Dumplings Plus

Name: Dumplings Plus
Location: 269 Swanston St, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Cost: $15-25 per meal, but dumplings and small eats are under $10
Cost rating: 4/5
Taste rating: 8.5/10
Overall rating: 8.5/10

Another rainy night and late dinner with some friends from my local strategy board games club  (A strategic board game called Go/Weiqi/Baduk, it’s  played on a grid with black and white stones.) We wanted a quick hot meal, and walked into Dumplings Plus hoping they would have a table for 5.

They did.

JASMINE TEA
Taste: 5/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Stories have a start/ And so do meals. Have some tea./ And then will we start.

We all know what tea looks like. But I like this photo so I thought to share it with you. Hot jasmine tea is just one of those things I have to order at chinese restaurants.

HARGAO (PRAWN DUMPLINGS)
Taste: 10/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

My fav'rite dumpling/ Do you dip them in soy sauce?/ Or eat them as is?

Let me think of something to say. Nope, nothing. They’re really good.
SPRING ONION PANCAKE
Taste: 9/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

No snail shapes here/ 'round and round it unravels/ Alas, not tonight

I liked these spring onion pancakes better than the ones at China Red. The main difference is the texture of the dough. China Red’s spring onion pancake was deep fried snail-shape with a less chewy dough. Dumpling Plus is thin and flat like a biscuit, pan fried and has more chew. As more fun it is to unravel the snail at China Red, I like the crispy crunchiness from panfrying.
SILKEN TOFU AND CENTURY EGG
Taste: 9/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Lovely in Summer/ Cool respite from muggy days/ Or from spicy food

Simplicity is underestimated. This is just cold silken tofu cut thinly, and a chopped century egg with some seasoned broth for flavour. It’s a cold dish, but the flavours were clean and it was refreshing after all those hot dumplings and wontons in chilli sauce.
Century egg is a pickled egg. Unlike those terrible vinegar-pickled eggs, century eggs don’t have a strong taste. It doesn’t even taste of egg anymore. It’s just a cola-coloured egg with forest green oozy goo where the yolk was. The colour puts people off, but it is very mild and the texture is delightful. It’s like aspic with just-congealed yolk inside.

PICKLED JELLYFISH IN CHILLI SAUCE
Taste: 8/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

'They are cold noodles'/ Leaps into the taste abyss/ '...made of jellyfish'

Yes, jellyfish can be pickled and eaten. They don’t really have a taste of their own, so it is eaten mostly for its texture and ability to soak up the flavour of the dressing. It’s crunchy like any other pickled vegetable. (But jellyfish aren’t vegetables.) Sometimes you’ll see pickled jellyfish on the side with roast suckling pig. But not with chilli sauce. The sauce is a spicy and sweet, but in no way crippling spicy. (It rates about a 5/10 on my scale.)

Sometimes I like to say they’re like noodles, just to get people to try it. Then tell them they’re made of jellyfish. I am a terrible person.

PORK AND PRAWN DUMPLINGS IN CHILLI BROTH
Taste: 9/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

They are so tasty/ Why are dumplings so tasty?/ Another bowl, please.

Instead of a chilli broth, it is boiled dumplings with a thick chilli sauce on the bottom. These were so good we had to order several bowls, and one more for the person who didn’t like spicy food but still kept coming back for more.
PORK POTSTICKERS
Taste: 7/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Potstickers are great/ Piping hot: don't burn your mouth/ Crunchy crispy base

Eh, they’re okay. I’d order them again because they’re potstickers, and everybody loves potstickers. It gives variety from wontons and dumplings in soup, and dumplings in chilli paste! They’re average for potstickers. The filling is pork mince, ginger, garlic and spring onions, which rarely goes wrong. The panfrying could have been better (some are barely golden, others are dark brown) but when there are a lot of dumplings to be panfried at a cheapish-eats restaurant, I can forgive them for the neglect of small details.
PORK AND PRAWN WONTONS IN SOUP
Taste: 7.5/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

As light as a cloud/ If only clouds were tasty/ Hm, hailing wontons?

Wontons in chilli paste with soup. The wonton skins are soft and the wontons are juicy. It is much the same as the dumplings with chilli broth but with wontons and more broth.
RED BEAN PANCAKES
Taste: 8/10
Would I order it again?

Crispy and chewy/ It's odd, but enjoyable/ For your sweet tooth friend

Yes.I hadn’t seen anything like this before, so the novelty was great. It is red bean paste (seems to be from a can) inside a glutinous rice pancake, then panfried. The end result is a crispy but meltingly chewy pancake with sweet bean paste inside. They’re moreish.

