Dumplings were my main interest yesterday at a cheerful lunch at North East China Family … but I got much more than that: I got an education in dumplings as well as Chinese characters from a Czech who speaks Chinese fluently.
Apparently, the Chinese characters in the name (dong bei ren jia) can be read a couple of ways: one way is “a home for people from the north east”. But apparently the compound word renjia can mean either household/family, or people in the general sense so North East China Family seems an appropriate translation.
Segueing to the dumplings, I also got an education about dumplings as well. An obvious thing about the North East China Family dumplings is the thicker skin … not thick, gluggy, gluey, teeth sticking thick skin, but thicker than the lightness of a Hutong dumpling. I was less fussed with the skin because it wasn’t unpleasantly thick but it appears the reason behind the thickness is about the role the dumpling plays … and in north east China dumplings may well be a staple (rather than a snack) hence the more substantial skin. All very interesting.
But back to the food … there weren’t a lot of dumplings on the menu but it did include a couple of unusual choices, and the serves are larger than usual with 15 to a serve. Our first choice was the pork and celery dumplings. Big Fil particularly liked these and thought the celery imparted an interesting texture not usually seen in dumplings.
Another interesting choice was the leek, shrimp and egg. It’s unusual to find egg in a dumpling, and I thought these had a slightly nutty flavour. I liked these the best of the two.
We also opted for a couple of non dumpling options: eggplant with garlic and coriander (served cold), spring onion pancake and red bean pancake.
I loved the eggplant … but I need to add a little context. Big Fil and I ate this on our own (and it was quite a generous serve, especially the amount of garlic used) because our companion was conducting interviews after lunch. The eggplant was smothered in garlic, soft without being soggy, juicy and very cold. Delicious! It would be preferable to share this in a group though, because after eating so much of it I could still taste the garlic several hours later, and brushing my teeth and eating mints did nothing to help.
My least favourite choice of the day was the spring onion pancake. I don’t know if it was the delicacy of the spring onion but the pancake was just a tasty fried dish. To Big Fil, who’s more of a spring onion pancake fan than me, the pancake escaped being oily, but was thinner than usual, didn’t have the usual softer centre encased by its fried exterior that he likes and could have tasted more strongly of spring onion.
The red bean pancake was a new experience for me … I was surprised at how sweet it was. Between three of us the serve seemed quite a lot but a small piece at the end of a meal would make a nice dessert.
The location is handy to the trams on Elizabeth Street and the Flinders Street train station, despite it being tucked away in Flinders Lane. On a cold day (which it was the day we visited) the wind gusted through the door and we took refuge upstairs, but my advice is to arrive early because the place fills quickly. The service is quick and helpful with jasmine tea arriving shortly after we did. The food also arrived reasonably quick with the dumplings steaming hot as they were placed on the table. The menu also includes a number of interesting options available only at night, and we may go back to try a few of those.
Service – 7.5
Food – 7
Price – 8
Ambience – 6
302 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel (03) 9629 9968