Monday, October 19, 2009

Dumplings make for plumplings

Last night the Baron and I had dinner at the Shanghai Dumpling house. I may not have ever mentioned the Shanghai Dumpling house before, but I will now.

Firstly, it's in Chinatown, just off Little Bourke Street. It's the 'just off' that usually throws people right off. You turn off Swanston Street, and then you toddle up Little Bourke Street, and you look for an even littler laneway leading off Little Bourke Street. It's so easy to miss that you probably will miss it. (That's how you know you've found it, when you've missed it and gone too far. (I won't say what name the laneway the Dumpling house is on, because I have no idea myself.))

Well, as you walk up to the Dumpling House, you may or may not take some time to admire the sights in the laneway, including the strategically-placed hipsters or the fashionably-dressed dumpsters or the graffiti with the cigarettes in its mouth (I always get the three mixed up.) Pretty soon you'll arrive at the door, go in, and immediately be greeted by a skinny Chinese guy who cast an appraising eye over you - don't worry, he's just figuring out how many dumplings he'll be able to get you to buy. He will officiously beckon you into the restaurant, and usher you into a seat that is three sizes too small, crammed in between an old couple looking for a fancy Chinese meal, and two lads and two lasses who look like they've just come from the pub and are taking a break before going to another one.

You may not have noticed the sound, but you will now: loud Chinese pop from the 1990s and '80s is an essential ingredient in the spicy mix that makes up the Shanghai Dumpling house. At rare intervals you will notice a hit from the '70s being played, and even more rarely, all the music will suddenly stop and the blare of electric guitars and loudly shouting voices - 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY!' - will announce that somewhere, some ill-fated person in the building is having a birthday. Somewhere, I suppose, there is a wizened Chinese grandfather with his crabbed hand paused over a tape deck, which provides the appropriate atmosphere for the whole proceedings.

Meanwhile, the old couple sitting right next to you is shouting at one another in a civil manner, and the lads and lasses on the other side are hollering courteously amongst themselves before they munch on more dumplings. (Somehow the music, the crowds, the mix of people, the food, the staff, and the quick service really do make for courteous hollering. I'm not quite sure why, but they do.)

Next up, the surly staff, who will magically materialise at your table, and bark, 'what?' at you. And by this point, you should probably have chosen what you want from the wrinkled pink (prinkled?) menu that has been placed on your table - a menu, mind you, that is refreshingly free from up-to-date formatting or typographical affectations that you might find in the posher city restaurants. (The Shanghai Dumpling house is, thankfully, much more down-to-date than other restaurants.) Whilst the baleful glare of the surly waitress is upon you, you finally manage to stutter out, in quavering and uncertain tones, the name of the meal that you want, and just as rapidly, the waitress will grab the menus, and fade into the swirling crowds.

And that, pretty much, is that. You sit, shift around a bit, and occasionally try to scream politely to your partner. You might fetch a tea from the front (don't worry, the tea is so hygienic that it tastes like soap.) But don't be too slow about it, because in a few moments the first meal will be whizzed onto your table and you can commence gourmandising. If you're lucky like me, you might even get a bonus noodle with your dumplings. (I've no idea what it was doing there, but how could you turn up your nose at a bonus noodle.)

You may notice, as you go out, that the front desk and cash register - which is commandeered by a three person team of women of various ages (from octogenarian to mid-20s) - will have a complicated series of notes and cards arrayed in a large grid, one of which cards will presumably have your details upon it. Pay no attention to this grid, as it will just confuse you. Just pay your bill as you go out, and leave (don't worry - it's cheap). The Baron assures me that we actually did pay the right bill last night, but I still can't believe you'd pay $15.00 for the amount that we ate. Maybe I'll have to make it up to them by eating there again....

To summarise: Shanghai! Melbourne! Dumplings! Bonus noodles! Surly staff! Courteous shouting! Eat there! That is all.


Legal Eagle said...

Oh I love Shanghai Dumpling House, I do. It's a crazy place.

Once when I was there, a cook came out of the kitchen and threatened another staff member with a knife. I don't know what it was all about (lots of shouting in Cantonese).

TimT said...

Wow. Wish I'd been there then. Must be high pressure to work there, but the food is just so delicious.

BwcaBrownie said...

ah the hygenic tea ... then it cant be the place up the lane thats scary cheap that I have been to a lot without noticing the name.
Maybe its the door just beyond the Shanghai Dumpling.
They make the tea in plastic buckets, but their spring onion pancakes are absolutely wonderful. an the staff seemed friendly despite the language disparity.

Martin Kingsley said...

Have been, have done, have thoroughly enjoyed on several occasions. Catch up, Train. You're holding the whole class back.

TimT said...

Yeah, I gather they're a bit of a Melbourne institution, and I've certainly been there a lot. I just felt moved to pen a bit of an ode to their surly staff yesterday.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Who are you calling a Plumpling?

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

(Not that there's anything wrong with Plumplings.)

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

(Some of my best friends ...)

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

(Even I myself, on occasion ...)

TimT said...

I am myself, every afternoon, between the hours of 5 and 7.

Just got an idea: imagine if we opened up a Shanghai Dimpling restaurant. Surely everyone would turn up for our dimpling?

Email: timhtrain - at -

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