Tuk Chop, Canberra Airport

If I had known there were only 3 food stops at the Canberra Airport terminal, I would have had a proper dinner elsewhere given all the time I had before the 8 pm flight back to Sydney. I thought about protesting at the airport by going on a hunger strike, until I had a closer look at one of the shops, Tuk Chop. Who could possibly resist a place that serves dumplings as part of their menu and also a wordplay in its name? Certainly not me. Canberra Airport has been forgiven temporarily.

After a very confusing round of order as I wanted one of each bun ($3 each) and one of each steamed dumplings ($6 for 3) — as in, no, I want one of each streamed dumpling item. No, not one dumpling from one dumpling menu item. Yes, I want a total of 2 buns and 9 dumplings please don’t judge me — I was instructed to sit around the corner. After another 10 minutes or so, these two disposable boxes came with the calling of my name.

Tuk Chop, Canberra Airport, July 2015: Buns and Siu Mai
Tuk Chop, Canberra Airport, July 2015: Buns and Siu Mai

There is simply no way I could turn these photos into anything pretty, but I have never been one too fussed about the appearance of food.

Tuk Chop, Canberra Airport, July 2015: Dumplings
Tuk Chop, Canberra Airport, July 2015: Dumplings

I am, however, very fussy about redundant redundancy. The dumpling on the menu was listed as “gyoza dumpling” on the menu. “Gyoza” means “dumpling”. “Gyoza dumpling” means “dumpling dumpling”. RAS Syndrome much? Grumble grumble.

Tuk Chop, Canberra Airport, July 2015: Dumpling Fell Apart
Tuk Chop, Canberra Airport, July 2015: The dumpling completely fell apart at any attempt to pick it up with chopsticks

I attempted a half eaten dumpling on chopsticks photo (I really had a lot of time before my flight). I failed. There’s very little filling in the dumplings and the wrapper completely fell apart when I tried to pick them up. I was also a little mystified by the Pork, Prawn and Egg dumpling. It doesn’t have egg as the wrapping so it’s not an egg dumpling (蛋餃), but I also couldn’t taste any egg or much of the prawn in the filling.

Meanwhile, Pork and Chives is a pretty standard filling, and the dumplings tasted pretty standard. At least they weren’t as empty as the curious Pork, Prawn and Egg.

Tuk Chop, Canberra Airport, July 2015: Chicken Bun
Tuk Chop, Canberra Airport, July 2015: Chicken Bun
Tuk Chop, Canberra Airport, July 2015: Pork Bun
Tuk Chop, Canberra Airport, July 2015: Pork Bun

The Chicken Bun had a solid lukewarm blob of minced chicken inside. The barbecue Pork Bun was served at a similar temperature, but the texture was better.

I firmly reminded myself that this is airport fast food, not pricey gourmet, and I probably only paid so much attention to my food because I had so much time to kill. But I still think I have chosen my menu items unwisely tonight. Next time I would probably stay away from the bottom left of the menu.

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Dumpling King Chinese Restaurant, Newtown

A place that dares to call itself Dumpling King sounds worthy of a visit from the dumpling queen (that’s me). Well, if nothing else, it certainly sounded like a good dinner option out of the many in Newtown after our film tonight. The Chinese restaurant was quite dark and cramped inside, but the dumpling queen (still me) shall not judge them until she’s sampled their food.

Dumpling King has a fairly extensive menu with all sorts of other Asian dishes offered such as soups, stir fries, rice, noodles, meat and poultry of all varieties, but of course the only fitting items to order from this place tonight were dumplings. We got the steamed version of each available except the Beef & Celery, plus the pork bun that was somehow lumped into the dumpling menu.

Dumpling King, Newtown, June 2015: Mini Pork Buns
Dumpling King, Newtown, June 2015: Mini Pork Buns (10 pieces)

Apparently not miscategorised, and not technically mistranslated. The Mini Steamed Pork Bun ($10.90 for 10 pieces) on the menu is not the steamed barbecue pork bun we expected (and expected no problem finishing all 10 buns even if it was), but proper xiaolongbao down to the soup inside. Proper, but too salty.

Dumpling King, Newtown, June 2015: Prawn Dumplings
Dumpling King, Newtown, June 2015: Prawn Dumplings (10 pieces)

Prawn Dumplings ($12.90 for 10 pieces), also known as har gow. I always look for that pink prawns through translucent wrapping glow in har gows (because when it comes to dumplings I can be pretty wanky am the queen), and thought the wrapping for this tonight was a bit thicker than it could be. The har gow was the dumpling prince consort (that’s Richard)’s favourite.

