Dumpling Dash: The Quest to Find the Best Shanghai Dumplings in Sydney!

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Now ordinarily I'm not a particularly superstitious person. It mainly extends to jinxes more than anything else. And whilst Chinese people are renowned for being superstitious, I'd say that my parents were mildly superstitious but not overtly so. The number 8 is said to be extremely lucky (and I was born on the eighth of the month so I figure that has given me plenty of luck) and conversely the number 4 is said to be bad luck. But growing up, practically overrode superstition and when they bought their first house we ended up growing up in a house numbered 44. If you know Chinese people you would know that many would either ask to change the number or they would quite likely not live at a house who has an extremely unlucky number (with 44 being double bad luck!).

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So when we had our crowd of eight dumpling eaters I couldn't help but remark about the superstitious number. Allow me to explain our exploits for the day. Our aim was simple, to find the best Xiao Long Bao soup dumplings in Sydney. You know those deliciously warming dumplings that seem to have taken over the hearts and tummies of food lovers? At best they have a delicate, silky skin encasing a pork filling with a hot, fragrant soup inside which burst open to warm the tummies (and possibly scald the tongue!). We'd see if dumpling fatigue was indeed a real phenomenon and we would test our stomach's fortitude in the most delicious way.

Starting at 1:30pm in the afternoon (later than we'd like but David had a swim that morning) our group was made up of intrepid dumpling lovers Queen Viv, Miss America, David the chef from Perama and his wife Belinda, Jen from Truffled Pink and her boyfriend Nick came along with Mr NQN and I. Only hardened dumpling lovers needed apply. Our list encompassed nine dumpling restaurants in total spread across Sydney. Everyone perused the list of dumpling houses that we were eating at and nodded. "Also there are a lot of eights in the phone numbers!" someone exclaimed.

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The dumpling-mobile aka Black Cherry

This was a mission that was planned far ahead of time. In fact it was planned almost three months in advance and in that space of time our naughty car Elphaba had decided to protest and die and we found ourselves carless. Thankfully the kind people at Toyota loaned me their new Rukus car (in a colour we christened "Black Cherry") to help us in our mission. Thank god for friends with cars!

The brief:

  • Try steamed xiao long bao and the pan fried pork buns if they had them on the menu

  • We could order any drinks that we needed (dumpling chasing is thirsty work!)

  • Try not to loiter if the place is busy

  • We would score the dumplings on four criteria: the pastry, appearance, filling/flavour and soup. They would be scored out of 10 with adjustments allowed

Din Tai Fung, World Square, Sydney CBD

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Our first stop was aiming high. We had all at other times visited Din Tai Fung and knew that their Xiao Long Baos were fantastic and whilst there was some debate about the flavour of the dumplings with Mr NQN insisting that Shanghai Night's were better for flavour, there was no mistaking how pretty these specimens were. Said to have at least 18 pleats in each individual dumpling these were mini works of art. As we walk towards Din Tai Fung we see a huge sign saying that they are not affiliated with any other dumpling restaurant which is oddly large for such an announcement.

Mr NQN, Queen Viv, Miss America and I meet the rest of our dining pals in front of this sign. "We've been kicked out!" Belinda tells us as they had been sitting there waiting for us but when they asked for a table for eight, they were asked to wait outside for a table. Yes it's that sort of place. There is always a queue outside Din Tai Fung, pretty much at any time of the day.

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"We've got to take turns explaining to them why we only want Xiao Long Bao" we agree and I go first. I fill in the form on the table ticking the boxes for two lots of Xiao Long Bao (we're hungry as it is past our lunch hour) including several orders for the terribly refreshing lychee and mint drink and beers and two lots of xiao long bao.

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The waiter hesitates "Just two?" "Yes just two, we're on a diet" I offer. To their credit there's no gnashing of the teeth (the large drinks order probably bought us an extra 30 minutes at the table) and they bring us a little stand for our handbags which comes with a cover cloth.

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_Xiao Long Bao _

Our dumplings arrive quickly as they tend to here and they are very pretty specimens indeed. On the table are small bowls with threads of ginger on them and you add the vinegar and soy to these strands of ginger and dip the dumpling into this. There is even a guide telling people how to eat a Xiao Long Bao so we carefully followed the instructions and deliver a soup, gingery specimen to our lips. The dumpling skin is wonderfully silky and smooth and thin and the filling is less dense and less tightly packed than other dumpling restaurants. The soup with its helpful injection of ginger in the sauce is also just the right amount. Popular with the group, we pass around the scorecard and mark them.

