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Shanghai Dumpling, Old Town Kopitiam & Orientalism

October 11, 2009 2 comments

One of the greatest things about Melbourne is the abundance of cheap “ethnic” food, especially of the Asian variety. Shanghai Dumpling is an old haunt of mine and I’ve been to Old Town numerous times but the presence of Lainie always somehow makes me want to take pictures of things and blog about them. Guess she has that effect on people.

David & Camy’s Shanghai Dumpling House
25 Tattersalls Lane,
Melbourne, 3000
(03) 9663 8555

Shanghai Dumpling is one of those Melbourne institutions. I have a love/hate relationship with the place. The love is mostly related to the awesomeness and cheapness of their food. We’re talking like $6.50 for a plate of 15 delicious fried pork dumplings and something similar for a big heap of awesome fried noodles. I won’t lie, when I get to know a place well I have my staple dishes which I order all the time. At Shanghai Dumpling it’s always 15 Fried Pork Dumplings and either the Dan Dan Noodle or the Shanghai Fried Noodle.

As for the hate, it largely stems from the clientele. I don’t want to sound like a hater, and I realise that I too am a white man in an Asian restaurant, but some of the Aussies that frequent the place are just so very annoying. Sample conversation: “Omg the dumplings here are so good and cheap and like the service is really shit and the weird Chinese man screams at everyone and they keep playing Celine Dion over and over… it toooootally adds to the character, hahahha, let’s all laugh at the weird Chinese man.” Umm yeah so Orientalist much? It really irks me how Melbournians like to point out odd things about other nationalities and then comment that it “adds to the character” and that it amuses them. There is nothing respectful about turning others into a circus act for your enjoyment, it doesn’t mean that you’re tolerant because you don’t hate them, it means you’re racist. Sorry.

But enough of the rant and onto the food. Shanghai Dumpling is one of those places which I’ve been going to for so long that I always order the same thing. In this case, it’s always a plate of 15 fried pork dumplings and either the dan dan noodle or the shanghai fried noodle. Below you have the aforementioned, fried pork dumplings, your humble blogger believes them to be the best fried pork dumplings in Melbourne (having tried Shanghai Noodle House, Shanghai Village and HuTong), which, for $6.50, is a mighty meal.

Next up we have the Dan-Dan Noodle, the sauce for which is a wonderfully spicy (though I remember it to be spicier somehow but perhaps my tolerance was just not as high as it is nowadays) pork mince with whole chillies and bok choy.

Overall Shanghai Dumpling is still the original and still the best when it comes to dumplings, and the selection of other Northern Chinese food on the menu is still super-delish. Because of the place’s cult favourite status, you will have to deal with annoying clientele, and because of its brusque, rude services and definite lack of hygiene, you will have to deal with a less-than-stellar “dining experience” (unless you think it’s all part of the ‘charm’ and ‘character’ and then write a romanticised book about it), I’ve also heard some horror stories about people being kicked out randomly before receiving their food on account of the kitchen closing, I’ve seen cockroaches there for sure and several of my friends have seen waitresses stealing dumplings off the plate before it’s served (count your dumplings!) So all these stories aside, the place still comes recommended due to the quality and cheapness of their food.

Old Town Kopitiam
195 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9639 6098

The second restaurant I visited with Lainie was the Old Town Kopitiam on Lt. Bourke Street. I’m a bit of a coinnoseur of Sinagporean/Malaysian food (if I do say so myself), on account of the many trips I’ve made to the countries and the amount of meals I’ve had at kopitiams, food courts, restaurants, mamaks and the whole shebang. Trawling around Melbourne looking for good Malaysian food is sort of a pastime, and a rewarding one at that since, due to the diaspora here and the abundance of Malaysian international students, it can fairly easily be found.

