Melbourne is a sucker for new things. New fashion, new trends, new festivals (hello White Festival!) – Melbourne is all over that stuff. But nothing beats new food, so when Shandong Mama opened in dumpling-loving Melbourne with her mackerel dumplings, the city practically went dumpling-crazy. Or at least the foodie community did.
I’ve come to love this dodgy, low-ceilinged arcade connecting Bourke and Little Bourke Street. Most of the shops are past their prime, but it does house a few nice restaurants, and now Shandong Mama has been added to that list.
It could simply be because it’s new, but the interior was nicely decked out with glossy furniture and booths lining the walls. The waitresses were also friendly and efficient – thumbs up and fingers crossed they keep this up!
|Pork and Cabbage Dumplings ($10.8 for 12)|
There was a plethora of unusual concoctions on the menu, including pork and dill dumplings, prawn and black fungus dumplings, and even Melbourne dumplings, housing a mixture of seafood, chicken, lemon rind, and olive oil. In the end though, I couldn’t have done without a plate of Pork and Cabbage Dumplings ($10.8 for 12), my benchmark dish for assessing a dumpling house.
|Pork and Cabbage Dumpling|
The pork dumpling had a more delicate skin than the Northern-China-styled dumplings Melbourne is more familiar with, and the filling was chunky and full of flavour. They’re not the best I’ve had, but they’re getting there, especially when eaten with the excellently chilli oil.
|Mackerel Dumplings ($14.8 for 10)|
Traditionalist I may be, I couldn’t go past a plate of the signature Mackerel Dumplings ($14.8 for 10). Apparently these large, floppy dumplings are a Shandong staple (go figure), and having never had them before, I was excited to get to know them a bit better.
For once, Chris and I agreed on a dish being ‘interesting’. It was nicely flavoured, the mousse in the center faintly fishy and lightly herbed with coriander. However the texture completely threw me. I knew that it wasn’t going to be a solid filling like your usual dumpling, but I wasn’t prepared for just how... squishy it was. As nice as it tasted, I’m just not sure how sold I am on a mushy, fishy mouthful.
|Preserved Egg and Tofu Salad ($6.8)|
Fortunately, I had my favourite side-dish to focus on after being disappointed with the mackerel dumplings. There is possibly no Asian-er dish than Preserved Egg and Tofu Salad ($6.8) – silken tofu topped with chopped up century egg and a dressing of sesame oil and vinegar. I know it doesn’t sound very nice, but don’t knock it until you try it. The pearly smooth slices of tofu were a cool vehicle for the creamy pieces of egg, and the vinegar kept it bright and zesty. It could very well have been a light meal in itself.
Barring the bizarre texture sensation that was the mackerel dumplings, I rather enjoyed the food at Shandong Mama, but it didn’t leave me all too keen on trying the other unusual concoctions. So that raises the question – what reason do I have to come back, if I’m not going to be trying the seafood, chicken and lemon rind dumpling, and if I can get cheaper, better traditional dumplings elsewhere? Don’t let me discourage you though, it is certainly worth a visit, and it’s a great find if you’ve a more open mind regarding your dumplings.
Rating: 12.5/20 – open-minded dumplings.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. And how much the wrinkled dumpling skins looked like brains.