Not wanting to waste any time and sensing hunger from some of us (myself included) we waste no time in adjourning to our next destination.

Overall rating: 35 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Xiao Long Bao pastry: 9.375

Xiao Long Bao appearance: 9.63

Xiao Long Bao Filling: 7.75

Xiao Long Bao Soup: 8.25

Sea Bay, Sydney CBD

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Going from the pretty surrounds of Din Tai Fung to the more homely surrounds of Sea Bay causes Miss America to wonder aloud whether a score on the decor is worth doing. Of course Din Tai Fung is an anomaly, most Shanghai restaurants are less polished concentrating on the food rather than decor or service. Sea Bay is empty when we walk in but admittedly it's that culinary twilight time between lunch and dinner. "We're holding a competition" the gregarious Nick explains to them when we place our small order with them. Conveniently the serving consists of 10 pieces of the buns for $9.80 so there is just enough for each of us to try one with a couple leftover for the terminally hungry. For good measure we order some pan fried dumplings as we weren't certain whether all restaurants would have them.

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Steamed meat filled bun $9.80 for 10

Our dumplings arrive shortly after as two tiers with five dumplings in each and they're hot and steaming. Helpfully they come with a tablespoon to help fish out the dumplings without piercing them with our chopsticks. These are quite different-larger than the small Din Tai Fung Xiao Long Baos the filling is very different with lots of green herbs and flavours in the mince. This divides some of us, Miss America and Queen Viv are big fans of the filling with Miss America giving it a 9 out of 10 and Queen Viv and Mr NQN giving it an 8 whereas David, Belinda and Jen remain nonplussed at 5. The part that lets these babies down is the pastry for most of us with the thicker pastry as opposed to the thin, silky pastry of Din Tai Fung. And like food obsessed families do, we break into discussion about how silky dumpling pastry is achieved.

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Fried meat filled buns $9.80

After a quick call to Wang Wang in Kingsford to ascertain whether they are closed this afternoon fast plans are coordinated to meet on Kingsford's Anzac Parade. Oddly enough, we're neither that full or that hungry, it's a little like having a mobile cocktail party where a tray of dumplings comes around every half and hour or so with of course some mad dashing in between. Everyone has worn dumpling chasing shoes (i.e. no heels). I admire the foresight of my fellow dumpling chasers.

Xiao Long Bao overall rating: 21.94 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Xiao Long Bao pastry: 5.06

Xiao Long Bao appearance: 5.63

Xiao Long Bao filling: 6.63

Xiao Long Bao soup: 4.63

Pan Fried Pork Buns overall rating: 23.13 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Pan Fried Pork Buns pastry: 5.88

Pan Fried Pork Buns appearance: 5.88

Pan Fried Pork Buns filling: 6

Pan Fried Pork Buns soup: 5.38

Wang Wang Silver Star, Kingsford

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"I love this place already, there are wang wangs and bums everywhere" David says. It's true, when we look down at the menu we see that all of the buns are spelled "bums". Here the order is made and it seems Nick's explanation of going on a dumpling eating challenge works somewhat and they bring out the dumplings (but not without some bemused looks).

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Pan fried buns filled with pork $5 for 6

Interestingly the tops of these dumplings have some of the scum from the top of soup that has burst out but apart from that they have that familiar look. They come piping hot and manage to scald our tongues as well as poor Queen Viv who gets squirted by a couple of dumplings. They weren't bad at all although there wasn't a great deal of soup in some of the dumplings as witnessed when they put them down whereas others were plump with soup. The pastry however was nice and fine and contained the soup well.

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Since they have the pan fried dumplings we also try these which aren't bad but the bottom of mine were what I would consider burnt whereas others had more success with theirs and considered them more "caramelised". The discrepancy in the score was mostly reflected in the burnt bottoms-or should we say bums!

