Monday, 18 February 2013

Shanghai Village Dumpling

112-114, Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000

Shanghai Village Dumpling on Urbanspoon

This place has become a bit of an institution in Melbourne for those looking for a quick, cheap and cheerful feed. Let's put it this way - this is not an upmarket cafe where you can hang out and have protracted conversation (unless if you are very drunk and don't really care). With a respectable score of 80% on Urbanspoon, this place is doing ok. The negative reviews tend to be about the bad service, other customers and the lack of ambience. To be honest - I have no sympathy (am I just in a mood?) - this is not the place for ambience and a quite sophisticated dinner. If you want that - take a 1 minute walk down Market Lane to HuTong Dumpling.

The Place
3 levels of chaos, customers packed together pretty closely, and kitschy outdated Chinese deco. That's what makes this place so lovable because it doesn't pretend to be anything other than a dumpling factory. Therefore, the punters you see queuing to get in are not going in for refined and sophisticated ambience - they are looking for something slightly above a fish market dining experience.

It's right in the city where there are plenty of options including other dumpling options but yet, continue to attract a wide range of clientale - all looking for a cheap eat.

Things to do nearby: It's set in Chinatown on Little Bourke... also, if you have never been - you should check out the Chinese Museum a short walk away.

The Food
Ok, first off, the menu - the menu (depending on which menu file you get, might have pages missing from it, or might not be in any order) - it's that kind of place, and you just roll with it.
Dumplings galore, of many different varieties. The idea is to order of few different ones, whether panfried, steamed or in a soup, and share with your friends. They also come with a variety of fillings, including combinations of meat, ranging from pork to beef to chicken to seafood. There are also vergetarian varieties (though more limited). One thing to note - dumplings are not always dumplings - ??? See the Cultural Moment section below for the range served here at Shanghai Village, and you'll never have to ask again.

Beyond dumplings - there is also a wide range of dishes you can order from the menu. The highlights include;
Vegetarian Fried Rice - something very enticing about their very simple fried rice with nothing more than eggs, broccoli, and lots of garlic. So yummy, to go with the saltier dumplings and various other dishes.
Fried Beans - are really tasty even for someone (like me) who doesn't like beans. My friends, Paul, Benji, Brad and Robbie call them 'crack beans' because they are that good.
Salt and Peper Calamari - always tasty but the quality of the calamari is inconsistent.

The Service
Hmm. Simply put - they are they to push through your order and ensure you leave in a timely manner when your meal is done. Beyond showing you to your table, providing a menu, taking your order, throwing the dishes at your table, and collecting money - they are not responsible for anything else.

You collect your own cutlery, serve yourself some complementary tea, shift your chairs about and manage your neighbouring diners (raucous or quiet) as best you can. I have seen punters expect some modicum of service here - and I have to say - that's really aiming high. One does not simply walk into Shanghai Village and expect service.

Overall
One last thing to say about this place - to compare it to the yumcha houses and up market places like HuTong is laughable. It would be like comparing Hungry Jacks or Maccas to a Wagyu burger served at a 5 star hotel, with musclin salad on the side, handcut chips, and a waitperson filling up your drinks. However, there are times when a fastfood joint burger might be more effective or needed than the any burger of the other variety. This is a Chinese fastfood joint - treat it as such and you will be so impressed like 80% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon.

Cultural Moment
Different dumplings have quite different names in Chinese. In the near future, I will provide pictures to go along with this section.

Guo Tie (literally Pan/Pot Sticker) refers mostly to dumplings that are panfried and parts of it has stuck to the hot surface. So, they tend to have thicker skins.
Shui Jiao (literally Soup/Water Dumplings) which tends to be served in a broth (of different varieties). These dumplings would have really slippery, delicate, and thinner skins. Mostly, these are filled with various combinations of seafood (prawns in particular) and pork.
Zheng Jiao (Steamed dumplings) refers to your steamed dumpplings which usually has meat and vege combination fillings. Of course, there are many varieties of this in the Yumcha places. However, the main Zheng Jiao are the steamed ones which are pretty chunky (unlike their delicate yumcha dimsum cousins). The vegetarian dumplings are best served steamed.
Yun Tun / Wan Ton are Cantonese style dumplings and usually smaller in size and may have egg based skin, rather than the rice flour based skins of the earlier described dumplings.

There are subtle differences in terms of which flavours work best with which style - so, here's to getting to know your own preferences and your dumplings.

Not served in Shanghai Village but available at other joints are the Baos (or buns) which some people call dumplings as well.

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