Dim Sum at Ala Shanghai

ala shanghai dim sum composite

Pan fried tiny pork buns, shu mai, soup dumplings, crispy turnip pastry

By Daniel B.

There are a lot of reasons to love Ala Shanghai. The authentic Shanghainese restaurant in Latham not only serves traditional regional foods, they also have a changing seasonal menu. Their upcoming spring/summer menu is currently in development and promises to include some modern takes on classic dishes that are popular in China today.

This makes me giddy.

For the neophyte who may not be quite ready to step up to cold jellyfish salad or sea cucumber with triple delights, the Ala Shanghai menu also has a dim sum section. However, the dim sum most of us know and love is Cantonese. Shanghainese food stems from a different culinary tradition, which makes the dim sum at Ala Shanghai a familiar experience with some exciting surprises.

Here are a few notable items from Ala Shanghai's dim sum menu that you would expect to find where the Yangtze meets the East China Sea, not where the Hudson meets the Mohawk.

ala shanghai exterior

Shu mai

Sticky rice wrapped in a lotus leaf is a traditional dim sum item that can be found on Cantonese menus and rolling push carts. One of those pouches could be a meal in itself, filled with meat, chopped vegetables and fat. This heavy, if delicious, dim sum staple is not the same sticky rice that fills the shu mai at Ala Shanghai.

No, this is a fine-textured rice that is deeply flavored with finely chopped ham, dried shrimp, and mushroom. To say it brings the funk is an understatement. Dried shrimp are pungent, and the little bits of Chinese ham bring a sweet and salty balance to the dumpling. The mushroom ups the umami content, filling your mouth with a satisfying sense of deliciousness. And the shu mai is served with a spicy soy sauce.

Xiao long bao

Ala Shanghai takes their food very seriously and makes sure each dish is presented with its proper accompaniments -- like the much-ballyhooed steamed pork soup dumplings (aka xiao long bao, aka XLB, aka Albany Jane snacks), which are served with black vinegar infused with a fine julienne of fresh ginger.

While Xiao Long Bao are from Shanghai, there are other Chinese restaurants in the area that offer them, and I'm not interested in starting a fight as to who makes them best. It may come down to personal preference as to whether you prefer a better broth or a thinner wrapper.

Shengjian mantou

That same black vinegar with the fresh ginger for the XLB is also paired with the Shanghai classic shengjian mantou. Though that is not how they are listed on the menu -- you will have to order the "pan fried tiny pork buns."

Be forewarned, for these are not a variation of the ever-popular Cantonese barbecue pork bun. Rather, they are more similar to the XLB, except in bun form. These buns have a steamed top and a fried and browned bottom, which give them a great toasty flavor. Inside is a minced pork meatball that's made juicy with broth. But unlike the soup dumplings these are not waiting to burst open with scalding hot broth.

And they are not that tiny. A plate of six of them is the size of your head.

Crispy turnip pastry

Which shouldn't stop you from getting the crispy turnip pastry, although I understand that turnips can be pretty polarizing. Inside this flaky and rich pastry is nestled a stash of shredded turnips with a little green onion for color. It sounds like it might be healthful, you know, since it has a vegetable in the name of the dish. But it's much more pastry than turnip.

These are more about texture and comfort than flavor. In some ways it reminds me of a potato knish. A starchy root vegetable wrapped up in dough. Except in this case the shredded turnip makes the filling a bit more assertively vegetal, and the golden fried sesame seeds on the bottom add a crunch to what would otherwise be just solid enough to hold together.

Before you know it, you've had yourself an entire dim sum experience made entirely of Shanghai specialties. And hands down, it's the best dim sum I've had in the region.

I still haven't found anyplace for good har gow (aka steamed shrimp dumpling), but with interesting and delicious alternatives like these at Ala Shanghai, I don't mind so much.

An order of six sticky rice shu mai costs $5.
An order of six pork soup dumplings will set you back $5.
The pan fried tiny pork buns are $6 and come six to an order.
The crispy turnip pasty has two pieces, but can be halved to feed four, at $5 per plate.

Good to know: Ala Shanghai also recently got its wine and beer license. So if you've been longing for something other than tea to wash down your lion's head meatballs or tong-po pork, you are in luck.

Daniel B. is the proprietor of the FUSSYlittleBLOG.

Find It

Ala Shanghai
468 Troy Schenectady Road
Latham, NY 12110


I need to go to this place. I need to have someone push me out of my armchair and through the door. I read your glowing reviews & then eat crap that would make you faint.

Good har gow is at buffalo wagon. Maybe ask someone who is Asian and regularly eats Asian food for a better blog... Just saying....

Sounds like they have a very different definition of "siu mai" than the Cantonese -- there's no rice inside siu mai. The turnip pastries sound good, though.

Also, the har gao are quite good at Shining Rainbow. I'd say they're the best Cantonese dim sum in the area, though some of the Shanghainese options are good for a change of pace (like the xiao long bao or scallion pancakes).

I love dim sum at Ala Shanghai!! It's been amazing every time I've gone. All of the stuff described above is awesome, and another personal favorite is the Wonton in Spicy Flavor.

I'll freely admit that I don't know good har gow from bad. But I thought I'd let you know that as of late February, the owner/manager of Taiwan Noodle on Central Ave reports that the shop was able to hire a dumpling-maker. I had the har gow there and enjoyed them very much.

Of course the food is wonderful at Ala Shanghai, but one should not overlook the stellar service you get there. From top down and bottom up, Lanny makes sure that service is efficient and professional, a class act for sure.

The food is delicious. But the service is slower than snails.

When we went there was a couple who brought newspapers with them to read. They had the right idea and were clearly experienced diners.

Don't let the pace scare you off - its one of the few places that is worth the wait. But if you hire a babysitter, know that you'll really be gone for three hours.

Interesting. I've only gone for lunch during the work week and they are usually very quick.

If they serve chicken feet for dim sum, sign me up

Thanks to a post like this and thanks to people who comment. I have found a new place to try. Taiwan Noodle, I will see you this weekend!

As for Ala Shanghai, it hasn’t been able to earn a glowing review from me. Don't get me wrong, I like the food. The dishes tasted good and the combinations worked well. But, I feel like it is missing something that would put it over the top. But, to be fair, I went there with high expectation and I grew up with Cantonese food more than Shanghainese food. So, I agree. It may just come down to a personal preference.

I stopped in here while in the Latham area---wanting to find dim sum that I liked. I tried the little pork buns & crispy turnip pastries recommended. Very very tasty! I had previously found that even in SF's chinatown I wasn't crazy about the bready buns part of dim sum but with these I was impressed. Will try a few other dishes another time.

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