In the recent (admit it, it’s actually over the past 5 years that people have started to really pay attention) debate to determine who makes the “Best” dumplings in Melbourne CBD, if such an accolade can even be conferred, Shandong Mama’s joint has to be on everyone’s short list. If you haven’t yet tried the dumplings here, then you Sir/Mdm are no dumpling aficionado. And here in Melbourne, we take our dumplings oh so seriously…
Shandong Mama resides in Chinatown, for only the pretenders venture beyond the bountries of Lt Bourke St. Usually packed with the lunchtime crowds, I have found it strategic to come here in the late afternoon when the kitchen is under no pressure to churn out the hundreds of dumplings in a single service. Still I think I did pretty well to order 50+ for my mid-afternoon tea time.
Just to revive the tastebuds, the nice refreshing crunch of jellyfish and white cabbage makes for a good starter here.
Then to really signal that serious eating is about to start, how about some doughy spring-onion cakes? While not the best around town (needs more spring onion), really take this opportunity to dip into the vinegar at this stage. Then let’s get stuck into…
The Mackerel fish dumplings are probably the most well-regarded item on the menu. Not one which you’d find in other dumplingeries, it’s a different take on the by-the-way pork dumplings (we’ll get to those later). I do appreciate the use of fish here, as a substitute for good quality fishballs in Melbourne. Fishballs these days get made with so much flour as a base that they complete lack the fishy flavours. You try filling a dumpling with that kinda rubbish quality and you’d never get another customer. Shandong Mama’s fish dumpling does taste well of fish mince (mash, whichever), and has that nice QQ bounciness to the filling. You don’t need too much vinegar as a dip, and you can do without the chilli too. At 10 pieces for $14.80, that’s a price I’m quite happy to pay.
The pork dumplings are flavoured with dill (they’re DILL-icious, ha!), spring onion, dried shrimp and ginger. Steamy warm inside, generously coat it with vinegar and some sliced ginger before wolfing it down. Here, I wish that a stronger vinegar was available because you really need a much punchier condiment to accentuate the flavours. $12.80 for 12 pieces, can’t complain. The prawn dumplings with black fungus and chives are also a hit, and there is a “Melbourne” dumpling which claims to be “inspired by the Australian multicultural foodscene”. Hmm.. is the fillind made from minced lamb kebab with kimchi chicken quesadilla?
Finally, the fried dumplings, or 锅贴, were pretty good too. I’d probably leave these just as a final call in case you hadn’t ordered enough because the steamed dumplings are just the way to go here. Still, these were well-fried, slight bit of char on the base, but the meat filling was tender and moist, with some residual sticky soupiness to it. Really needed a stronger vinegar here, but piling on more chilli is a reasonable substitute.
Shandong Mama is a great place for dumplings, especially the Mackerel dumplings. It’s in a prime location in Mid City arcade, the place is reasonably large but do expect a lunchtime crowd. Definitely fill-up on their steamed dumplings, but try a couple of smaller starters too. The prices are cheap, all things considering. And just a gentle reminder, it’s a cash only place.