This week, Chinatown will be in high gear with Chinese New Year celebrations culminating on Sunday 10 February. Food is a key part of the festivities, and eating for luck is a vital part of Chinese culture around this time of year. Oranges represent gold, fish signify abundance, and dumplings symbolise wealth as they look like gold or silver ingots. Today we find out the back story to one of the city’s newest dumpling houses, ShanDong Mama.
If you have a penchant for the punchy flavours of Korean kimchi or a craving for crepes served with Parisienne flair, you can easily find authentic versions in Melbourne’s city eateries. With over 122 languages spoken in the City of Melbourne area, and nearly half of the city’s population born overseas*, it’s little wonder that there’s a distinct correlation between a new wave of immigration and how it’s reflected in our thriving and diverse restaurant scene.
The birth of ShanDong MaMa
In the past 10 years, our most recent arrivals have hailed from China, Malaysia, India and Indonesia and they have predominantly come to Melbourne to study*. Originally from the town of Yan Tai in Shandong, China, Ying Hou first came to Melbourne as an international student. She later emigrated here with her mother, who had worked as an accountant in China for 30 years and was looking for a change. Her mother’s culinary calling was soon revealed when Ying invited her friends over to try her mama’s delectable fish jiaozi, or dumplings, which are a Shandong speciality – and ShanDong MaMa restaurant was born!
Open for barely two months, this small family-run restaurant prides itself on using the freshest ingredients bought from the market each morning, and dumplings are handmade daily. Shandong cuisine is one of the eight styles of regional Chinese cooking which is more wheat-based than that of its southern neighbours, hence the dumpling’s dominance.
As a coastal city, seafood features widely in Shandong cooking, and dried baby shrimp is a key ingredient. Mama has even invented a Melbourne dumpling in homage to her new home, incorporating a range of eastern and western flavours – think modern Australian in a dumpling!
Make sure you try the Eight Treasure tea, which is a pretty concoction of orange peel, wolf berries, red dates and flowers.
So did Mama’s career change pay off? A quick Google search might give you a hint, but it’s best to check this place out for yourself. Believe the hype!
ShanDong MaMa, Mid City Arcade, 194 – 200 Bourke Street, City
*Data source: ABS, Census 2011. Place of Usual Residence Database.