Good things come in small packages, and so do great things, such as xiao long bao. Our city is spoilt for choice when it comes to these often-steamed, sometimes-fried pockets of flavour, so much so that you’ll be left doing laps of Chinatown until everything shuts up shop for the night.
That’s where we come in. Yep, we’re lessening the effects of the dreaded choice-paradox with Melbourne's best dumplings and the restaurants that house them.
Hutong Dumpling Bar
PRAHRAN & MELBOURNE CBD
HuTong is synonymous with xiao long bao, Melbourne's favourite pork-and-soup-filled parcels of dumpling goodness. If you haven't tried them yet, book now, because getting a seat at this always-busy restaurant is harder than eating their signature dumplings without squirting juice down your chin.
After dunking an XLB in a mixture of black vinegar and ginger, bite a hole in the tender wrapper, suck out the meaty broth, then shove the whole delicious lot in your mouth and quickly reach for another before your dining companions snaffle them all. And don't miss the wontons in chilli oil, which are just as addictive as the dumplings.
SOUTH YARRA & CBD
For a dumpling pig out you can't beat yum cha, and for good-value yum cha it's hard to beat Oriental Teahouse.
The football dumplings should be ordered immediately. We're talking juicy pork mince encased in a deep-fried, pleasantly chewy and slightly sweet glutinous rice flour pastry. The char siu bao isn't a bad place to start with just the right balance between the thick, fluffy dough along with barbecued pork filling. You can even have dumplings for dessert, with custard bao being the traditional choice, but the chocolate dumplings are also worth a look in. Choose between the two, or, maybe, order both.
After The Tears
You’ll have worked up an appetite after reading this Polish vodka bar's marathon-length menu, which starts with about a million kinds of vodka and includes loads of creatively named cocktails such as 'Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries', and ends with a list of traditional hearty dishes.
After the Tears is steaming with goodness. So reward yourself with a plate of pierogi (Polish dumplings), where the juicy shredded beef and chicken filling is encased in dough that's just the right thickness. They’re also often fried in butter and served with bacon bits, which makes them (a) absolutely delicious and (b) perfect for soaking up all that vodka. $25 will bag you a handful of some of the best dumplings in Melbourne; they're not cheap, but they're worth it.
Get into a steamy relationship with some hot buns at Wonderbao. Top of many a best dumplings list, Wonderbao attracts quite a crowd at lunchtime, so get in early for bao (steamed buns) with tasty fillings such as barbecue pork, lap cheong (Chinese sausage) or shiitake mushrooms and tofu.
The soft and fluffy bread-like pastry is also used to create gua bao, a Taiwanese snack that would probably be called a 'deconstructed dumpling' on a cooking show but is actually closer to a sandwich than a dumpling. Whatever, when they're filled with roast pork belly—or, in the vego version, crispy fried tofu and a peanutty soy sauce—we just call them delicious.
Tomoya Kawasaki, the owner of local favourite Neko Neko (who would have thought) opened up the doors to gyoza house Chotto Motto earlier in 2019, and it’s quickly become a staple for the discerning dumpling enthusiasts of Melbourne.
The team serve up a specific type of gyoza from a small, central region of Japan called Hamamatsu. They’re crispy, they’re cheesy (if you choose so) and the flavour kicks with a healthy serving of ginger, cabbage, kimchi and mushroom. The drinks selection is unapologetically Japanese, with several highball options available along with the occasional Strong 9, a 9% premix found in the many convenience stores of Tokyo and beyond.
Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung is meticulous in the preparation of their dumplings, and you’ll notice this as soon as they’re plated up in front of you.
These aren’t your boozy, buy-in-bulk style dumplings that you’ll find in the backstreets of Chinatown. Instead, you’ll find a refined steamy pocket on your plate, one which has had much thought put into its flavour and its presentation alike. Keep an eye on Din Tai Fung and their limited edition dumplings when Lunar New Year swings around.
Food and shopping go together like change rooms and hours of deliberation. If you can't decide which new outfit to buy at Emporium, take a break and head to Dumplings Plus in the shopping centre's funky new food court.
Here you'll find some of Melbourne's best dumplings, and the hardest decision is whether to have the Northern Chinese-style pan-fried pork and chive dumplings (they're like gyoza on steroids—bigger and with thicker skin), the delicately steamed prawn and chive dumplings, or the xiao long bao. Squeeze in a sweet bean-paste-filled sesame ball for dessert—the glutinous rice dough is pleasantly chewy, while the sesame seeds add flavour and crunch.
Their longstanding reputation trumps the need for a website, so all that's really needed now is the address. Find Dumplings Plus at 269 Swanston Street, Melbourne.
Like the last dumpling in your chilli oil soup that you don’t expect to find, ShanDong Mama is truly a hidden surprise tucked away in Bourke Street’s Mid City Arcade.
The menu comes from a long lineage of traditional cooking techniques imported from the tip of China’s Shandong peninsula, so it’s understandably seafood-focused. With that in mind, a serving of the ‘fish’ dumplings is a great place to start.
Lau's Family Kitchen
The name says it all, with the children of Flower Drum’s head chef, Gilbert Lau, taking care of things in the kitchen with their take on refined Cantonese cuisine. Tradition runs true through the service and the menu, so don’t be shy if the (free-range) chicken and (Queensland) prawn dim sim (aka dumpling) leaps out at you on first glance.
Image credit: Caitlin Hicks