I’d been to Old Town before (no idea if there’s any connection to the chain in Malaysia itself) and remember being fairly impressed with their Char Kway Teow. For those not familiar with the humble CKT, it’s a Malaysian classic and the name literally translates to “Fried rice-cake strips”. The dish consists of flat, wide rice-noodles stir-fried over very high heat with light and dark soy sauce, chilli, whole prawns, deshelled cockles, bean sprouts and liberally chopped up Chinese chives. Variations abound, the Penang one, fried in the dark soy sauce, being a mainstay and favourite. It is stir-fried in pork fat, with crisp croutons of pork lard, giving it a characteristically rich taste. My favourites usually appear sans cockles and include fried egg and Chinese sausage (Lap Cheong), fishcakes are also prominent. The Old Town version included all my faves minus the cockles, awesome.

The place was trying to go for the whole old-school Ipoh-style old kopitiam vibe, complete with the cups featuring blue designs, as in Ipoh and the many copycats all over Malaysia. We had the cham, a mixture of coffee & tea, much like the more well-known yuan yang of Hong Kong.

So that’s it from me this post guys. Soon I’ll be posting about Dead Man Espresso and Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. In the meantime, check out the new google map I’ve created for the Melbourne Zeitgeist, it’ll include all the places I blog about and other cool places that are must-see, must-drink, must-eat, must-try in Melbourne… because you know I have impeccable taste 😛

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3 Cool Cafes in Melbourne

April 10, 2009 5 comments

Some of you may be familiar with my previous post about 5 Cool Cafes in Europe. The fact is, I’m a coffee fiend and can think of few better ways to spend my time than lounging around in some cafe reading something interesting, having a good conversation or just chilling.

Melbourne is my home city and it’s a city with a thriving coffee culture parallelled by few cities in the world (few that I’ve been to anyway).  This means that this cafe post will be much more rigorous than the last one which was a bit random and far from exhaustive. Melbourne also has such a wealth of cool cafes that I’ll probably do a follow-up post at a later stage. So first up here goes:

1. Brother Baba Budan

359 Little Bourke St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
(03) 9606 0449

Almost a hole in the wall but big enough for a few counter tops & one communal table at the front, BBB seats around 20 people max. it’s a corporate a favourite with offices nearby but people come from all over the city and surrounding suburbs to enjoy their famous locally roasted coffee. BBB is probably the best coffee in the CBD (Central Business District) if not Melbourne. It’s run by the guys who used to own St. Ali’s (though the relationship between the two is a bit murky for me) in South Melbourne (see post below). Truly an amazing cup, run by friendly and very capable baristas, try ordering the ‘Magic’… that’s an insider’s tip 😉

2. Switchboard

11 & 12 Manchester Unity Arcade
220 Collins St., Melbourne, VIC 3000

Switch really is a hole in the wall, though they do manage to provide good toasted sandwiches along with the coffee machine that takes up half the space in the aforementioned hole. Run by two great guys, Switch has a back alley outdoor area covered from the rain and a cosy little room to sit in also. It’s located in a historic building and is a bit difficult to find (as most of the best places in Melbourne) but the coffee Switch serves up compares only to BBB in terms of quality (as far as cafes in the CBD that is). Oh yeah and the guys at Switch, the bloody lucky bastards, close the place up at 3-4pm most days so get in early if you want some of that goodness!

Photo Credit: 51 Mondays

3. St. Ali

12-18 Yarra Pl
South Melbourne, VIC 3205
(03) 9686 2990

Located in a small laneway that runs parallel to Clarendon St., in South Melbourne, St. Ali has had an excellent reputation for coffee for quite some years now.  St. Ali was also one of the original cafes to start the explosion of quality micro-roasting here in Melbourne. It’s a pretty big place and, as usual, attracts many of the office works from the surrounding offices (a fact of life in Melbourne is that often to survive as a cafe you need to bring out the corporates… but yet another reason why white collar work in Melbourne has its perks).

