• ShanDong MaMa's much-loved mackerel dumplings (Audrey Bourget)Source: Audrey Bourget
Meet the mother and daughter serving up dumplings raved about by locals and top chefs, including Neil Perry.
Audrey Bourget

30 Jan 2019 - 12:16 PM  UPDATED 30 Jan 2019 - 3:27 PM

Tucked inside Melbourne’s Midcity Arcade, ShanDong MaMa has made a name as one of the best dumpling houses in Australia, thanks to their mackerel dumplings. The recipe was developed by Meyian Wang, the “mama” in ShanDong MaMa.

“She got her recipe inspirations from her father, because my grandpa was a captain,” explains her daughter Ying Hou, who is co-owner of the restaurant. “Even when there was a starving time in China, my grandpa always managed to bring them seafood like prawn and fish.”

Dumpling duo: mother and daughter Ying Hou (left) and Meyian Wang

“Mom told me the story that one time, she was woken up in the middle of the night when she was a little girl because grandpa came home with seafood. It was 2 am and my grandma just started cooking and they all got together around the table to have a big feast.”

Because China’s Shandong province is bordered by the Yellow Sea, seafood is an important part of the region’s cuisine. “There’s a tradition in China to have dumplings for the Lunar New Year and we’ve always had seafood dumplings,” says Hou.

From accounting to dumplings

Wang had a career spanning more than 30 years as an accountant in China before moving to Melbourne, where Hou had came to study. “I’m an only child so mum follows wherever I go,” says Hou, laughing.

“When she arrived in my little apartment, she started cleaning my mess and making me the food I had missed,” she recalls. “Later on, I invited friends around, and they all had great feedback about her dumplings, saying they’d never had something like that in Melbourne. They said: ‘Why don’t you open your own restaurant?’.”

In 2011, Hou, who oversees operations, and Wang, who is in charge of the menu, opened ShanDong MaMa. Great reviews and word of mouth meant that quickly, Melburnians starting queuing to get their Shandong-style dumplings. In 2014, they opened a second CBD location in Centre Place, ShanDong MaMa Mini, with a shorter menu.

Dumplings, dumplings and more dumplings

Most dumplings come either boiled (to lock in all the juices) or pan-fried. The latter are shaped like tubes, which means that the excess juice mixes with the frying oil to make the outside of the dumplings extra tasty and crispy.

For the famous fish dumplings, they debone and skin the mackerel every day. “We mix the white meat with a little bit of water. It’s like making a mousse; the texture is light and fluffy,” explains Hou. Coriander, ginger and chives are also added to the fish.

While the meat dumplings were especially popular when they opened, the most ordered items these days are the vegan dumplings. Take a bite to find bright green zucchini, tofu, black fungus, rice noodles, spring onion, coriander, ginger and mushroom powder for an umami kick.

While Wang is the main brain behind the menu, Hou has also created a few items, such as the black squid ink dumplings. Filled with squid, chicken, fish eggs and basil, they go to another level when dipped in garlic olive oil.

The seafood marinara mix that Wang kept seeing in supermarkets has inspired the Melbourne dumpling: a mix of seafood (prawn, calamari, mussel and fish), chicken mince, lemon rind, olive oil, parsley and garlic. It’s a way for her to pay homage to Australia’s multicultural food scene.

ShanDong MaMa might look unassuming from the outside, but you can be sure they take their dumplings seriously. “We have different sizes of dumpling skins, decided by mum. We have the sizes stuck to the wall in front of the ladies making dumplings to make sure they’re the perfect size every week. Occasionally, I grab a little scale and walk into the room and sneakily pop a dumpling on my scale to see if its the right size,” says Hou.

If you want to mix it up, the menu also offers noodles, rice dishes, soups, meat, vegetables and fish.

A chefs’ favourite

And if you still need to be convinced, just have a look at some of Australia’s top chefs and food critics who are enamoured with ShanDong MaMa. Neil Perry, Dan Hong, Peter Jo and Melissa Leong are among those who have given their seal of approval to the restaurant.

ShanDong MaMa

Mid City Arcade, 7/200 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Every day 11 am – 9:30 pm

ShanDong MaMa Mini
5 Centre Pl
Mon – Sat 11 am – 9 pm, Sun 11 am – 5 pm

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