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Overall rating: 29.31 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Xiao Long Bao pastry: 7.94

Xiao Long Bao appearance: 7.38

Xiao Long Bao Filling: 6.88

Xiao Long Bao Soup: 7.13

Pan Fried Pork Buns overall rating: 26.75 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Pan Fried Pork Buns pastry: 6.13

Pan Fried Pork Buns appearance: 7.63

Pan Fried Pork Buns filling: 5.88

Pan Fried Pork Buns soup: 7.13

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They're missing the crease down the centre ;)

Xin Jiang, Hurstville

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Much like the Peking Duck off that we did last year when you're crossing Sydney by car things don't always go with smooth sailing. Case in point we drove from Kingsford to Hurstville as we'd had some Xiao Long Bao in Hurstville last year that were worth seeking out again and making good time we pull up in front of Yang Zhou house. David opens the door and finds a stern looking woman telling us that they're closed until 5:30pm which is over an hour away- precious dumpling eating time! Belinda, Jen and Nick pull up and we reiterate them the bad news. Undaunted Nick decides to take matters into his own hands and befriends a local from another restaurant and seeks his advice. Belinda and Jen get to work searching on their phones for good Xiao Long Bao restaurants in the area and Mr NQN and I walk up and down the streets looking for Shanghai dumpling places. Unfortunately for our doomed dumpling eaters most of the Chinese restaurants seem to have Cantonese style food.

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My phone rings and I look up and they're all gesturing for Mr NQN and I to come back. Nick tells us excitedly that his newly hatched friendship has yielded a clue on the other side of the station. "Cool! Where's the station?" we ask and we follow the general direction of the crowd of people and the direction his friend indicated. Nick wanders off a bit further and gesticulates that he has found the restaurant. It's quite dark when we walk in but there are tables of diners already seated and eating. We ask if they have any Xiao Long Bao and there's a slight language barrier with the waitress who asks an English speaking customer to translate. She nods and confirms that they have Xiao Long Bao there.

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Now all of this running around makes a girl thirsty so when Belinda spots a sign for a smoked plum drink I know I must give that a go. It's a prune drink in a cute shaped bottle, much like the osmanthus drink we had at Uighur Cuisine and I take a sip. It's sweet and like a fruit juice with a distinctly smoky aftertaste. I'm glad that I tried it but I don't think I would order it again and it doesn't quite fit the bill of refreshing. Others order beer to quench their thirst.

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Steamed meat filled bun $9.80

The dumplings come out and we try the Xiao Long Bao. It's a bit of a disappointing moment as the pastry is that of the pan fried buns and not the thin delicate Xiao Long Bao pastry which is shown in the picture and yet it is steamed like a Xiao Long Bao. The pastry is thick and quite wet from the steaming and most of us try a bite and leave the rest. There is also no soup in these dumplings at all. A kind hearted Miss America gives them 5 for everything buoying up the marks but both the steamed and the pan fried are sadly left behind.

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Overall rating: 7.75 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Xiao Long Bao pastry: 2.25

Xiao Long Bao appearance: 2.5

Xiao Long Bao Filling: 2.38

Xiao Long Bao Soup: 0.63

Pan Fried Pork Buns overall rating: 10.13 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Pan Fried Pork Buns pastry: 3.38

Pan Fried Pork Buns appearance: 3.63

Pan Fried Pork Buns filling: 2.5

Pan Fried Pork Buns soup: 0.63

Yang Zhou House

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A quick look at the clock tells us that Yang Zhou house is now open, so recently refreshed and watered we walk back to the other side of the train station and take our seat. Miss America, Queen Viv and Mr NQN and I had eaten here previously and partaken of their Xiao Long Bao although Miss America seems to have no recollection at all of it including the enormous menus!

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Steamed pork buns $8.80

Their menu indicates that the pan fried babies are only for lunchtime consumption so we simply order a serving of Xiao Long Bao and luckily enough the serve of eight is just right for the number of us. Is this a lucky sign given our previous encounter? They arrive moments later while two members stand by and watch us bewildered at our antics. They are quite good indeed with the filling and soup a satisfying combination. However some commented that the pleats looked a bit fatter and more smooshed (is that a technical term?) together and less distinct than others. Leaving behind a rather bewildered restaurant we head back towards Ashfield via a small detour in Leichhardt.

