Vivian Yang, the owner of Nanjing Story in Melbourne, had a vision to diversify Chinese cuisine in Australia, and now she's realised it.
"So I wanted to bring something different here."
Yang spent most of her life in Nanjing, the capital city of Jiangsu province, the birthplace of one of the eight great Chinese culinary traditions.
"If you'd compare it to Sichuan food, which is quite spicy, Nanjing cuisine is not so spicy. It's light and healthy, and maybe a bit sweeter," she explains.
Jiangsu cuisine is also known for its elaborate dishes, and Nanjing is lauded specifically for its use of duck. In fact, it's even been dubbed China's duck capital.
"We love duck in Nanjing, we do a lot of dishes with duck," says Yang, who used to be at the helm of a catering group in her hometown.
"Like I said, we love duck, and all the parts of the duck."
"We came to Melbourne because we wanted to slow down. In China, it's more competitive. I wanted more time to take care of my daughter and spend time with my husband, so we decided to open a restaurant here."
When they opened Nanjing Story in Melbourne's Chinatown in January, duck was obviously going to be championed.
One of the classic Nanjing dishes you can order is the salted duck.
"We use young ducks because the meat is softer than old ones," explains Yang.
The duck is brined in a mixture of salt and peppercorns, then boiled with spices, dried, chopped in pieces and served cold. It’s best eaten as a starter or as part of a larger meal.
Another duck dish to try is the duck blood soup, also a Nanjing speciality. A bowl of almost-milky duck broth is filled with sweet potato vermicelli, sliced duck blood jelly, herbs, and pieces of duck liver and gizzards.
"Like I said, we love duck and all the parts of the duck," says Yang, laughing.
"You'd often eat this soup with xiao long bao [soup dumplings] for breakfast in Nanjing. Most of the time, it would be at a restaurant because it takes several hours to make the soup."
Nanjing Story's xiao long bao are bigger and sweeter than the Shanghai-style dumplings you find in most Chinese restaurants in Australia. You can have them filled with pork, beef (a regional classic) or greens.
Pan-fried beef dumplings are also a Nanjing staple. They have a similar shape to xiao long bao but are larger with a crisp bottom.
"In Nanjing, some restaurants just do the dumplings and nothing else, from morning to night," says Yang. "People go there for breakfast to have tea and dumplings."
"My father’s friends have recipes that are several hundred years old at their restaurant in Nanjing, so they taught us their recipes for more traditional dishes like the xiao long bao, pan-fried beef dumplings and duck blood soup."
Her menu counts other Jiangsu specialities like wonton, Huaiyang-style sautéed fish in rice wine, Yangzhou fried rice and roast duck.
In the coming weeks, a new dessert menu will feature sticky rice balls in warm red bean soup or fermented rice soup, as well as corn pudding.
105 Little Bourke St, Melbourne
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