Dumplings have long been an authentic and essential part of Melbourne’s menu, but you need a special kind of help to find the authentic dumpling restaurant nirvana amongst the pretenders.
Monique Bayer from Walk Melbourne, who runs Dumpling Discovery walks, takes a whole-of-city approach in her search for truly authentic dumplings hailing from all over Asia.
“Don’t just head straight to Chinatown [Little Bourke Street] for your dumplings,” she says. Although, of course, there are some treasure to be found there.
Monique has travelled across Asia and especially China on ‘research trips’, seeking out “rough and ready” restaurants, and the stories behind them, that perfect their regional style.
Here are Melbourne’s tastiest and most diverse dumpling options, where $10 a plate gets you a great -value gourmet feast and a culinary culture lesson (NB: In no particular order).
1. North East China Family
This recently renovated gem is the home to rustic peasant food dumplings and quick turnaround service (5 to 10 minutes). The speciality here is the jiaozi, a traditional dumpling from North East China. If you can handle the heat, try the hot chilli sauce; the restaurant is renowned for having one of the spiciest around.
Where: 302 Flinders Lane
2. China Red
Chinas Red is a bit of a star among Melbourne’s dumpling set, but it’s not too easy to find – it is in China Town, but deep down inside, downstairs in an arcade. Pick of the dishes is the spicy pork wontons dipped in a beautiful sweet sauce. This place is all about Szechuan style (sample a Szechuan pepper corn). Keep an eye out for the self-service wall-mounted ordering system – where the food and drink magically appear.
Where: Shop 6, 206 Bourke Street
3. Shanghai Street
Come here for xiaolongbao: soup dumplings (the soup and meat is inside). In China, technically these aren’t considered dumplings, but in Australia we are happy to embrace them as such. Shanghai Street actually has four venues in Melbourne, but Monique’s tours visits the Latrobe Street one, which she says is the most “rough and ready”, closest to dumpling houses she has frequented in China. The original shop on Little Bourke Street seems to have a perpetual queue at peak times, which must be a good sign.
Where: 64 La Trobe Street
4. Gyoza Douraku
While lots of places in Melbourne serve gyoza, Gyoza Douraku are the only real specialists in this Japanese style of dumplings. Among its extensive selection on the menu the duck gyoza, a more modern interpretation, is probably the pick of the bunch. Go for the pork and cabbage if you prefer a more traditional option. There is a Japanese bar kind of feel to Gyoza Douraku (shoes off, floor cushions) with and extensive sake list (more than 100) adding to the authenticity.
Where: 147 Bourke Street
5. ShangDong Mama
The best dumplings Shangdong-region style (located between Shanghai and Beijing). Try the fish dumplings, mackerel whipped up into a mousse – I know what you’re thinking, but stay with us, they are light in texture and delicious. Worth a trip just to see the way ShangDong Mama folds and cooks its dumpling (quite unique in Melbourne). Don’t bother calling because they don’t take bookings.
Where: Mid City Arcade
Monique Bayer started Walk Melbourne back in 2012. Don’t try her 3 to 4 hour tours on a full stomach – expect to eat between 12 and 14 dumplings.