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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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