I do love Hu Tong but have not been there for eons, although not for lack of trying. Spontaneous dumpling cravings lead to me dragging people up there only to be constantly turned away for not booking. Especially as these gorgeous daylight savings evenings just keep rolling in, I am just as happy to join the orderly line at Shanghai Street when the xiao long bao craving strikes.
Shanghai Street is a functional shop serving dumplings and "mini juicy buns" that has swooped in to capitalise on the collective swoon Melbourne has for xiao long bao in particular. As Nina Rousseau writes, husband and wife team Min Shi and Wayna Zhu have much experience making dumplings back in Shanghai. You may indeed have to queue but both times I have been, arriving at 6pm meant that we first waited five minutes and the second time walked straight in.
Homemade traditional steamed Shanghai xiao long bao (pork), $8.80
Xiao long bao are a type of steamed dumpling from eastern China. The classic version is made with pork mince with gelatinous meat stock that upon heating melts to create the magical experience of a dumpling filled with hot soup.
To eat, place in spoon, pierce with tooth or chopstick and allow the soup to drain out before slurping. OH SO GOOD - it's almost like the stock has been double-cooked, once on its own and secondly upon steaming and melting, it has picked up more intense porky flavour from the filling. The minced filling itself is clean-tasting, gingery, soft and consistently textured. These are really fabulous - hard for me to compare to Hu Tong as it's been so long, but really, really great.
Homemade steamed Shanghai xiao long bao (veg), $8.80
An interesting feature of the menu is xiao long baos of many sorts - crab and pork, chicken and pork, even panfried. These vegetarian ones were interesting - a carefully-made filling of lovingly chopped greens with a little rice vermicelli and occasional umami pops of shiitake mushroom. Normally I only get vegetarian dumplings fried as the nondescript filling needs to be offset by some oily crunch, but these were good steamed. No classic xiao long bao soup but good nonetheless. Sorry no mid-bite shot in which you would have seen the vibrant, emerald-green filling!
Pork & prawn wonton in chili oil with peanut & sesame butter sauce, $8.30
Fantastic pork and prawn wontons. While the xiao long bao filling was pillow soft, here the filling was bouncy yet still juicy with chunks of prawn in slippery, seductive wrappers. They came in a light broth just tinged with chilli oil but with the interesting addition of "sesame butter" (like tahini!) and chopped peanuts. A taste sensation - the springy, juicy prawn with delicate, silky pastry, complemented by dobs of rich, thick sesame paste. Hard to describe but I think an absolute classic.
Fried pork dumpling, $8.50
The classic jiao zi dumpling - these can come either boiled or fried. These fried pork examples were pretty good. The filling was honest and of good quality, minced pork with visible ginger and spring onions. The skins were good with appreciably crusty bottoms, perfect dunked in a little black vinegar. They weren't overly juicy though - I think I might prefer the super-crispy, rich and juicy ones at Dumplings Plus.
Homemade golden sesame seeded bacon & spring onion cakes, $4.50
Oh lordy, these were awesome. Short, flaky, lardy pastry enclosing little smidgens of bacon and onion, the top rippling with sesame seeds. Delicious!!
This place is pretty unreal. You can really taste the freshness, helped by the massive turnover every day. Each filling was unique, each skin texturally different and I was particularly impressed by the care evident in the vegetarian dumplings, which can often just be a cabbagey mush fest. The only drawback to the queue outside is you feel somewhat pressured to eat and leave - I must say never by the staff, who are friendly and professional, but I had a sense of pity for all the hungry people waiting outside. Nevertheless, my advice is to stagger your ordering as between chatting and eating, two plates of dumplings can cool fast and they are much better piping hot. Sorry people in the queue for delaying you further - but as you will find out soon, when it is this good, it's worth waiting for.
Thanks Billy and Dan for the original tip (via this post). Dan Kuseta is an all-round lovely, genuine person who has poured his heart and soul into Milk Bar Mag, "an independent guide to the best of Melbourne. Updated daily and covering everything from food to freebies to art to architecture, the Milk Bar is your cultural and creative guide to the city". Check it out!
342 Little Bourke Street, City
Hours: Mon-Sat 11.30am-8.30pm
Licensed and BYO (no corkage, woohoo!)
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