I’d come back and order everything listed above. Yes, it’s noisy and not the cleanest restaurant I’ve been to, but the food is cheap and tasty, comes out fairly quickly, and hosts a fantastic har gao and silken tofu/century egg dish.
_Dumplings Plus on Urbanspoon

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China Red

Name: China Red
Location: Shop 6, 206 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Prices: Meals $15-25, Drinks $3-5 (more for wine)
Cost rating: 3/5
Taste rating: 8.5/10
Overall rating: 8.5/10

China Red specialises in dumplings, but Chinese side dishes are also available. There is a kitchen at the back, and you can watch the chefs prepare dumplings in the window. Also, how many restaurants do you know of where you can make orders via a touchscreen computer? Yes, you can do that at China Red. It is lots of fun, but it becomes easy to order more things than you can eat because it is so much fun. (Who doesn’t like touchscreens? Beep boop, hey presto, food.)

Who scrolls over these pictures?

Not a TV screen/ Sit down, and watch food programme/ Press button, receive food

Ginger: also called/ Zingibar offinale/ Good for many things

Impressive ginger julienning. While this isn’t difficult to prepare, so many dumplings places neglect to place out finely sliced ginger. Instead, the ginger comes pre-steeped in vinegar. Or forgo ginger altogether.

SHANGHAI DUMPLINGS ($11.80/ 8pc)
Score: 9/10
Would I order it again? Yes

Like dumplings in soup/ But the other way around/ Shanghai shao long bao

Unfold wheat wrapping/ Somewhat like a boxed present/ Find pork broth inside

Shanghai dumplings (also known as ‘shao long bao’) are a steamed dumpling, but unlike most other dumplings it is more ‘bun-shaped’ (bun-shaped things are ‘bao’.). The bao should be able to hold its hot meaty juices when you pick it up with chopsticks, but the skin should not be so thick that it is chewy. I daresay that balance has been reached at China Red. Inside the bao is pork mince with a rich pork broth formed during the steaming process. The idea is to bite off the top of the bao so that the soup inside remains inside the bao, but now you have a little opening to drink the soup from. Or if you prefer, to let the soup trickle out onto your spoon so it cools down more quickly, drink the soup, and slowly nibble around the bao taking care not to burn your mouth. Addition of julienned ginger makes it even tastier.

PANFRIED PORK DUMPLINGS ($10.80/ 8 pc)
Score: 8/10
Would I order this again? Yes.

Dumplings or meat buns?/ Maybe both at the same time?/ No need to pick one

Inside a pork bun/ or a dumpling, as it were?/ Har gao cameo

These dumplings are a mixture between being a dumpling, and being a bun. The outer layer is more bread than the thin unleavened dumpling skin. I find this lends itself better for panfrying because it is more textural than the thin dumpling skin. It is crunchy on the bottom, but fluffy and has more chew from leavening.

SZECHUAN STYLE SPICY CHICKEN ($11.80)
Score: 7/10
Would I order this again? No.

Brace yourself oh tongue/ Against the capsaicin tides*/ *I am no poet

It was not as spicy as I thought it would be, and I’m not a seasoned in the ways of chilli and szechuan cuisine. It strikes me as odd that eating something so spicy that it bludgeons your tastebuds and other sensory nerve endings into temporary(?) non-functionality would be enjoyable. While it’s not bad, it’s not particularly interesting or impressive either.The chicken is steamed separately from the sauce, then the sauce and garnishes are added at the last minute. The peanuts add texture, and spring onions add more visual appeal. If szechuan style spicy chicken is a dish you’ve a hankering for, then by all means order this dish. But there are better szechuan style spicy chicken dishes, one of them being from the szechuan restaurant around the corner.

DEEP-FRIED SQUID IN SALT & PEPPER ($18.80)
Score: 7/10
Would I order this again? No.

Salt and pepper squid/ One of the seafood classics/ but why so much salt?

Rice not pictured, but imagine a big bowl of rice that would serve 2-4 people. Batter isn’t as thick as it looks in the picture, but there is a massive air bubble separating the batter from the squid. I am not sure what that would mean, but both batter and squid are crunchy. There are also slices of red chilli and some fried shallots. So far so good until you realise how salty it is. So, so salty.

PRAWN & CHIVE DUMPLING ($6.50 / 4 pc)
Score: 10/10
Would I order this again? Yes.

Delicious har gao/ Addition of chinese chives/ Even more delicious

Prawn and chinese chive dumplings are one of my favourites. I can’t find anything to fault.

