ShanDong MaMa is aptly-named. For those not already in the know, this is the place to be for home-style Shandong cuisine courtesy of Meiyan Wang (aka Mama). The little dumpling haven sits hidden away in a tunnel of shops and continues to dish up some of the city's finest doughy snacks.
When we arrive, a prized plate from Time Out’s 2013 Food Awards is hung on a wall near the kitchen, and the place is bustling with groups of friends and dates canoodling in booths over large laminated menus.
ShanDong Mama's signature Spanish mackerel comes hand mixed in a soft, gingery mousse held together by potstickers (which are sadly sold out in tonight’s case) or al dente steamed dumplings, the recipe derived from the coastal town of Yantai in Shandong.
Next up, the most Melbourne dumplings one will ever see. Smooth squid ink dumplings arrive at the table resembling nylon swimming in a pool of crushed garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Each one is filled with smashed squid and chicken mince, coriander and fresh basil, and surprises you with bursts of salmon roe that pop in your mouth like candy.
We know that dumplings reign supreme here at ShanDong Mama, but if you're after variety, the Yu Shiang eggplant certainly delivers. Sticky strips of deep-fried aubergine swim around a thick, sweet starch-loaded sauce toting plenty of garlic, each finger of near-molten eggplant mopped up with white rice.
Onto another side: julienned slices of cucumber are seasoned with sesame and more garlic. It’s clear that garlic is the star of the show here, and we’re here for it. Before we know it, mini purple ube pancakes make a beeline towards our table courtesy of the friendly server and resemble a pumpkin pancake with its sweet, doughy nature. The chef is trialling something different and it works.
With all that being said, the greatest thing about ShanDong Mama might be that it knows a good thing, and it's the consistency of each dish that makes it feel like going home to mum's house.
Time Out Awards
2013 – Best Bang for Buck