‘Allo dumpling! Ooh look at you, all fat and soft with your steaming hot, juicy inside and crispy little bottom. Ooh, give us a bite then. Pop yourself into my little bowl of soy and vinegar and hop into my mouth, chop chop!
Ah yes. Melbourne’s developed a love affair with dumplings over recent years and it’s only getting deeper. Luckily, we’re spoilt for choice.
We’ve come a long way since significant numbers of Chinese people began arriving in Melbourne, on their way to Victoria’s gold rushes. In late 1854 the first Chinese lodging houses were recorded in Little Bourke Street and Celestial Avenue; it wasn’t until the 1970s that Little Bourke Street’s arches were built and the area became the Chinatown we know today.
This isn’t a history lesson. The point is, over a hundred years ago Chinese people brought their culinary delights to our fairly bland shores, and we’ve never looked back. More recently, our eyes have been on the dumpling. Hell, we even designed our own version – the (shudder) dim sim. But don’t go anywhere near that fart-smelling ball of cabbage and miscellaneous meat; head to one of the top dumpling places below and order a plate of steamed or fried dumpling goodness.
A good dumpling is all about the right textures and tasty fillings. Originating in Northern China, a dumpling is essentially ground meat and/or vegies, wrapped in a thinly rolled piece of dough – but it’s so much more than that. Oh yes.
Wonton House, on Russell Street, is well known for its dumplings, wontons and authentic Cantonese dishes. Sandy, part-owner of Wonton House and two sister restaurants (Wonton House on Swanston Street, and newly opened – and already booked out – Wonton House Secret Kitchen in Glen Waverley), says the art of the dumpling has a lot to do with the wrapper.
“The dumpling skin must not be too thick or too soft, and has to be supple,” she says.
Wonton house does super Xiao Long Bao (sometimes called ‘Shanghai dumplings’) – those addictive soupy dumplings with a little twist on the top – and according to Sandy, the key to good Xiao Long Bao is the fatty broth inside, and flavourful pork mince that is well spiced.
Elsewhere in the city, you’ll find yummy dumplings at Camy Shanghai Dumpling on Tattersalls Lane in Chinatown. The party animal of the dumpling world, this place is cheap, rowdy and colourful with its plastic cups for tea, BYO wine and staff renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’. The food here mightn’t be the best you’ll find, but it’s ridiculously cheap, and it’s an experience in itself as wait staff herd you in like cattle and bark at you when they take your order (more fun than it sounds).
Shanghai Village, on Little Bourke, is another goody – but it’s no secret anymore so be prepared to line up for a table on weekend nights. It ain’t pretty (unless bright orange chopsticks, red PVC seats and pink walls are your idea of decor heaven) but the fried pork dumplings will make you giddy with their salty, fatty, sticky deliciousness. With crispy bottoms, skin that is just chewy enough, and insides that are moist and tasty, you’ll be addicted after one. The steamed vegie dumplings, plump with mushrooms, are also good here. Just don’t burn your tongue on the first steaming hot bite!
Noodle Kingdom on Russell Street (just a couple of doors from Wonton House) also does reasonable dumplings and you won’t have to line up with the cool kids to get in. However, their specialty is noodles (hence the name, one would imagine), so make sure you also order a gigantic bowl of noodle soup.
The best Xiao Long Bao, in my opinion, can be found at Hu Tong Dumpling Bar on Market Lane (not to be confused with their other restaurant on Commercial Road, Prahran – same name, inferior dumplings, beyond terrible service). Xiao Long Bao is Hu Tong’s headline act, and they are – seriously – little dollops of silky, fatty, porky heaven. If you’re like me, you’ll giggle with enjoyment each time you stuff one into your mouth. They also serve up a range of vibrant, spicy Szechuan dishes like cuttlefish with preserved peppers, crispy fragrant duck and Szechuan bean curd with pork mince. Final word of advice: book. It’s crazy in there.
181 Russell Street, Melbourne
(03) 9662 9882
Camy Shanghai Dumpling
23-25 Tattersalls Lane, Melbourne
(03) 9663 8555
112-114 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
(03) 9663 1878
175 Russell Street, Melbourne
(03) 9654 2828
Hu Tong Dumpling Bar
14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne
(03) 9650 8128