Written by Staff Writer
CNN Philippines, Manila
Chinese food has become synonymous with life in the world’s most populous nation, but if you’re looking for real Chinese cuisine in the Philippines, you’ve been going slightly wrong.
Or, to give it another way, shrimp dumplings are actually the national dish in the Southeast Asian country.
This form of Chinese delicacy gained traction during the times of Spanish colonialism, when Chinese merchants and merchants of Chinese descent were working as a key economic force in the country.
After independence in the late 1800s, the Philippines shifted its economic direction toward developing its mining and rubber industries, and became one of the biggest coffee-producing nations in the world.
Today, nearly 25% of the country’s economy is still heavily reliant on mining and agricultural products, such as coffee, palm oil and sugar. The last few years, however, have seen the Philippines focus increasingly on expanding its manufacturing base, in order to create job opportunities and boost its GDP.
But as food trends go, shrimp dumplings, or xiao long bao, are winning big right now. At a recent market visit to Plaza de Armas in Manila, shoppers flocked to try local brand Dolongao , located inside Marikina City Mall , a huge shopping center in central Philippines.
Underneath the store’s creamy exterior and glittering banners, however, lies something unique: an incredibly fancy noodle made of 18 bamboo tubes and stuffed with shrimp, mushrooms and chopped scallions. Dolongao’s inventors first introduced the product in 2013.
You can tell that the dumplings are made locally
“It is a trendy noodle right now, but it is still coming from a grassroots level,” Dolongao product manager Genesis Santos told CNN affiliate ABS-CBN . “If you go to China, they have the same type of dumplings, but they are a little more luxurious.”
Five years after its inception, Dolongao already reportedly has 12 locations in the Philippines, and there are plans to add at least two more. According to ABS-CBN, on average, four new shops open each month.
We were able to get a preview during a recent morning visit to Dolongao’s store in Marikina City Mall. Inside, a gaggle of eager customers jostled for a seat as they waited for the check-out window to open. The queue had already doubled in size.
As the whiteboard listing prices showed, the dumplings retail for around 35 pesos ($0.80) apiece.
This is slightly more expensive than other regional brands of xiao long bao in the Philippines, such as Dilhin, which sells dumplings for 26 pesos ($0.49) apiece.
Dolongao’s entrees, too, come in at a pretty penny.
Typically, the company offers appetizers such as crispy wontons or taro, and pastas such as steamed panang, a small, cream-laden dumpling topped with spinach, spinach-leaf salad and fish sauce.
But if your budget is small, other, cheaper brands of xiao long bao might make more sense, especially the traditional dishes for which the Asian culture has long been known. Even so, if you’re in the vicinity of the country’s largest shopping mall, Marikina City, you might be in luck.
Dolongao was wise to offer catering options for when it doesn’t have enough limited seating. The array of edibles can be satisfying for parties of several. But eaters willing to splurge will soon have to look elsewhere.
According to ABS-CBN, Dolongao plans to open more stores around the country in the next few years.