You can take the girl out of Melbourne, but you can’t take Melbourne out of this girl – that’s probably the main reason why I was reading this article in the Age the other day about the best dumplings in Melbourne.
Frankly, I think this list is pretty lazy. Although I used to be a big rap for Hutong Dumpling Bar in Market Lane, I returned in January and I was pretty disappointed. Their famed xiao long bao were rubbery, the soup inside wasn’t its usual piping hot temperature, and, perhaps worst of all, the staff were actually nice to us. That’s never happened before.
You don’t have to look far to find the Melbourne CBD’s best dumplings, in my opinion. I reckon they can be found in nearby Russell Street, where a string of dingy-looking cafes between Collins Street and Lonsdale Street serve amazing dumplings. The best, in my honest opinion, is Nam Loong.
You’ve probably walked past Nam Loong dozens of times without giving it a second glance. Although there’s all sorts of Cantonese-style dumplings on offer here, the real stars of the show are the takeaway steamed buns. At $1.50 a pop, I’d often pick up a couple for lunch during crazy Parliament sitting weeks. The chicken and mushroom are my pick.
Internationally though, I’ve got a few dumpling favourites. The best of the best are:
Best pierogi – Przysmaki on Slawkowska Street, Krakow
My friend and fellow tour guide Ola, introduced me to this amazing, nondescript little restaurant in what is otherwise quite a touristy part of Krakow – it’s a couple of seconds away from the massive Market Square. Ola talks this place up and for good reason.
Pierogi are a little different from their Asian counterparts. Instead of being drowned in soy sauce, these are instead coated in browned onions and crispy bits of bacon. Their insides can be of the savoury, meat variety or even sweet – cream cheese pierogi need to be eaten to be believed.
Best jiaozi – Local restaurant in Toufa Hutong, Xidan District, Beijing
We wandered in here on a freezing winter’s night after being freaked out at the menu of another nearby restaurant. Google Maps has allowed me to track down the restaurant’s street, but I think it’s so unassuming that it isn’t labelled at all. Lacking English menus, we pointed at a whole range of pictures of dumplings and settled in with a Tsingtao. They started coming, and the flavours were diverse – curry was a surprise hit – and they just kept coming. Eventually sixty were delivered to the table, and the meals for four people cost less than 100 RMB all together.
Best gyoza – New Ramen Shop, Nishi-Kawaguchi Tokyo
Just about all of the gyoza I’ve had in Japan has been pretty decent, without one really rising above another. So, I may as well point out my first gyoza (and therefore my first dumpling abroad) in the unassuming Tokyo suburb of Kawaguchi. Back in 2007 the Aussie dollar was doing pretty well against the yen, so I allowed myself to afford getting gyoza as a side dish to every meal. They’re pretty awesome, and probably the most consistently good dumpling you can find.
Best xiao long bao – Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, Shanghai
You don’t get any better than the xiao long bao served at this century-old Shanghai eatery. You can opt for takeaway – this is possibly the only place in the whole of China where the Chinese queue, which you can find yourself doing for up to half an hour. Even better is inside, where you can opt for an assortment of different flavours of xiao long bao, something I’d never seen before.
Unsurprisingly, this place is canned on TripAdvisor as a tourist haunt, and it probably is – for middle-class Chinese tourists who have heard about the place. It’s not exactly tourist-friendly as there’s an assortment of different queues for different levels of the restaurant, something I would have completely misunderstood if we didn’t have a local with us.
The xiao long bao are more expensive than most places in Shanghai (around 60 RMB for a steamer) but that’s still about half of what you would otherwise pay at Hutong Dumpling Bar in Melbourne.
Best dim sims – South Melbourne Market Dim Sims, South Melbourne
At the end of the day though, you don’t get any better than the ones around the corner. Living in Southbank before I headed to the Netherlands, my Sunday morning wasn’t complete without a visit to the South Melbourne Market, old lady buggy and all. And of course, a trip to the South Melbourne Market isn’t complete without a couple of dim sims from the institution that is simply known as South Melbourne Market Dim Sims.
Dim sims from here are unlike the frozen variety (and don’t fall into the trap of buying them frozen – they take an age to cook); they’re like cannonballs full of I-don’t-want-to-know-what. I always get mine steamed; Paul would get his fried. Both of us would lather them in the house soy sauce, which has a smoky mushroom flavour and makes the experience complete.
Dim sims are eaten right outside the shop, inside their paper bags, in front of the queue still awaiting their own. You end up eating bits of the paper bag as it sticks to the dimmie, and your fingers get stained with soy sauce. But it’s awesome.