If this isn’t the best little hole-in-the-wall dumpling den in Melbourne, we’ll eat the menu. Just watch us.
The space is no more than a plain canteen with compulsory good luck cat waving its little paw, and it’s located in a Bourke Street arcade. But what they lack in décor and ten point precision pinches on the rustic dumplings, they make up for in crazy freshness and flavour.
Go the fish dumplings – they're unique in this city. They're ugly-beautiful: a loose mince of oily mackerel, fragrant with ginger, coriander root and chives, captured in the thinnest white dinner jackets. Pan-fried chicken and prawn dumplings are shaped like little open ended cannoli and are all crunchy golden skin and juicy meat, with distinct accents of ginger and black fungus – the result of every one being made fresh daily.
This is some genuine home-style Shandong cuisine. Meiyan Wang (aka Mama) isn’t a chef. For 30 years she did her duty by the Chinese government keeping books in Yantai, and now she’s moved to Melbourne to build a restaurant with, and for her family.
Never has dumpling eating been so disconcertingly civil. Colin Chee, Mama's godson, beams his way around the room, doling out dishes of soft peanuts infused with five spice and soy to alleviate the wait (free snacks!). At one point, he offers to run and grab someone a Coke since they’ve sold out.
Eating here feels almost healthy too. Get spinach with a wasabi kick, and sesame dressed tangle of cabbage and translucent jellyfish in thin ribbons (they add more texture than taste), and walk away feeling dumplinged and svelte.
They aim to please at Shandong MaMa, and they really do.