Overall rating: 31.38 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Xiao Long Bao pastry: 7.5

Xiao Long Bao appearance: 8

Xiao Long Bao Filling: 8.06

Xiao Long Bao Soup: 7.81

Home Gourmet

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"Oh my god, is that the time?" I exclaim "We're not going to have enough time to go to all of the places in Ashfield.

"Don't forget daylight savings" Mr NQN tells me calming me down. I was worried that we had not spent our time wisely but thankfully daylight savings had only just kicked in this weekend and granted us an extra hour. We arrive at Leichhardt. I know, I know, not usually known for Chinese food let alone Shanghainese food but I had heard rumours that they do a mean Xiao Long Bao here.

We had read about their dumplings and how they were hand made in the restaurant but a quick glimpse at the menu shows more Cantonese fare. We enter the restaurant, a restaurant that I had visited many years ago when it was in a different incarnation. Now it seems predominantly a family run takeaway with some tables upstairs. The service is very sweet and accommodating and they seem unfazed by our simple request.

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Ahh how we dislike the red lighting for photos.

The dumplings arrive and they are very small. The skin is unlike the other skins and they are small and sturdy enough to pick up by the top and pop in your mouth and eat within a couple of bites. The pastry is similar to some pastries that you get with frozen dumplings in that it is glossy and quite firm. There is a little soup but the pastry and filling haven't won us over.

"I can't eat any more" Queen Viv says and sadly we understand. We're almost at dumpling fatigue stage but we soldier on without Queen Viv in tow. One down, seven still eating! And we're off to dumpling land next-onwards to Ashfield!

Overall rating: 18.38 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Xiao Long Bao pastry: 4.38

Xiao Long Bao appearance: 5.75

Xiao Long Bao Filling: 3.88

Xiao Long Bao Soup: 4.38

Shanghai Night, Ashfield

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We finally made it to Ashfield, home of the Xiao Long Bao. They always say that if you want to eat authentic food, go to where the people live and Ashfield is littered with eateries proffering up these soupy morsels. Because I'm always seeking out new places to write about this means we don't go anywhere twice. Nevertheless Mr NQN puts in a request every year for his birthday with irresistible sad puppy dog eyes to return to the scene of many dumpling fests, Shanghai Night. Now for me, I've had some disappointing moments here-dumplings without any soup being the worst and general inconsistency but this doesn't make Mr NQN's devotion waver to these dumplings-or does it? However like a hardened gambler the rewards are as great as the risk and it's the gingery soup that we crave so much.

"I need something different" Belinda says and we all agree that texturally our mouths demand something with more variety. We agree that as many of us aren't burstingly full, we will order a meal at the last destination which gives our tummies and taste buds something to look forward to. After a quick visual survey of the golden dumpling triangle made up of Shanghai Night, New Shanghai and Taste of Shanghai in one small stretch of Liverpool Rd, we see that as New Shanghai is full next door so we will eat there last once the crowd has died down.

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We start the ordering process with two bean drinks. One made up of red bean and one with green bean, both with ice and evaporated milk. They both need the sweetness of sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk to make them really palatable.

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The Xiao Long Bao come out and the first thing I notice is the skin-the appearance of the pleats is again puffy and less defined. They are for the most part plump with soup although a couple look a little lacking. The scores reflect this with Belinda scoring the soup a 6 (perhaps scoring a deflated one) and others like Mr NQN and Miss America scoring it a 10. I take a bite of mine and it has that familiar gingery soup gush and slightly firmer mound of mince.

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The surprise however are the pan fried pork buns which have an earth shattering crunch on the bottom that it almost reminds us of an eggshell in its crispiness. These instantly, despite our dumpling fatigue, rise to the favourite of the pan fried bun list. And the little extras like the sesame seeds and spring onions do add so much to the flavour.

Overall rating: 33.21 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Xiao Long Bao pastry: 8.29

Xiao Long Bao appearance: 8.14

Xiao Long Bao Filling: 8.29

Xiao Long Bao Soup: 8.5

Pan Fried Pork Buns overall rating: 32.93 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Pan Fried Pork Buns pastry: 8.29

Pan Fried Pork Buns appearance: 9.29

Pan Fried Pork Buns filling: 8.14

Pan Fried Pork Buns soup: 7.21

Taste of Shanghai, Ashfield

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We cross the road to Taste of Shanghai where a "chief's special" beckons to us. Despite wanting to entertain our tongues with something slightly different, my intrepid dumpling lovers are focused and we make our way upstairs to partake of our second last lot of dumplings for the evening. The large picture menu shows buns with spring onion stalks sticking vertically out of them alongside a quick disclaimer saying that the photos are just an example. We thought that they had really upped the ante in the presentation!