Not only is the coffee excellent but they also have a pretty decent food menu and St. Ali is therefore a great place to go to for brunch or lunch, not just for an espresso hit. The cafe also engages in some really interesting coffee-related business, including St. Ali’s customised tampers (for your machine) and a even a coffee project in Nicaragua. You can get more info on everything St. Ali related on their blog, but maybe just dropping by is also a good idea 🙂

Categories: Melbourne Tags: , , , ,

5 Cool Cafes in Europe

February 5, 2009 6 comments

The reason why this blog has been so quiet of late is that I’ve been travelling. I recently returned from a 2 week trip to various European cities including: Cologne, Berlin, Dresden, Munich, Bonn (Germany), Prague (Czech Republic) and Ljubljana (Slovenia).

Normally people blog about their travels which seems to make sense and I felt the best topic to blog about would be cafes, seeing as that occupies the bulk of my time when I travel. That’s right ladies & gents, I’m not much of a sight seer. A normal days travelling goes like this. Wake up in hotel room at around 1pm (12pm if I’m lucky) and proceed to grumble & complain about having to wake up, consider going to a major sight/main attraction. Shelve that and head for the nearest cafe. Spend around 2 hours sitting there reading a book, the paper or my reader items (if the place has wi-fi and I have a laptop). Possibly eat something by way of breakfast (or whatever you’d call a meal at that time) and then grudgingly head out to catch something important in the dying light of the day. Spend 5 minutes at said attraction marvelling at how old, big and beautiful it is, take a photo or several and then head back to the cafe (or a new cafe) for more relaxation.

So thus, of course, the first & most important blog post I could write about travelling is going to be about cafes. Here are 5 cool ones that I happened to come across on my recent travels, in no particular order.

1. Cafe Slavia, Prague, Czech Republic

Smetanovo nábřeží 2
110 00 Praha 1, Praha, Czech Republic
+420 224 218 493

Although I mentioned that these cafes appear in no particular order, I have to say that this was probably my favourite cafe of the past 2 weeks’ travels. Prague is rich with cafes and it was my absolute favourite thing about the city, and the reason why I extended my stay here to 6 days. Many of the cafes have a rich history, having originated in the time of the Austrian Empire and none carry a richer history than Cafe Slavia.

The cafe is quite large and located across from the Narodi Divadlo (National Theatre) of Prague, right on the banks of the mighty River Vltava. It has a grand history – opened in 1881, the same year as the Theatre and became a meeting place of artists & intellectuals, including former president Václav Havel, who was a frequent visitor during his dissident years.

The place is brimming with character, on the wall you will find Czech painter Viktor Oliva‘s most famous painting “Piják absintu (Absinthe Drinker)” and it is staffed by very polite (something I’m told that is not normally characteristic of Prague service) waiters in uniforms, containing an ample smoking section for the nicotine-addicted among us, the Slavia is a perfect place to relax any time of the day (it is open quite late until 11pm). You can get a cup of decent coffee here, sit by the huge windows admiring either the Vltava or the busy Narodni Street and simply read a book or perhaps do some writing. There is also a wi-fi connection, a live pianist in the evenings, and a very decent menu including sweet and savoury crepes and some excellent Czech foods (the Prague goulash is recommended).

2. Einstein Cafe, Bonn, Germany

Am Hof 2653113 Bonn 
+49 228 9459145

Thanks to flickr user JochenThe first and most important thing that struck me about this cafe upon entry was the gleaming La Marzocco machine sitting on the counter top. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had arrived (thanks to the recommendation of a friend). I knew I was finally going to get a good, satisfying cup of coffee. Now those of you that have travelled in the part of the world known as Benelux and Germany will know that a good cup of coffee is not easy to come by, nay, it is certainly not the specialty of this region. You can get a fantastic beer in any dive bar in town but a good cup of espresso is as rare as hen’s teeth.

The design and interior of the cafe itself is largely unremarkable. It is done up in the common modern style of many cafe chains around the world, all soft colours and square objects. One cool addition is that you can sit on small square cushions placed strategically along the huge windowsills upstairs, meaning you can sit directly in the window giving you a good view of goings on in the street below. The music is likewise unremarkable, they were playing generic chill out music during my whole time there.

