Eggplant with special sauce at Xin Jiang – $10.80
On Ashfield’s main drag where Shanghainese restaurants abound, Xin Jiang is a black sheep. It’s named for China’s largest and northernmost province and the diverse, lamb-heavy menu reflects the fact that the region shares borders with Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kashmir and Tajikistan.
The list of vegetable options is a page long, but one needn’t go any farther than the first item on the list: eggplant with special sauce. This dish isn’t like its saucy hotpot cousins. The eggplant’s flesh is yellow, the skin shiny purple. Baby bok choy, green and red capsicum are tossed in for colour, and fresh chunks of tomato cut the sweetness of the sauce with a bit of acidity.
This dish doesn’t make you feel generous, but instead like greedily scarfing it down with plenty of rice. Tell your dining companion to order their own.
Xiao long bao at New Shanghai – $9.20
The queue at New Shanghai is often long but it’s a blessing in disguise. It gives hopefuls a chance to watch the crew of surgical-mask-wearing cooks folding and pinching minced pork and prawns into hundreds of dumplings for the night.
The best of those dumplings is the xiao long bao, wobbly parcels filled with pork and a cube of gelatinous soup that melts to liquid as the dumpling steams.
The trick to eating xiao long bao is getting them from the bamboo steamer to your mouth without losing any soup, and without burning yourself.
It’s all in the wrist. Use a scooping motion with chopsticks to gently coax the dumpling off the wax paper. Give it a quick dip in the salty, sour sauce and deposit it on your spoon. Pierce the dumpling with a chopstick to let the soup flow out and cool slightly before eating the lot in one mouthful.
Pierogi at Polish Club – $8.50
The Polish Club has been a faithful Ashfield local since 1949. Although it’s grown by a few buildings and generations of Polish folk have come and gone, one thing that hasn’t changed is the classic pierogi.
Pierogi are oblong Polish dumplings that look a bit like gyoza with a thicker skin. There’s a meat version, but the salty, greasy pierogi ruskie with potato and cheese are the tastiest.
For those who fall in love with perogies, the Polish Club devotes the first Sunday of every month to the classic Polish dumpling. For $17, get a plate of savoury pierogi with a garden salad, or sweet cheese pierogi with fruits like blueberries, strawberries or kiwi.
Bacon and egg sandwich at Excelsior Jones – $10
Served all day, Excelsior Jones’ bacon-and-egg roll is one of the most popular dishes on the menu. The cafe is normally known for creative, unexpected dishes, so the familiar hangover antidote is a surprise.
“Everyone knows bacon-and-egg sandwiches,” says co-founder Anthony Svilicich. “Our menu is full of dishes that are left of centre, and with this dish we’re trying to create some familiarity.”
The bacon is smoky, eggs are poached and the chewy, rustic loaf is slathered with house-made paprika mayo and capsicum relish.
Pan-fried pork dumplings at Taste of Shanghai – $10.80
A vast array of foods fall under the dumplings banner, and Taste of Shanghai masters the pan-fried variety. These pork dumplings have thicker, chewy skins that are fried to crisp golden brown on the bottom.
These are robust dumplings – they don’t fall apart when they’re plucked off the plate, and they can soak up a good amount of black vinegar and soy dipping sauce. Try them without sauce as well. The fillings are generous and flavourful.