Food and Drink


Just Like Mamma Used to Make

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It’s impossible to ignore (or for me, resist) the slow yet steady advance of decently-priced Asian and Indian eateries north up Lygon Street, moving into the territory of the over-priced and underwhelming Italian restaurants the strip is so renowned for. This suits me just fine, being more partial to a $10 serve of Tom Yum or dumplings that a soggy plate of pasta for $20. And the newest restaurant to stake its claim still further north is Ma’s Dumpling Den.

Opened a few weeks ago on Gratton Street, Ma’s interior is pretty flash as far as dumpling joints go, there is stencil art on the walls, candles, what seems to be a birdcage motif and the menus aren’t laminated. Foodwise, they’re not re-inventing the wheel, but if it ain’t broke…

The first thing that strikes me about the menu is the overt promotion of Beer Lao. Someone’s done a deal somewhere for the starter menu to include dishes like the Yum Salad (served with Lao style dressing) and the Lao Papaya Salad (“best accompanied with Beer Lao” advises the menu). Thankfully the endorsements end with the starters, and the dumplings simply come in the usual fried and steamed/meat or veg varieties.

We order the fried pork dumplings (12 pieces, $8.50), fried lamb dumplings (10 pieces, $8.50) and the Handmade Rice Thick Noodle Soup with Chicken ($8.90), which arrives first.

The bubbling bowl, big enough to be a cauldron, is filled with generous chunks of chicken and delicate rice noodles, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find a few quail eggs bobbing around for good measure. A great winter warming dish, easily shared between two or three. Then the main attractions arrive, nearly two dozen dumplings.

The Pork Dumplings (above) are served ‘stacks on’ in a bowl, while the lamb is more orderly arranged in twos. Both are wrapped in a thin, almost pastry-like dough that’s lighter than a lot of the stuff you’ll find at other dumpling houses in town. This means the dumplings are less heavy, which in turn means you eat more and end up feeling heavier anyway, but I appreciate the gesture. The lamb filling didn’t set my world on fire, while the pork had a nice spicy kick to it.

My only beef (no pun intended) was the lack of chilli sauce or oil on the table, and when the hot stuff was requested our waiter squeezed a piddling amount of Siracha into a serving dish that I demolished in 30 seconds flat. When dining on dumplings I demand full access and control over my chilli supply at all times!

But minor gripes aside, Ma does a pretty good dumping and a pretty good price. I’m an easy man to please, which means I’ll be back. Next time I’d like to see less Beer Lao promos and more chilli sauce.

Ma’s Dumpling Den
88 Grattan Street, Carlton
9347 7702
Mon 12 noon – 10.30pm
Tues Closed
Wed – Thurs 12 noon – 10.30pm
Fri – Sun 12 noon – 11pm


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