Midcity Arcade, 208-210 Little Bourke St Melbourne, VIC 3000
Since its opening in 2013, Shandong Mama has certainly made a name for itself in the Melbourne dumpling scene. Don’t expect next-level service or décor here, but prepare yourself for traditional Shandong-style cooking with plump mackerel dumplings in silky skins and hearty bowls of slurp-able noodles.
Having been here a few times already, I knew exactly what I wanted to order, but it’s hard to go wrong with their selection – there really is something for everyone.
Just look at that crispy fried goodness. The idea is the same as your average spring onion pancake, but instead of layers of dough, there are discrete spirals which are perfect for achieving extra crispiness. While they can always do with a little extra salt and scallions thrown in, I can still never resist ordering these babies when I visit.
Don’t be fooled – this may not look like the most appetising thing in the world, but actually tastes really great. The little morsels of vegetables and meat add texture and interest to the sauce/gravy, which has streaks of melt-in-your-mouth egg running through it. The noodles themselves are also well-made with a good amount of bite. It’s the epitome of comfort food – warm, hearty, carb-filled and delicious.
The pride and joy of Shandong Mama are the mackerel dumplings, and for good reason. These are literally the reason I make the trip to this restaurant each time. Not only are they very generous in size, they are filled to the brim with beautifully smooth mackerel mousse flecked with herbs, all encased in a thin, silky skin. These plump beauties may be mild, but their flavour is truly unique, at least to Melbourne. Dip them in a little bit of sweet vinegar and chili oil, and they are pure perfection.
Yu-shiang pork and yu-shiang eggplant are dishes that I almost always order if they’re on the menu at a Chinese restaurant. Said to have originated in Sichuan, the name literally means ‘fish-fragrant’ and refers to a cooking base that’s a special blend of chili, ginger, garlic and scallion (no fish involved!). The result is a rich, aromatic and flavourful sauce that is often used to cook pork and eggplant dishes. The version at Shandong Mama is delicious for sure, and I have to commend them for the great ratio of rice to the yu-shiang pork. It’s not the best that I’ve ever eaten – it was lacking in the vinegar and chili departments, but is still a tasty option for a rice dish at the restaurant.
Shandong Mama is a definite must-visit in my book. The prices for their dumplings are a little higher than your average place, but the ingredients are quality and the size of their mackerel dumplings in particular more than make up for this. If you can’t make it to the original restaurant, they’ve also opened up a little version at 5 Centre Place in the CBD, so there’s no excuse for not visiting. If you have, let me know what you thought!