Delightful: Red lanterns in Chinatown. Photo: Linda McCormick’So, how do they get the soup inside the dumpling?” I asked, biting through the white luscious surface to let the salty contents pour forth.
With a smirk, our guide, Monique, replied: “Ha, I was just waiting for someone to ask. Someone always does.” Her answer paralysed my swallowing reflex.
We were sitting in Shanghai Street dumpling house, savouring their Xiao Long Bao, which have had a cult following from day one. It was our third restaurant on the dumpling walking tour and I was quickly developing a whole new appreciation for these little morsels of goodness.
Dumplings come in all shapes and sizes, and, as I found out on the tour, are quite particular to certain areas of the world. There’s a way to fold them, cook them and eat them. And they’re all good.
Meeting at a pre-arranged point in the city centre, Monique from Walk Melbourne talked us through the plan for the night. Our group of nine would visit four of Melbourne’s fine dumpling establishments during the evening tour, which would take around three hours.
Our first stop was at North East China Family on Elizabeth Street. While we waited for the first serve of dumplings, Monique gave us a little history of the place and the people who run it. She pointed out a huge poster relaying the origin of the humble dumpling: “Jiao Zi date back 1800 years to the great medical practitioner Zhonging Zhang of East Han Dynasty in northern China, but the dumplings served up at North East China Family are a recipe perfected by one of the restaurant owner’s ancestors.”
Before tasting the dumplings, we were told how to make our own dipping sauce, which is very much up to personal preference. Monique recommends just a few drops of chilli oil in a small dish of soy sauce. I like a hint of heat, but my lips swell up with too much chilli – so I played it safe for the first tasting.
Two plates laden with spinach dumplings stuffed with cabbage and carrot were set in the middle of the table, sending my salivary glands into a little samba all of their own. I was hungry, but etiquette says one shouldn’t just dive in when in the presence of strangers, so I did the decent thing and waited until a few others had taken their first dumpling before nabbing mine. I breathed it in, hoping nobody noticed.
I can’t say I’m a fan of cabbage, but thankfully the Chinese variety tastes very different to the mush I was used to as a child. I gave the second dumpling a little more attention.
After dipping it into my personally mixed sauce I gingerly took a bite, waiting for the chilli to sting. But it didn’t. It was just right. It maybe could have had a little more kick, but I wanted to preserve my tastebuds for later.
Leaving the dumpling house, we walked north through the city streets, following Monique to the next destination. It was an opportunity to find out more about the walking tours, which have been running for a bit over a year.
Monique left a well-paying corporate job to do something more fulfilling. Being passionate about Melbourne’s food, wine and coffee scene, she decided to share her love for her native city and its cuisine with others through a series of tours. Each is set out on a carefully planned route through Melbourne’s very walkable central business district. Most of the tours are a few hours long, with some – like this dumpling tour – being exclusive to Walk Melbourne.
“Don’t forget to look up,” shouted Monique. “So many people forget to look up in a city, and miss so much.”
The writer was a guest of Walk Melbourne.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.