The coffee, on the other hand, was remarkable indeed. Though nothing of Brother Baba Budan standards, it was by far and wide the best cappuccino I had had since leaving Melbourne on November 29th.  The froth was perfect, the espresso extracted to perfection and coming through fantastically, it was super duper awesome. A quick browse of their website shows that they have other locations around Germany (rejoice!) and they are also a micro-roaster (explains the quality of the coffee). These people know what they’re doing. If you need a good cup of coffee in Europe, go to Cafe Einstein.

3. Kavarna Meduza, Prague, Czech Republic

Belgická 17, Prague, Praha 2

222-515-107

Kavarna Meduza is one of those cafes that feels like somebody’s living room. Old bric-a-brac furniture, lamps and old carpet are the adornments here but if you look a little harder, many of the pictures on the walls are, in fact, not random at all but part of a gallery featuring photographs and paintings of mostly Czech artists.

This Kavarna was very close to my hotel so I ended up coming here almost every night for around an hour before they shut, it was a perfect respite from the day’s events, to be able to just sit and read a book or write in my journal. The place feels very welcoming, nobody judges you and you are free to do whatever you feel like pretty much. The beer was cheep and plentiful and so the cafe comes with a high recommendation.

4. Thalia, Dresden, Germany

Görlitzer Strasse 6, 01099 Dresden

0351 / 6524703

Thalia is in fact a very small arthouse cinema with only one cinema hall that fits only 75 people. We, unfortunately, weren’t able to actually watch a movie here, although we really wanted to, but we did hang out in its superb cafe for a few hours. Firstly, the tagline is “Cinema. Coffee & Cigarettes”, which should tell you enough about the place really. While many celebrate the rise of the anti-smoking culture, and of course it makes absolutely perfect sense, it is hard not to love the old film noir charm of the old cancer stick. Those of us that are still fighting our nicotine addiction can at least come to a place like this and get some respite from the anti-smoking propaganda that surrounds us elsewhere.

The place has some history, originally opened in 1889 under the “Apollotheater” name, renamed “Thalia” in 1911, it was completely destroyed during the bombing of Dresden in 1945, and has since been restored under another guise.

The place itself is also very pleasant, the girl who was staffing the place was extremely friendly and helpful, the coffee was pretty good and the ambiance very conducive to reading, writing and chatter. The bohemian vibe of the place is created by the dim lighting, photographs of artful nudes coquettishly holding cigarettes, and the intelligentsia-type clientele all sitting enjoying their fags and conversations about this, that & the other.

5. Le Petit Cafe, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Trg francoske revolucije 4, Ljubljana

+386 (0)1 2512575

This packed and popular Old Town cafe in sleepy Ljubljana is one of those see and be seen places, it seems. The exposed brick walls, and artificially (but tastefully) frayed vintage French posters spill across two large rooms and onto an outside terrace. The coffee selection is varied and decent, as is the food (good sandwiches). The place is obviously inspired French Bohemian, possibly taking its cues from Montmarte. Everything from the menu, to the decor, to the ambiance, to the location (French Revolution Square) is nicely (but not arrogantly) French. 

So that’s 5 cool cafes to track down if you’re visiting the above parts of Europe, all come with hearty recommendations. It should also be noted that, apart from cafe, they all serve food and, with the exception of Einstein, they also all serve alcohol (if you are in need of an alcoholic beverage). Enjoy and let me know if you’ve been to any of them and agree or disagree with my sentiments.

Would you defriend 10 FB friends for a free Whopper?

January 12, 2009 6 comments

 

Although companies using social media to promote their products is really nothing new and, of course, Facebook is the pinnacle of social media these days so third-party apps from every company and their dog have really taken off… but this is something new.

Burger King in the States has a new application where you get the choice to defriend 10 of your friends and get a free Whopper in return. Interested? Think you can get away with a silent and cowardly defriending without your former friends knowing? Not so. The app actually makes sure they find out by sending them a nice little message informing them of the choice you’ve made.

I’m pretty hungry right now and looking at these whopper pics isn’t doing my conscience any good, I should probably go offline before I do something stupid…

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