Steamed Shanghai style mini pork bun $6.50
(xiao long bao)
Sydney's best xiao long bao? Search no more.
Despite the class and style of the newly opened Din Tai Fung, it's the cheap and cheerful chaos of Shanghai Night that still wins my heart.
Just like Din Tai Fung, the xiao long bao are handmade on-site. Here, however, it's a family-run affair: a modest production line of two sitting discreetly behind a folding bamboo screen.
The xiao long bao arrive in bamboo steamers, delicate pleated parcels of soup-filled dumpling that billow with steam as they descend on your table. The dumpling skins aren't as thin or as translucent as the Din Tai Fung version, but it's the soup inside that makes me weak at the knees. Steaming hot and sweet with pork, the soup is deliciously addictive, prompting a nervous battle of chopsticks as we fight for the next one.
The price is staggering too. At Din Tai Fung, six pork xiao long bao sets you back $8.80, or $1.47 each. At Shanghai Night, you get eight dumplings for $6.50 or make that 81c each. Who said value for money doesn't make food taste better?
Deep-fried rice cake $3.50
And then there are the other treats. Deep-fried rice cake is right up my starch alley. The flat rice cakes are chewy on the inside, protected by a crust of gold. We dip them in chilli sauce and savour them slowly.
Wild vegetables and pork wonton soup $6.00
We carefully portion out the vegetable and pork wontons. The soup is clear and refreshing, a huddle of wontons floating amongst the sprinkling of green onions.
Pork with garlic chive dumplings $7.20
Pork and garlic chive dumplings are sturdy crescents of bite-sized goodness. We douse them liberally with vinegar and soy. Again, these aren't delicate morsels but hearty village fare.
Shredded pork with green bean starch sheet cold noodle $11.80
The green bean starch cold noodle salad is the sleeper hit for our table of seven. Cellophane noodles of mung bean are slippery on the tongue with a likeable chewiness to them. Tinged a pale brown from the dressing of soy, the cool noodles are constrasted with crunchy shreds of carrot and cucumber, ribbons of pork, a smattering of sesame seeds and coriander garnish.
Chicken with chestnuts in hot pot $13.80
The dishes continue.
Hotpot of chicken with chestnuts is a simple homestyle dish. Small pieces of chicken are salty and sweet, perfumed with the flavour of star anise. The small bits of bone necessitate a little patience to eat the chicken. Treasures of shiitake mushroom and chestnut are found buried at the bottom of our hotpot.
Pan-fried pork bun with shallots $8.50
One of my favourite dishes here is the pan-fried pork bun with shallots. A celebration of guilty pleasures, these pork-filled buns are steamed then pan-fried for a crispy brown bottom. How could you say no?
Shallot pancake $4.50
A serve of shallot pancake is all folds and layers and green onion and crunch. It's rich but good, especially when tempered with generous dabs of chilli sauce.
Savoury soy milk $4.50
Savoury soy milk is a traditional breakfast for many Shanghainese. I'm more used to sweetened soy milk so I find its saltiness a little too foreign for my palate to comprehend. The Shanghainese at our table are homesick but happy.
Sweet white fungus and papaya $3.80
It goes on!
The sweet soup of white fungus and papaya is extremely cool and refreshing. Cooked for a long time, the fungus has lost its usual crunchy texture and become soft and silky instead. It tastes sweet and medicinal, in a good way.
Red bean pancake $4.80
Another Shanghai Night favourite: the red bean pancake. The thin crispy pastry envelopes a generous filling of sweetened red bean. It's not as oily as you'd expect, although one piece each is more than enough for each of us by this point.
We've eaten ourselves stupid. We'd chomped our way through six serves of xiao long bao (that's 48 dumplings between 7 people) and we even have a takeaway container with leftovers we can't bear to abandon. Our dinner bill comes to a mind boggling $25 a head, not much more than the $20 I'd spent at Din Tai Fung for a light--albeit elegant--lunch.
It's poky, it's crowded, it's ridiculously cheap. No wonder I love this place so much.
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275 Liverpool Road, Ashfield, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9798 8437
Open 7 days 10am-10pm
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7/24/2008 11:19:00 p.m.