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The menu image

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Xiao Long Bao $8.80

The dumplings are solid and we realise that the calibre of dumplings in Ashfield on Liverpool Road's golden triangle at these three places is all actually quite good, even without the added spring onion on top. In fact the flavours spur a very consistent and similar round of scores to Shanghai Night's and there is a proliferation of 8 out of 10 for the score.

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Pan fried pork buns $9.80

By now, we're desperate for something to soothe our tongues so brutally lashed with repeated serves of hot soup and respite comes in the form of cheng tng, a refreshingly sweet icey soup dessert with grass jelly cubes, lotus seeds and plenty of syrup. Oh and cooling drinks, plenty of those please!

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Cheng Tng

Overall rating: 32 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Xiao Long Bao pastry: 8

Xiao Long Bao appearance: 7.86

Xiao Long Bao Filling: 8.14

Xiao Long Bao Soup: 8

Pan Fried Pork Buns overall rating: 31.42 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Pan Fried Pork Buns pastry: 7.5

Pan Fried Pork Buns appearance: 7.83

Pan Fried Pork Buns filling: 7.83

Pan Fried Pork Buns soup: 8.25

New Shanghai, Ashfield

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I have to hand it to my fellow dumpling lovers. They're made of sturdy stuff. I know I've chosen the right diners when we order our Xiao Long Bao and then go on to order more food and eat it all. David has to leave to relieve the babysitter so we are down to six intrepid dumpling chasers who have all handed over their stomachs for the evening to find the best Xiao Long Bao in Sydney. Miss America declares dumpling bankruptcy and opts for the sweet fungus dessert soup, a cooling confection in a similar vein to the cheng tng at Taste of Shanghai.

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We quickly pop a dumpling in our mouths and it has to be said that these are very soup filled dumplings. There's a consistent round of eights given to these dumplings with Belinda giving these mostly a 7. Perhaps it is dumpling fatigue,and I must admit that I didn't really want to eat another one for a while after this one. My mouth was crying out. Perhaps we tried one too many. Perhaps we should have stopped at our lucky number 8 instead of going attempting to visit 9 dumpling places.

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But it's the non dumpling fare that we crave at this stage.

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Fried rice $7.80

I really like fried rice with lup cheong (Chinese sausage) rather than what seems to be canned ham but it fits the bill of an entirely different texture and for that we fall upon it as if it were gold.

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Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce $8.80

"Greens! I just want some greens" I declare and we're all craving a bit of the healthier green stuff in the form of some stir fried greens richly coated in oyster sauce. These go down an absolute treat.

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Beijing style spare ribs $13.80

I also felt like meat but in a non minced form and these fatty, sweet, sticky ribs hit the spot.

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Pan fried pork dumplings $8.80

Finally the last to emerge are the pan fried pork dumplings which we had almost forgotten about.

"Oh god, can we do it?" we say eyeing the last plate, the straggling last visitor to the dinner party.

"Go on! Pass the score sheet" we say and dig in. You just cannot keep a good dumpling lover down.

Overall rating: 31.1 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Xiao Long Bao pastry: 7.6

Xiao Long Bao appearance: 8

Xiao Long Bao Filling: 7.7

Xiao Long Bao Soup: 7.8

Pan Fried Pork Buns overall rating: 32.4 / 40

Criteria average ratings out of 10

Pan Fried Pork Buns pastry: 7.7

Pan Fried Pork Buns appearance: 7.8

Pan Fried Pork Buns filling: 8.2

Pan Fried Pork Buns soup: 8.7

Post Dumpling thoughts

From my fellow dumpling chasers...

