Cheap, fun and casual, going for dumplings is one of Melbourne's most popular pastimes. Here's a guide to some of the most-loved types you'll find on menus across the city, and the best places to tuck into them.
Hailing from China's rugged north east, shuijiao – boiled or steamed dumplings – are the rough and ready origin story of every Chinese dumpling you've ever loved. Most commonly stuffed with pork and jiucai (Chinese chives), pinched in half and lowered into boiling water, they're cheap, filling and essential sustenance in a brutal Beijing winter. They're available nearly everywhere in Melbourne, but the boiled pork dumplings at Hutong Dumpling Bar leads the competition with their thick wheaten skins and plump fillings. They're ugly, the way they should be.
Hutong Dumpling Bar, 14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne
Hongyou chaoshou (wontons in red chilli oil)
The Sichuanese approach to dumplings is predictably extra. The silky skinned chaoshou – a large wonton said to resemble folded arms – are wrapped in a square sheet of pastry that results in a long tail, and are served in a delicate broth. Hongyou chaoshou – wontons in red chilli oil – are the most popular in the region, and are at their best at Dainty Sichuan Noodle Express, where they are served "Chongqing hot" in a bowl of chilli oil soup with pickled mushrooms, peanuts and Chinese greens.
Dainty Sichuan Noodle Express, Emporium Melbourne, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
Xiao long bao (soup dumplings)
Imagine figuring out how to shoehorn a mouthful of soup into a dumpling. They've long been Shanghai's favourite street snack, but xiao long bao are now having their moment around the world, and Melburnians are spoilt for choice. Shanghai Street was instrumental in putting in XLB on the map, and continues to attract queues for its solid renditions at each of its outposts. In the value corner, try Juicy Bao on Little Bourke Street. Purists will reject their XL appearance and thicker casing, but it's really just more space, not to mention structural integrity, for that sweet porcine broth. For a daintier rendering of regulation size, there is always Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung, on the top floor of Emporium: a dreamy dumpling purgatory conveniently located between heaven and Myer.
Shanghai Street, 342 Little Bourke Street
Juicy Bao, 178 Little Bourke Street
Din Tai Fung, Level 4, Emporium Melbourne, 287 Lonsdale Street
Sheng jian bao
A fellow Shanghainese alumnus, sheng jian bao are a bready hybrid of the paunchy baozi and the xiao long bao, taking the soup from the latter and the yeasty heft of the former for a burlier breakfast street snack. However, like all dumplings, they're best enjoyed whenever good times are had. Most commonly filled with pork, prawns, veg, or a combination thereof, sheng jian bao are fried to a golden crunch on the bottom and topped with sesame seeds and thinly sliced spring onions for bonus texture points rivalled only by the guo tie (more on them shortly). After much fanfare, hit Shanghai chain Yang's hasn't quite managed to hit the lofty standard set by its progenitor. Thankfully we also have A Little Joy, a cute four-seater laying low in the Target Centre arcade, whose pork and prawn versions are outstanding.
Yang's, 229 Exhibition Street
A Little Joy, Target Centre, 222 Bourke Street
Guo tie (potstickers)
Guo tie (which literally means pot stick) come in a couple of forms. In China's south, the beloved potsticker, a frying-steaming technique that binds a serve of what are essentially jian jiao (more on them next) together, setting them in an ornate golden lattice of fried dumpling starch – a crispy dumpling doily, if you will. The lattice's porous quality helps recruit extra black-rice vinegar to each bite. Again, Hutong Bar's rendition is exemplary. For the northern take – longer and skinnier and with unsealed ends – Shandong Mama's moussey mackerel dumplings justify most of the hype, of which there is a lot.
Shandong Mama, Mid City Centre, shop 7, 200 Bourke Street
Likely the dumpling that got you so hooked, jian jiao are potstickers sans the doily, and are widely available. They're first fried on one side before water is added to the pan, steaming the dumpling's filling and wrapping for that smooth-topped, crispy-bottomed finish. You are likely have your favourite spot, and far be it from us to sway you from it, but the textural triumphs that come out of Shanghai Dragon Dumpling House are doing it for us at the minute.
Shanghai Dragon Dumpling House, 163 Russell Street