I’ve been hesitant to try out the several Chinese restaurants around campus for two main reasons: I was worried I might be disappointed, or worse still, that I would find a place I would really love. Unfortunately for my wallet, I think I’ve managed the latter.
On a recent Friday evening, a large group of friends and I dined at the Shanghai Dumpling Cafe, which is conveniently open until 9.30pm all week. To minimise logistics, a few friends and I ordered for the rest of the group, picking out a selection of dumplings and vegetable dishes while trying to accommodate requests: no pork, and one serving of chilli oil soup wonton. Amidst the busy chatter of the restaurant and our increasing hunger, we finally cobbled together our order for the very patient and helpful waiters.
Although the restaurant was completely packed, our dishes arrived with impressive speed. We couldn’t help but eye the steamers full of dumplings, as they were being bussed around, and once ours arrived, the excitement was palpable. The best thing about eating as a group at a place like Shanghai Dumpling Cafe is that you get the opportunity to sample a wide range of dishes. Among the 14 of us, we shared steamed prawn, beef, and chicken dumplings, chilli oil soup wonton, stir fried green vegetables with garlic, Shanghai tofu with mushrooms, and chilli eggplant.
Dumplings look deceptively easy to make, and now that they’re churned out at dizzying speeds to meet voracious demand I’m not convinced that the people making them get the credit they deserve. Too much liquid in the meat mixture? The dumplings fall apart. Poor technique in pinching the ends of the wrapper together? The dumplings fall apart. Steamed too long? You guessed it, the dumplings stick to the parchment paper when the diner tries to peel them off and, consequently, fall apart, spilling their juices.
Good dumplings can’t be frozen either; they have to be made fresh on the day or the wrapper gets hard, and the seasoned diner can tell right away. All the dumplings at Shanghai Dumpling Cafe were impeccably made, and very fresh. The crunchy prawns were enveloped in soft translucent wrappers with just the right amount of pull. After I popped the first in my mouth, I immediately regretted that we had only ordered one steamer.
A small complaint would be the rice. It didn’t come as the soft, fluffy yet distinct grains you’d hope for at a restaurant. Instead, it was clumpy in parts, like it was from the end of a batch. Nevertheless, the dishes were sufficiently delectable that this felt easily forgivable.
One trick I’ve discovered to ordering for large groups in Chinese restaurants is to order a few dishes less than the number of people, and rice for about a third. We demolished everything, everyone seemed happy, and the ridiculously cheap bill came out to just under $10 per person. I was full but not stuffed, and still able to bike uphill to get home – a successful dining experience, in my book.