VEGETARIAN DUMPLING ($12.50/ 12 pc)
Score: 10/10
Would I order this again? Yes.

Spinach-green dumplings/ Is it Pantone patented?/ I don't see why not

Go on, take a bite/ See for yourself, what's inside?/ I... am not quite sure

Usually I find vegetarian dumplings to be dull and tasteless after eating dumplings with pork or prawn inside, but China Red’s vegetarian dumpling was surprisingly tasty. I think the difficulty with vegetarian dumplings is finding things with an umami taste and making sure the overall taste and texture of the dumpling is balanced. The major components of this dumpling is shiitake mushroom and finely diced chinese cabbage (moisture squeezed out to ensure that the filling doesn’t get too soggy). There seems to be wood-ear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae) in there too.

SPRING ONION PANCAKE ($6.50)
Score: 10/10
Would I order this again? Yes

Spring onion pancake/ Misnomer! Not a pancake/ Eh, but close enough

It was piping hot when it arrived onto our table, the outside was an even golden colour and crunchy in a way that can’t be achieved by shallow frying. The inside was soft, the layers were very thin and elastic. The spring onion was finely sliced and added a delicious sweetness to the layered pancake.
To say it’s a pancake is a bit misleading. It is a sheet of very thin dough, much like phyllo pastry, with salt and finely sliced spring onions sprinkled across it, then tightly rolled up like a swiss roll. Then the long roll is rolled around itself to make a snail-shape. Then fried (or panfried). Then consumed.

ICED MILK TEA ($4.50)
Score: ?
Would I order this? No.

Drink and ice in bowl/ Ice won't fit into vessel/ A psuedo chem flask

I could pop outside to he bubbletea place and order a milk tea for the same price, and larger volume. But the presentation is interesting.

ICED RED BEAN IN SYRUP ($4)
Score: ?

Whole sweetened red beans/ Similar to ais kacang/ But no green cendol

Sweetened red beans, ice and condensed milk (?). This’ll fill you up. It’s not a particularly refreshing drink, but it seems tasty as a dessert.

China Red on Urbanspoon

Dragon Boat lunch buffet (Lonsdale St.)

Location: 149 Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Cost: $16.80 lunch buffet
Cost rating: 3/5
Taste rating: 6/10
Overall rating: 6/10

I’ve heard mixed reviews about the Dragon Boat lunch buffet, ranging from terrible food to terrible service (the usual complaints). Some people have reviewed that the yumcha dishes are cold and stale, some say there weren’t enough trolleys going around, others say that they’ve been handed the wrong bill at buffet time. But other people would say it was great fun and the food was worth the $16.80 they had paid. So here’s my review on the Lonsdale St Dragon boat lunch buffet.

I had lunch there with some Chinese relatives, at 11am. Why does this matter? Believe it or not, it does matter who you go with. The waitstaff are more conversant with your Chinese-speaking relatives and friends, so you can ask when particular items will be coming past. If you’re nice, they might even bring it straight to you from another cart. The earlier you go, the fresher the staff and food will be. Fresher staff mean they’ll be more attentive, bring food out faster and generally be more amicable. After a few hours on the floor pushing carts and bickering with the inevitable fussy ‘aunties’ (‘Give me a stack from the bottom, it’s fresher that way.’ While that is true, it is stacked that way for a reason: to make sure your dimsum is waiting for the least possible amount of time on the trolley.), it gets tiring.

Dragon boat lunch buffet ($16.80, a price hike from $16.50) is much more fun with more people. It’s not the best yumcha I’ve been to, and it’s reflected in the price. But there’s a good range of dumplings and dishes to sample provided you go at the right time. There are no ‘deluxe’ plate items during the lunch buffet, but if you intend to eat as many dumplings as you can, then that won’t be an issue. Also, this lunch buffet is filled with prawns. Almost everything has prawn, or prawn mince, or prawn paste in it.

Pork dumpling (yellow dumpling skin)
Score: 6/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Frilly, but no-frills/ Pork dumpling is mostly pork/ 2-bite meat morsel

Lots of pork mince and a couple of other things in tiny amounts (shiitake mushroom?) to make a meaty bite. (Or two.)

Spring rolls, with sweet chilli sauce
Score: 6/10
Would I order it again? No.

Children's favourite/ Always a hit at parties/ Adult's fav'rite too

The outer layers are crisp, but it needs another minute in the fryer for that golden yellow colour. The filling is a pasty mix-up of bamboo shoots, pork, and possibly some other things but you wouldn’t be able to tell. It’s mostly starchy paste flavoured with the pork.

