Chinese dumpling and noodle trainspotters know that the best versions usually come from obscure hole-in-the-wall joints where personal space and flattering lighting isn’t a consideration and splatter-proof menus are customary. Like Sydney’s Chinese Noodle Restaurant and Adelaide Central Market’s Asian Gourmet, Melbourne’s ShanDong MaMa is about as classic as it gets when it comes to getting that legit dumpling fix. Add to that, the fact that a who’s who of Australia’s food industry (Neil Perry, Dan Hong and Annaliese Gregory, for starters) make a point of dropping by when they’re in town, and you have one reliable destination when it comes to eating dumplings in Melbourne.
Don’t expect gossamer-thin, elegantly pleated offerings here; ShanDong is all about rustic, homestyle cooking with loads of flavour and texture, and little less emphasis on aesthetic finesse (not that this will ever deter a real dumpling aficionado). The brainchild Ying Hou and her mother Meiyan (Mama) Wang, this Melbourne dumpling go-to has, for the past five years, paid homage to Wang’s ancestral roots in Shangdong Province, China. Start with vinegary black fungus, crunchy jellyfish or garlicky smashed cucumber salad to whet the appetite before diving into dumpling town.
The Shandong region specialises in seafood produce, so there’s no question that you order a serve of bouncy, mousse-like mackerel dumplings, fragrant with ginger, coriander root and chives. They're draped in thin dumpling wrappers and pan-fried into little caramelised envelopes. Choose the boiled version for something a little heartier (douse them in vinegar and chilli oil for maximum joy) with optimum takeaway potential.
From there, the menu runs the gamut from classic pork and cabbage to vegan-friendly zucchini and ShanDong Mama originals like their Aussie lamb and carrot. The Melbourne dumplings are filled with a proprietary blend of diced prawn, calamari, mussels, fish, chicken, lemon zest and parsley. Round out your meal with crisp, golden scallion pancakes or chewy hand-pulled noodles.
The crowd stretches from international students and office workers to inner city hipsters and accidentally lucky tourists; the only common denominator is having great taste in food on a shoestring budget. Between running small mountains of dumplings to tables, ShanDong Mama manager Yuan says, “We are always very busy. Everybody loves our dumplings!” Somehow, this doesn’t surprise us in the slightest.
Daily 11am - 9:30pm
Mid City, 7/200 Bourke St, Melbourne