ShanDong MaMa

200 Bourke Street, Melbourne, VIC

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Soul-satifsying and heartwarming: the Daryl noodles.
Soul-satifsying and heartwarming: the Daryl noodles. Photo: Eddie Jim

Nina Rousseau

Uh-oh, I've got a ''restaurant crush''. I can't stop thinking about ShanDong MaMa, a no-frills Chinese diner dishing up home-style Shandong cuisine cooked by ''mama''.

I've been here three times, besotted with its handmade noodles, its delicate zucchini and mackerel dumplings, and its daggy, yet comforting, arcade setting.

Four-month-old ShanDong is the work of Meiyan Wang, 56, and daughter Ying Hou, 30, who come from Yantai, a big fishing town on the Shandong Peninsula, north-eastern China, where seafood dishes are a speciality.

Delicate zucchini dumplings from ShanDong MaMa.
Delicate zucchini dumplings from ShanDong MaMa. Photo: Eddie Jim

Wang makes some dishes from scratch, including all of the fillings and wrappers for the boiled dumplings - commercial skins are used for the fried ones. She spends two hours a day rolling and pressing the wheat-flour noodles, she makes the broth for the signature ''Daryl'' and the ''Yuro'' noodle dishes.

Hou says the mackerel dumplings are a common dish in Yantai and that ''every family has their own secret recipe''. Wang whips the mackerel filling to a fine mousse, then adds coriander, ginger, spring onion and chives. Have them boiled, or fried into cannoli-style shapes with open ends, the flat bottoms brown and burnished.

The vegan dumplings are superb, the boiled parcels holding grated zucchini, teeny tiny pieces of fried tofu, coriander and ginger.

The dining room is no-frills at this arcade Chinese diner.
The dining room is no-frills at this arcade Chinese diner. Photo: Eddie Jim

Pause while we wait for a cup of tea. The service is sweet and friendly but can lack confidence, and the freshly made pu-erh digestive tea, served one cup at a time, can be slow to land.

For the Daryl, long strands of noodle lie coiled deep in the bowl. A soupy gravy goes on top, laden with dark-green beans, prawn, a little diced pork, dried shrimp, shiitake, springy black fungus, and ribbons of egg cracked into the broth at the end. Hou says her mother often cooked this dish for birthdays when she was growing up. Try the Yuro noodles, too, excellent with a warming gravy of leatherjacket, egg and black fungus.

If you want to share, you'll need to ask for serving tools, or just dredge the noodles out with chopsticks.

Also on offer is a hot Sichuan dish of fatty beef bits loaded with chilli. There's home-made sausage (although this wasn't available the three times I visited), salty fried peanuts, and ''yu-shiang'', a soupy sweet-and-sour mix of pork, shredded bamboo, shiitake and capsicum, the vinegar cutting through the sweetness in a mellow way. I probably wouldn't ever order the blah sauteed corn again, though. On MSG, Hou says her mother ''hates it'' and rejects its use.

The food here is soul satisfying and nourishing, like you're being well looked after. No doubt my crush will fade, but for now the love for ShanDong burns bright.

Do … Try the new beef dishes, launching soon.
Don't … Freak out if you become obsessed with ShanDong MaMa.
Dish … Daryl noodles.
Vibe … Low-key and ''in-the-know'', like you've discovered a gem.
Prices … Dumplings, $9.80-$14.80; noodles and mains, $8.90-$26.80.
Cards Cash only
Licensed Pending

Twitter: @ninarousseau, or nrousseau@fairfaxmedia.com.au

The Age Good Food Under $30 is on sale now at selected newsagents, bookshops and at The Age online shop (theageshop.com.au).

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200 Bourke Street, Melbourne, VIC

  • Cuisine - Chinese
  • Prices - Dumplings, $9.80-$14.80; noodles and mains, $8.90-$26.80.
  • Opening Hours - Daily, 11am-9pm
  • Author - Nina Rousseau
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Reader ratings (3)

2 comments so far

  • After living in Beijing, China for half a decade, I felt I had ate my last dumpling. The exhausting skins and juices of these little pastry packets seemed to take short cuts on the way to making me feel overfull and bloated, and the flavours seemed eternally unvaried and unimaginative. I'd had the famous Jiao Zi pan-fried dumplings of Beijing and thought that I had seen a nifty trick - but I will never forget the first time I bit into a juicy, tasty, and crunchy Shandong MaMa pan-fried dumpling.

    I still can't stomach boiled dumplings in any great amount, but if you ask me everyone should try MaMa's pan-friend dumplings at least once - indeed, try each variety once.

    MaMa's food is famously fresh and hand-made, which has interesting implications for consistency of flavour and texture, but this should not be mistaken for poor quality - when you are eating Shandong MaMa food you are experiencing a level of freshness and love far above the standard of wider Chinatown.

    Dumplings aren't the only thing to get excited about at Shandong MaMa. Their various noodle dishes are delicious - the aforementioned Daryl and Yuro bowls, as well as the Sesame and Pork noodles - labeled 'N3' and popular with in-the-know Chinese customers.

    The limited band of staff is dedicated to servicing every customer with a charming experience - even if they seem to lack an extra waiter during the busier times I've stopped by.

    Shandong MaMa is a lovely restaurant, unique and exceptional among the restaurants of Chinatown. It's a labour of love for Meiyan Wang's family, and while they are still learning the skills of balancing fine ingredients and fresh cooking with consistent quality, they are doing a fantastic job every step of the way.

    Commenter
    urprobablyright
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    April 23, 2013, 5:11PM
  • Went to SDMM on the back of this review.

    I'm talking about the FD (pan fried) category dumplings. They're open to start with, which means that when I pick them up the good bit slides out leaving me with an oily piece of dumpling skin. Some of the herbs used was a little over-powering like dill and coriander.

    The D (boiled) category dumplings were excellent and I do recommend the Melbourne Dumplings as it contains a balanced flavor of pork and herbs.

    Overall I found the food at SDMM a little better than the surrounding dumpling houses but slightly impractical.

    Commenter
    outlaws
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    May 21, 2013, 1:26PM

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