Asian American Frozen Foods: MìLà’s “Soup Dumplings” found at Costco

Asian American Frozen Foods: MìLà’s “Soup Dumplings” found at Costco

I saw a friend of mine post  this photo on Facebook after she went shopping at the same Costco in Silicon Valley where I shop. I’ve been aware of MìLà‘s (formerly known as Xiao Chi Jie) Xiao Long Bao (“XLB”) or also known as “soup dumpling,” having done my search for frozen ones. I’ve been a fan of soup dumplings ever since trying them at Din Tai Fung back in 2002 in Shanghai. More recently, back in 2019, I reviewed Synear’s ‘Pork Soup Dumplings’ that I found at my local Ranch 99.

Once I did a search on soup dumplings, MìLà’s social media marketing ninjas targeted me on Facebook. I would see their social media ads all the time. Back then, they did not have retail distribution that I was aware of, so unless you lived in the Seattle area (where I believe they are still headquartered), you had to order online and had them delivered (with dry ice) and that made a 50 piece bag costs $39.99 (before tax and shipping), making it $0.80 cents per dumpling. I like XLB, but not that much! Thus I was excited to see that MìLà had distribution at my local Silicon Valley Costco – for $13.99 for 32 pieces – $0.44 cents per dumpling – with no shipping. I had to make a trip the same day, as my friend said that Costco was running out of them.

Of course, Facebook discovered suddenly now that I was interested in MìLà’s soup dumplings, and all of a sudden, I see a MìLà’s Facebook video ad with none other than actor Simu Liu. I wondered just how did MìLà get Simu as a spokesperson, or technically, his official title, “Chief Content Officer”:

SEATTLEMarch 30, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Today, the modern Chinese brand bringing restaurant-quality dishes into consumers’ homes unveils a fresh identity as MìLà, formerly Xiao Chi Jie, and announces a strategic partnership with actor and author Simu Liu. Rooted from the Chinese words for honey ( 蜜) and spice ( 辣), MìLà reflects the founders’ experiences of being “third culture” kids: both Chinese and American, not either/or. This new name represents the evolution of the street food concept into a national brand positioned to serve consumers across the U.S.

“Simu has broken barriers in Hollywood in the same way we want to increase representation of authentic Chinese flavors in grocery aisles nationwide,” said MìLà Cofounder Jennifer Liao. “At MìLà we want to celebrate Chinese cuisine in a way that is inclusive, exciting and approachable for people. Together, Simu and MìLà are aiming to amplify understanding and enjoyment of modern Chinese food.”

As Chief Content Officer, Simu Liu joins MìLà’s executive team and will play an active role in the business, partnering on creative strategy and driving major initiatives for the brand. He will also act as the company’s brand ambassador, representing MìLà across diverse marketing channels and assisting in its expansion to the retail channel. Liu will champion storytelling that will help bring “third culture” visibility to wider audiences, uniting people through inclusive food experiences rooted in heritage, and crafted for a new generation.

This announcement comes on the heels of MìLà’s $22.5 million Series A raise led by Stripes and Imaginary Ventures.”

Video here on Facebook

Then I wondered how much equity MìLà gave Simu. In any case, I think whatever they paid Simu, it is probably worth it to raise the brand awareness of MìLà, as I can’t think of any other Asian American actor/actress that is promoting an Asian food brand offhand (though there is filmmaker Jon M. Chu who teamed up ethnic e-grocery Weee!)

But as a Chief Content Officer, Simu should have his MìLà videos on their YouTube channel. I only see Simu in MìLà’s Facebook ads, but not on their Facebook Page. And personally, I kind of liked Xiao Chi Jie as a company name rather than MìLà because I know Xiao Chi Jie is Chinese, though may be hard for your average (“white”) American to pronounce (especially Xiao …).  Also, MìLà – when I see that name, it looks Spanish or Filipino to me, plus I have to copy & paste MìLà because of the accents (“diacritics”) above the ‘i’ and ‘a.’

In any case, back to the MìLà’s Xiao Long Bao, or more easily pronounced, soup dumplings. They are pretty good! Pretty juicy with the soup. But I would say of course, not as good as fresh Xiao Long Bao from Din Tai Fung.

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The instructions said to keep each dumpling an inch from each other so that when they expand, they don’t stick to each other. I don’t have a bamboo steamer (I should buy one, I know!). The packaging also included steamer liners as to prevent sticking to the steamer. I steamed for 11 minutes as instructed and let it sit for a minute (also as instucted) and then ate them to my delight, along with some black vinegar as a dipping sauce (I didn’t have any ginger in the refrigerator). There was plenty of soup and juicy pork to savor. I was pleasantly surprised that when I removed the dumplings with tongs, the skins didn’t break (given that some of the dumplings, because I had a small steamer, stuck together).

I remember when I first came across the originally named company Xiao Chi Jie, I did wind up watching this almost hour long interview with the co-founder of now MìLà, Jennifer Liao:

The founding story and how MìLà went from restaurant to consumer frozen foods packaged company was interesting. It makes me wonder how MìLà has since scaled from this interview to now being in Costco (or at least Costco in Silicon Valley as a test market – I’m assuming they haven’t gone Costco nationally yet?). Maybe I need to reach out to do an interview myself with the MìLà founders.

With MìLà’s 32 piece count of soup dumplings, this could be a semi-regular purchase at Costco. A 16 piece serving will make me very full, so two servings at $13.99 for a delicious lunch or dinner to fill me up definitely seems reasonable to me.

After eating these dumplings, the next day, I had to drop by Ranch 99 to see if they were still selling Synear dumplings. They were there, but with new packaging:

$4.50 for a dozen soup dumplings.

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So I would say that these soup dumplings were actually fairly similar in quality and pretty good, except that the pork/soup was was a bit sweeter, which I’m not sure I liked as much. I also had them with black vineger as a dipping sauce.

Overall, I would pick MìLà’s Xiao Long Bao soup dumpings over Synear’s because Synear’s soup/dumplings were a bit too sweet, and the fact that MìLà’s packaging offers more than just a dozen (32 pieces, though slightly more expensive on a per unit basis) and that I regularly go to Costco, which is closer to me.



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