Belinda: I didn't eat anything all day in preparation for the dumpling dash. The first Xiao Long Bao at the infamous Din Tai Fung really hit the spot and for me its prettiness and flavour certainly set a high standard for the rest of the expedition. It was my favourite of the night by far, silky skin, aromatic broth and savoury pork morsel - it's a perfect mouthful. My favourite fried dumpling was at Taste of Shanghai. The dumpling was just the right size, nice soup and crispy bottom. It also meant the beginning of my dumpling saturation. By the time we arrived at New Shanghai I could not overcome the psychological stop sign my stomach was waving at me. I think if I had forced myself to eat that last fried dumpling that looked the size of a pumpkin, I would have recreated the pie eating contest scene from the film 'Stand by me'. Overall the pretty pin-tucks, funkiness and cleanliness of Din Tai Fung will always be a firm favourite with me.

David: A serve of 8 dumplings averaging $6.50

The look on their faces when that's all we ordered.... Bloody priceless.

Now if a group like this came into Perama I'd chase the cheapskates out with flaming souvlaki sticks!

Boy that was fun.

I shot off course in my oceanswim race down at Stanwell Park and was mighty hungry. Din Tai Fung was the best for me. It was perfect in every way. Pastry was al dente and delicate at the same time...the broth inside was aromatic and the meat porky and full of juicyness and flavour.

To be honest the rest of it was a blur...some had minor shades of enjoyment but to me the company and the trek across town and just the look on the waiters faces was gold...leichhardt was terrible...ashfield was...meh...but I think I was spent by this time and I was out of whack because of my swim. I think my stomach craved more depth and stimulation as the peking duck gave a variety of textures, flavours and mix of carbs proteins and veg...

But looking back I would have to say din tai fung was my favourite ....if I had better dumpling legs I'm sure my opinion of ashfield would have been greater and my sentimental favourite is wang wang in kensington. Which Greek doesn't like a little bit of wang wang and bum on their menu ;)

Jen: Din Tai Fung has been my favourite dumpling joint for some time, although I also often go to Ashfield too as it's close to home. But I was excited about discovering new dumplings as those two places are actually the only places I've had xiao long bao so I'm definitely not an expert.

The dumpling dash was so much fun and it just reaffirmed for me that the xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung are really the best! They have the most delicate yet strong pastry, with consistency in soup and filling. They're the prettiest too in my opinion!

The pan fried dumplings at Ashfield (all three were good, but especially Shanghai Night) are my favourite. I like that they're so crispy on the bottom but soft and spongy on the top, and have plenty of soup in them too.

By the end of the night of the dumpling dash, I was all dumpling-ed out and thought I couldn't even look at another dumpling for a very long time! But would you believe that just two days later I felt the twangs of a dumpling craving creeping up on me...just goes to show what enticing and delicious morsels they are. They're a perfect little food - protein, carbs and soup all in one!

Miss America: A very jolly day with so many dumplings I lost track. Mostly I remember the first two places and the very first bite of the very first dumpling. Once we hit Hurstville things got a little blurred and I could barely tell one dumpling from another. Shanghai Night was memorable because I’ve had many a good dumpling there over the years and the standard is usually very high.
Thanks again for the invite NQN!

xxx

Nick: Thank you for inviting us to the Dumpling Dash, we had a great time with some delicious dumplings and great company. I love my steamed dumplings with a thin, slightly translucent, firm skin that doesn't burst when you pick it up with your chopsticks and the meat inside to have a hint of herbs and to be well held together with nice amount of soup (just like Din tai Fung's)..

I loved the fried dumplings at Shanghai Nights the pastry was delicious the base was fried to perfection they had a lovely crunch like a toffee skin bottom YUM, the meat inside was good with the perfect amount of soup.

Mr NQN: I'm a huge fan of northern Chinese dumplings with xiao long bao being amongst my favourites. Shanghai Night has been my favourite ever since I first visited there, however following recent visits my loyalty has been wavering. This has been due to xiao long bao with soup missing on occasion and no longer having enough of the lovely ginger flavour within the soup.

For me the standout was Din Tai Fung with excellent pastry and appearance and filling and soup comparable with many of the other restaurants. My one issue with Din Tai Fung is the value for money.

Another great adventure driving around Sydney in search of food!

NQN: My first comment was how much I adore going on these little adventures, especially when I've found like minded fun loving people to go with. I've always said that a good meal is good not only because of the food but also because of the company and that is what makes a meal (or shall I say meals in the plural here) memorable.

