Monday, 23 September 2013

A-Shang-field and the Tactile Trajectory of a Dumpling

When they're not lying, stats reassure. Solid, replicable, objective. So, stats first.

Ashfield in Sydney's Inner West has 19 Chinese restaurants in a 1 kilometre stretch of Liverpool Road. Pretty much each of them serves some form of dumplings.

Among the Chinese dumpling varieties: buns, xiao long bao (soup-inside dumplings), won ton, and gow gee.

Their fillings span a spectrum of species and sensibilities: pork and chive; spicy crab; curry crab; wild vegetable and shrimp; beef and basil; poached pork with chili; pork and prawn; string bean and shrimp; pork and Chinese cabbage; cabbage, mushroom and chicken; bamboo, prawn, spinach and pork; prawn egg and pork...  It's a bit like all those "infinity point" pictures that get lots of "likes" on Instagram.

And, lots of ways to make them: boiled, steamed, pan-fried, deep fried, and pot-sticker (which are first steamed and then pan-fried).

The stat that I like the most: 6 of the 19 restaurants is fully Shanghai'd. There are two "Taste of Shanghai"; two "Shanghai Nights"; a "New Shanghai", and; a "Shanghai Dumpling". 

The two "Tastes" like each other - same owners. The two "Nights" are (some say) bitter rivals; it's apparently lawyers at fifteen chopstick lengths about who is the right "Night".

Until recently, I've always gone to the same place - the original "Night". The same place that was Ashfield's / Little Shanghai's first dumpling house. 

The same place I where I came upon Chinese dumplings in the mid-90s, and was convinced (not really) they'd pinched them off my Ukrainian ancestors. 

Indeed, the same place where I used to be able to order from a Russian language menu, as it's the same place that used to cater for the ultimate "hyphenated" community, eg, Shanghainese-White Russian-Australians. 

And, the same place I'd order the same thing: pan-fried pork and chive dumplings, a plate of beef fried rice, and a Sprite. The three boundaries of my comfort food comfort zone.

Then, one day, I noticed. It actually sucked. I didn't like it anymore. Or, rather, the dumplings of Sydney have over the last 20 years or so just become outta sight better. A bit of half decent dough and pork no longer do. A new dumpling dawn has left my "Night" in the dark. 

The joint down the street - or the dozen or so joints down the street - be warned that I am on my way.  

Oh, I'll go back to the "Night" with its lady owner who would probably like being described as hard, with its blackened pots stacked in the toilet, and with its under-the-counter VB beer sales... In the same way I'm a Mets fan and a Newtown Jets fan - there are things you pick and stick with. It's my trajectory.

And that's not an easy trick for me. To have that trajectory into the future, but to also have a tactile feel for our daily occurrences. It's not a force of my habit, as many years were spent picking and sticking while putting a line through other possibilities of the soul and the universe. Many years were spent being so certain in my strong-headed ways that the great value of the unknown and the uncertain, the slow and the silent, was never realised. 

In some ways, I went with the numbers, the established probabilities of what constitutes success in life, the safety of what most choose, and went away from the mystery. Stats lied.

So, while I still take comfort from counting my eateries and their offerings, I now reckon it's really that one dumpling at a time that counts the most.

(The next blog will be on the very awesome one pictured at the top of the blog that I found at Ashfield's "Shanghai Dumpling" here pictured at the bottom of the blog.)


  1. Always entertaining & informative. My hope is that Howie & I will visit one day & join you on a culinary journey!!!!

  2. thx EJ. that would be most awesome. and, i'd make you bring bagels - as ours suck.