Vegetarian dumpling (translucent rice flour skin)
Score: 4/10
Would I order it again? No.

Vegetarian/Yumcha mostly not vego/B-plus for effort

The skin is too thick for my liking, so it becomes too chewy and sodden. The filling is a mix of bamboo shoots, carrots, wood-ear fungus, mushroom and potato starch. They’re standard things to put into vegetarian dumplings, but the preparation feels heavy-handed and generally lazy. The ingredients weren’t cut evenly, and there was a lot of potato starch binder.

Prawn and chinese chive dumpling 1 (translucent skin)
Score: 6/10
Would I order it again? No.

There were three pieces/Ate one before taking pic/then there were two, awh

These ones have the same skin as the vegetarian dumpling. The filling is the same as below.

Prawn and chinese chive dumpling 2 (Har gao skin)
Score: 7/10
Would I order it again? Yes

Prawn and chive dumpling/ Often stuck to the paper/ Don't eat the paper

This has a slightly different skin from the above. This one is also known as ‘har gao’, your true prawn dumpling. These ones are better because the skin is a different texture, and thinner than the above. It’s not chewy, and melts in your mouth.

Fried calamari
Score: 7/10
Would I order it again? Yes

Fried calamari/ Combined with chips and seagulls/ Why at a yumcha?

Salt and chilli calamari. It arrived on your table fresh, so the batter was still hot and crispy. As you can see in the picture, it’s not an even coating of batter, nor is it the lightest batter. It’s still tasty, and the chili gives it an extra kick. The downside is that it is very salty, and the squid is a tad overcooked. (Not so much it is chewy)

Oysters with cheese
Score: 2/10
Would I order it again? No.

Cheese-seafood debate/ This is a point for against/ No cheese on oysters

Ack, oysters with cheese. The cheese has a film of bright orange oil, and beneath that is a paste of some sort of starchy substance with ham cubes. The oysters themselves have seen better days, and are laughably small in their huge shells. There’s more paste than oyster, and the paste tastes like the oyster. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but not when your oysters aren’t fresh.

Chicken pie
Score: ?

More a tart than pie/ Mostly buttery pastry/ Chicken paste centre

Beef curry puff (left)
Score: ?

Two things in one shot/ Lessens haiku load by one/ Bakery items

Sausage bun (right)
Score: 3/10
Would I order it again? No.
I don’t even know what was wrong with the sausage bun. The sausage was tasteless, without its usual saltiness. The bun wasn’t the usual bread/cake-like consistency. It has the physical semblance of a sausage bun, but not the taste. Odd.

Haam sui gok/ Saltwater pastry (I’m sure it has a more descriptive name.)
Score: 7/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Fried sweet mochi thing/ My favourite chemistry/ Maillard reaction

These are football shaped (AFL football, not soccer.) pastry made from glutinous rice flour. The chewy, sticky rice layer is sweet. It’s fried on the outside (the sugar helps give the pastry its golden yellow color.), and has minced pork, shiitake mushroom, diced pickled radish, chinese sausage (among other savoury things) inside. In a way, it’s similar to fried mochi.

Prawn fun chueng
Score: 5/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

A rice noodle tube/ Doesn't taste as good unwrapped/ But it is still fun

I’d order it again because I always order fun chueng. There seems to be two prawns in each noodle tube, so cutting the tube in half ensures you get a prawn inside. The rice noodle tube itself doesn’t quite have that silky barely-cooked through texture. It was plastic-y. That’s never happened to me before, but it did this time.

Beef fun chueng
Score: 6/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Prawn, prawn, prawn, prawn, beef!/ Alternative duck, duck, goose/ Why 'duck' anyway?

This fun cheung has beef mince inside, beef mince with spring onions. After eating dumplings with prawn, and tofu with prawn, eggplant with prawn, everything with prawn, beef is a welcome change.
BBQ pork bun
Score: 6.5/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Cakey white sweet bun/ Savoury barbecue pork/ Sweet-salty pattern

Ever since Gold Leaf’s BBQ pork buns, these BBQ pork buns just aren’t as good. The bun can be cakey, and stick to the roof of your mouth. Less meat and more sauce than GL, but it is your quintessential BBQ pork bun.

Egg tart
Score: 8/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Crisp and flaky tart/ Custard is my favourite/ Polish six tarts off

Flaky pastry, not the biscuit pastry. Egg tarts should always have flaky pastry. The custard filling is on the sweeter side, with a sticky sweet glaze on top. The custard seems to be a shallower layer at dragon boat, but it is a sufficient amount of custard.