When we first conceived this adventure months ago, I didn't realise how many places we'd be able to cover. Given the peking duck adventure last year, we covered off six peking duck restaurants but with hindsight and dare I say practice on the gluttonous eating front, we somehow managed to fit in nine dumpling restaurants. We decided on Xiao Long Bao rather that the plethora of dumplings that were on offer at yum cha although that might be a good idea for a future adventure.

I learned that there is such a thing as dumpling fatigue and that eating the same thing nine times over is not entirely advisable. I learned that my stomach and taste buds have a definite mind of their own and they can protest and almost gang up on my brain which was busy telling them to be quiet and submit to the next dumpling course. By the last restaurant I could have eaten almost anything as long as it wasn't a dumpling.

Which ones do I prefer? If Shanghai Night is having a good night I ever so slightly prefer their dumplings although I do think that Din Tai Fung's offering is a much, much more consistent and more refined dumpling. And there's nothing more disappointing than a Xiao Long Bao without soup.

A very big thanks to Toyota for saving the day with the Rukus car. I don't think that a dumpling adventure would have been as easy to do in a taxi or on public transport. And somehow squishing an extra four people into David's car might not have been advisable!

Queen Viv: Being a hardbitten xiaolongbao dumpling pig and the veteran of many midwinter scenes of excess in Ashfield, I've never considered myself particularly discriminating, but the one thing our dumpling trial proved beyond doubt is that these complex little bundles can vary from the sublime to the stodgy.

The sublime: our first two venues: the first, Din Tai Fung, refined and a triumph of delicately pleated pastry melting into just the right balance of filling and soup, subtly seasoned. This was definitely about the mouth experience. The second, Sea Bay, was plain and authentic and the dumplings, both steamed and fried, were hearty and delicious. In many ways this was my favourite. The pastry was quite substantial and a good texture, the soup and filling tasty, with the ratio in favour of the filling. A great Sunday afternoon atmosphere too, austere but relaxed.

The Wang Wang steamed dumpling spurted scalding soup over my thighs and broiled my palate (owie!), and the fried ones had burnished bottoms that tasted a little too burned. They weren't bad, quite good in fact, but too challenging to be really fun. I imagine the kitchen run by nineteen year old uni students with the burners turned up high all the time.

Our Hurstville sojourn involved Nick befriending a local and persuading him to direct us to a competitor restaurant quite a long trek up the road where the decor was as mystifying as the waitresses' aprons ("my playmate" with a border of embroidered cartoon dogs on purple gingham). Here Lorraine bravely ordered smoked plum drink in a plum shaped bottle with embossed leaves around the neck, which may have been the best thing about it. These dumplings were stodgy and very ordinary. My dumpling high faded and I began to feel full and thirsty.

5 in Hurstville was great. I don't actually remember the dumplings because I xiaolongbao OD'd and regained consciousness in the back of Lorraine and Mr NQN's borrowed wheels, which is how I came to unwisely force one last and actually quite terrible dumpling past my lips at #6 in Leichhardt. It stuck all the way down. I'm pretty sure its provenance was in the back of a freezer. I couldn't bring myself to face the finale in Ashfield. I could only think about cleaning my teeth and lying still.

But now I know, when you find your xiaolongbao sweet spot, it's worth the trek to hit it, again and again. Shanghai Nights, we'll be seeing some more of each other.

So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever overdosed on a food and if so, what was it?

Din Tai Fung

644 George Street, Sydney NSW

Tel: +61 (02) 9264 6010

Sea Bay

372 Pitt St, Sydney NSW

Tel: +61 (02) 9267 4855

Wang Wang Silver Star

476 Anzac Pde, Kingsford NSW

Tel: +61 (02) 9662 1688

Xin Jiang

297 Forest Rd, Hurstville NSW

Tel: +61 (02) 9586 3863

Yang Zhou

177 Forest Road, Hurstville, NSW

Tel: +61 (02) 9580 9188

Home Gourmet

172 Norton Street, Leichhardt NSW

Tel: +61 (02) 9569 3355

Shanghai Night

275 Liverpool Rd, Ashfield NSW

Tel: +61 (02) 9798 8437

Taste of Shanghai

264 Liverpool Road, Ashfield NSW

Tel: +61 (02) 9798 2877

New Shanghai

273 Liverpool Road, Ashfield NSW

Tel: +61 (02) 9797 7284