at it again with its tang bao, a dish that’s likely to become a comfort food staple for the colder months ahead.
Essentially jumbo soup dumplings, tang bao have been popping up steadily in NYC and elsewhere, but they’re still an anomaly in Chicago. Until now, that is. As Ramen-san chef Marcelo Han explains, he started making tang bao as a one-time special, but the customer demand became strong enough to merit a regular spot in the rotation, albeit in limited quantities considering the tedious work that goes into forming these things.
According to Han, the dough for tang bao is pivotal. Not only does it provide the foundation for the dish, but it needs to hold up to the broth without falling apart or getting gummy. “It’s a hot water–based dough, with water added to flour first,” he says. “We use a Kitchen-Aid, but home recipes call for chopsticks that you beat really hard to develop gluten.” He describes it as akin to making pizza dough, portioning and rolling it out, with the hot water serving to activate the gluten and make it more pliable.
With the dough in place, it’s time for the filling. Han prepares a gyoza mixture of pork shoulder, pork belly and aromatics like ginger, garlic and green onions as the base, adding miso and king crab. The all-important piece of the puzzle for all soup dumplings is gelatin, which allows chefs to wrap the soup inside the dough and steam it. For his tang bao, Han uses gelatin made from Ramen-san’s chicken ramen broth, one he describes as having a lot of body and seasoning to stand up to the pork and crab medley.
Once the dough is rolled out, each piece gets a mix of gelatin and meat, at about a 3:1 ratio of gelatin to pork. Once the mixture is finished with king crab, Han folds the dough over the top and steams the dumplings for roughly 12 minutes in an industrial oven. It’s all finished with spicy black vinegar — a combo of spicy sesame oil and black vinegar — and thin juliennes of ginger. One of the coolest aspects of Ramen-san’s tang bao is how it’s served to guests, with a spoon and a colorful straw, for optimal slurping. “We tell them to pop it open with a spoon and then carefully sip it with the straw,” he explains.
While the pork and crab combo is the standard, Han says they’ve done different variations like truffles and corn with lobster, and are thinking about offering more flavors through the seasons. For now, the tang bao are available Sunday to Thursday with limited availability.
All photos courtesy of Jeff Marini
59 W. Hubbard St.; 312-377-9950