Melbourne’s Chinatown – stretching along Little Bourke street between Swanson street and Spring street, this area of Melbourne is hard to miss. The heritage buildings that line the street, off shooting lanes, nooks and crannies are contrasted by the sometimes overwhelming array of bright neon signs, hanging lanterns and ceramic beasts.
Despite having worked and studied close to this area for a number of years, I am unfamiliar with this area of Melbourne’s culinary offerings. This is mostly due to the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of Chinese food. The only exception to this? Dumplings (oh, and Peking duck).
There are so many places to get dumplings in Melbourne and they’re a popular cheap and easy meal. Shanghai Village Dumpling is just one of many options available. When you first enter the big red door you’re instantly assaulted by the gaudy interior. A bright pink room, packed with tables, people and decorations is the main dining space on the bottom floor, with a mezzanine level above. You will most likely be abruptly directed ‘upstairs’ by a waitress if you arrive at a busy time. Do not confuse this with the mezzanine level. Up a steep, narrow staircase lies the second floor; the opposite of its downstairs counterpart. While this drab white room is busy at times, it has none of the atmosphere of the main dining area. A lone waiter wanders around in a state of confusion, his only communication with the kitchen a headset. The help yourself tea and sauce station is often lacking mugs so be prepared to use whatever you can find (we used wine glasses). Although this space is sparsely decorated, the fluorescent orange chopsticks add a little cheer.
Tea in a wine glass
This is not a place you go if you are concerned by ambiance. It may be a little grimy and unkempt, the service will most likely be terrible, but you’ll have ordered your meal and filled your mouth with dumplings before you have a chance to say, ‘what do you think that stain is?’ This is street food eaten indoors.
I used to satisfy my dumpling cravings in Tattersalls lane (just off Chinatown) at Camy’s Shanghai Dumpling, a restaurant with a similar environment and menu, but made the switch to Shanghai Village Dumpling last year for one reason alone – the crispy pumpkin cakes.
Crispy Pumpkin Cakes
These bite sized patties of deliciousness are just sweet, starchy balls of smooth pumpkin, crumbed and fried, but they are seriously addictive. Even those who don’t like pumpkin will have trouble turning their nose up at these beauties and I recommend you try them. The dumplings, fresh and tasty, will satisfy any cravings. While I usually go straight for the non-vegetarian option on most menus, the vegetable dumplings are actually my favourite. The mix of mushrooms, greens and water chestnuts is a little more flavoursome than any of the meat options. You can get all the dumplings either steamed or fried and I personally prefer the fried option as I like the little bit of crispness. If you feel like a more substantial meal there are a variety of other Chinese dishes – soups, fried rice, steamed greens with fish sauce and noodle dishes to name a few.
Steamed Asian Greens with Fish Sauce
This quirky restaurant is a great place for a quick (and cheap) lunch and although the beverage menu is sparse, there are a couple of bottle shops nearby making it a great BYO option to start a night out in Melbourne.
Shanghai Village Dumpling
112-114 Little Bourke street, Melbourne 3000