Impromptu dumplings

Image of lanterns

A work colleague and I have an unofficial pact to deal with challenging days at the office: “impromptu dumplings.”

It’s usually a spontaneous early dinner, direct from work, with tea or beer (depending on need), then overdosing on dumplings to induce a delightful food coma. Suddenly everything is better. It’s healthier than chain-smoking and more satisfying than a good cry.

And, best of all, it’s a fluid concept that can come into play at any time because, really, we’re just addicted to good dumplings and looking for any excuse to get a fix.

Not surprisingly, when said work colleague’s birthday lunch is being planned, the choice is obvious: ShanDong Mama is in our sights. It’s relatively new on the local scene, nestled in an arcade between Melbourne’s Bourke and Little Bourke Streets.

It’s the kind of place you wouldn’t find by yourself (we got lost the first time) because it’s in a cluster of shops. The only telltale sign is the line-up out the door - it’s fast building a reputation, aided by a few good reviews and patrons like us who are eager to try new places.

ShanDong Mama just scooped a Timeout Melbourne Award, which was very much deserved.

It was hugely popular before that, so we aim to get there early to beat the lunch rush and are surprised to get a table. It’s a family-run show, bringing back very fond memories of dining in Asia: brightly lit, no liquor licence, a brisk turnover, nice smells from the kitchen.

I know some places are hyped, and just become popular even though they’re really not that great, but this food is seriously good.

Many places in Chinatowns the world over do pork dumplings – this place adds dill to both the steamed and pan fried, calling it dill-icious. It is. It’s an unusual choice, a herb ususually associated with salmon and potatoes, but it works. I’m considering incorporating it in to my Asian home cooking.

We pair it with chicken dumplings, containing corinader and ginger. Nice, but the pork dumplings reign supreme. Because this is a birthday celebration, when we get down to the last one of each, the birthday girl gets final choice.

She asks me how many times in a week you can have dumplings (surely some sort of rhetorical question?). I can only assume we’ll be back before the week is out.

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