Jelly
Score: 6/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Gelatin powder/ revolutionary stuff/ All the things aspic

How can jelly go wrong? As you can see, it is a triangle of layered jelly.

Coconut sago
Score: 2/10
Would I order it again? No.

A definite miss/ Better as mango sago/ Learn to cook sago

I’m not even sure if the liquid is coconut milk. It might have condensed milk and water in it too. At the bottom there are sago pearls. The worst thing about this is that the sago wasn’t cooked through. Each pearl was raw on the inside.

Not every dimsum is made equal. I recommend going to yumcha with an experienced yumcha person just so you can flag down trolleys you want, and going at an earlier time than 3pm. I also recommend the egg tarts, and haam sui gok when they’re fresh.

 
Dragon Boat Palace on Urbanspoon

Dumplings

Just about every continent has its own kinds of dumplings. I am including those that are fillings enclosed in a thin layer of (usually unleavened) dough, and those which are balls of dough that have been boiled or steamed, or even fried.

There are the European dumplings, including those of Britain and Ireland (balls of flour and fat half-boiled half-steamed into a stew to extend a meal), Italian ravioli and tortellini (pockets of pasta with fillings inside) or gnocchi (balls of potato/flour, more similar to the UK dumpling), Scandinavian potetball, nockerl or klopse, Central European potato dumplings or fruit dumpings, Polish pierogis, Russian pelmenis, Middle-eastern shishbarak, Jewish kreplach and matzah balls, and Turkish manti. The dumplings of the United States, as found in chicken and dumpling soup. Carribean dumplings to be served with ackee and saltfish or chicken, and those in chicken soup. Or even Chilean pantrucas, a flat parsley dumpling served in a soup.

Now heading to the Himalayas for their momo, steamed pleated dumplings popular as a snack. Mongolian buuz and khuushuur. Or the Indian dumplings, with their savoury and sweet varieties. There are sweet gujhias, karanji and ada, or if savoury dumplings tickle your fancy there are pitha and kozhakkattai. If you prefer the southeastern asian dumplings, there are the Indonesian fish dumplings with peanut sauce (Siomay), Korean mandu and Japanese gyoza and takoyaki. After this list, we finally reach the dumplings I am most familiar with: Chinese dumplings. There are jiaozi, potstickers, wontons, zong zi, tangyuan and dimsum.

Dumplings are a comfort food (just see how many of them are in chicken soup or in stews or in a thick sauce, or eaten as snacks) made with delicious starchy goodness, and are a general crowd pleaser. They’re easy and fun to make (as long as you aren’t too fixated on them looking great), cheap, good food to share, can accomodate large numbers of people, and the filling can be altered to your tastes or whatever you have in your fridge. So, I made some dumplings. More specifically, potstickers in a southern chinese style.

Potstickers is the affectionate name given to a kind of jiaozi, because they stick to your pot. Jiaozi are pleated dumplings with a savoury filling inside. Just about every region in China will have its own specialty. There are different ways to pleat them, different filling preferences, flavourings used, spiciness, thickness of ‘skin’ around the filling, the cooking method, and size of dumpling. Above all, it’s really up to you. For me, potstickers should have a thicker, more doughy wheat flour ‘skin’ to accomodate for the panfrying cooking method and for maximum crunchiness of the dumpling’s base.

There were both chicken and beef dumplings, each extended with vegetables. Here’s a picture of the chicken dumplings.

Shoot before eating/ Two dumplings left on the plate/ Just made in time

Potstickers are cooked by mix of steaming, boiling and panfrying. How does this work? You can steam your jiaozi dumplings beforehand, then do a pan fry to get a crispy bottom. Or do it the lazy-one-pan-wonder way. Add a couple of tablespoons oil into a hot frying pan (make sure you have a lid to cover it with), place dumplings into pan, give the pan a shake to make sure the dumplings aren’t stuck to the bottom, add a cup of water (or enough to cover the pan by a centimeter or so. The water should be all evaporated near the end.), place lid on pan, turn down the heat and let the dumplings steam/boil for 5 minutes (depending on the thickness of the skin. You want to cook them through.), lift lid and let the dumplings sizzle for a while to get a crunchy base. There should be no liquid at the bottom when the dumplings are sizzling. Once you feel the base is done, slide dumplings onto a plate and serve. I enjoy potstickers with a little side of sweetened red vinegar with very finely julienned ginger.

You can find recipes of potstickers at tastespotting.com, so I won’t place a recipe up here. But here is a picture of the one-pan method:

One pan potsticker/ Sizzle, boil and sizzle/ Eat, and don't burn mouth