Dumpling King, Newtown, June 2015: Chicken and Cabbage Dumplings
Dumpling King, Newtown, June 2015: Chicken and Cabbage Dumplings (12 pieces)
Dumpling King, Newtown, June 2015: Pork and Chives Dumplings
Dumpling King, Newtown, June 2015: Pork and Chives Dumplings (12 pieces)

Chicken & Cabbage ($10.90 for 12 pieces) and Pork & Chives ($10.90 for 12 pieces) are classic dumpling filling combinations. The latter was my favourite, but both were delicious.

Dumpling King, Newtown, June 2015: Vegetarian Dumplings
Dumpling King, Newtown, June 2015: Vegetarian Dumplings (8 pieces)

Last but not least, Vegetarian Dumplings ($9.90 for 8 pieces). Okay, maybe it’s last and least; the vegetarian counterpart had mysterious chopped vegetable filling that had little distinct flavour and pretty much just tasted… meatless. It’s not very memorable and definitely not the most exciting of the bunch.

Overall, Dumpling King is another good eat in Newtown. The dumpling queen was satisfied with the meal (she’d better be because she just downed 30 odd dumplings) and generally approves of the restaurant. Providing that they give us a non-leaking vinegar pourer next time, I would happily return for another big meal of dumplings, with maybe a few more dishes from the rest of the menu as well.

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Din Tai Fung, Westfield Miranda

Everyone’s favourite Taiwanese dumpling place Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) opened yet another branch in Sydney. We previously visited one in Hong Kong, and later at Central Park after discovering for the first time that the franchise existed in Australia (yeah, we know). We’d been talking about trying this new Westfield Miranda branch, and tonight was finally the night. It’s dumpling time!

Guarded by their giant dumpling head mascot, the entrance to the two-level restaurant is on level 2 of the Westfield mall. Even though most of the shops around it were already closed, at 6 pm this Saturday night, quite a few tables were already occupied by couples, families and groups, and the place only got busier as the night progressed. We sat upstairs and after going through the same full menu as the one we got from Central Park, handed the waiter our paper order form.

Din Tai Fung Miranda: Dan Dan Noodles
Din Tai Fung Miranda: Dan Dan Noodles ($11.80)

The food didn’t take very long, and first up was our Dan Dan Noodles ($11.80). Traditional Sichuan dan dan noodles are meant to be numbingly spicy; while the texture of the one we got tonight was great, all we could taste from the noodles was peanut sauce, which I didn’t even realise was a common ingredient for certain variations of the dish. Richard quipped that this is the “Shire version” for you (and it’s okay for him to say that because he’s from there tongue ); whatever this is, it had to be one of the more disappointing soup base I’ve tried yet.

Din Tai Fung Miranda: Prawns with Pineapple
Din Tai Fung Miranda: Prawns with Pineapple ($22.80)

Prawns with Pineapple ($22.80) was very mayonnaise-y and therefore delicious because anything covered in mayonnaise is delicious, but it could really use far less of the sauce. I also didn’t quite taste the pineapple in it.

Din Tai Fung Miranda: Spicy Shrimp and Pork Wontons
Din Tai Fung Miranda: Spicy Shrimp and Pork Wontons ($10.80)
Din Tai Fung Miranda: Xiao Long Bao
Din Tai Fung Miranda: Xiao Long Bao ($12.80 for 8 pieces)
Din Tai Fung Miranda: Vegetable and Pork Jiaozi
Din Tai Fung Miranda: Vegetable and Pork Jiao Zi ($10.80)

Spicy Shrimp and Pork Wontons ($10.80), Xiao Long Boa ($12.80 for 8 pieces), and Vegetable & Pork Jiao Zi ($10.80) are pretty much our staple order. They initially sent us the non-spicy version of the wontons, but quickly fixed it after we pointed out the error. This time, the broth was at least detectably spicy, and all the dumplings lived up to my expectations.

Din Tai Fung Miranda: Crispy Fried Chicken with Chilli
Din Tai Fung Miranda: Crispy Fried Chicken with Chilli ($16.80)

After the zero-heat dan dan noodles and slightly spicy wontons, it really was a gamble whether the Crispy Fried Chicken with Chilli ($16.80) would be hot enough. Not for me (but nothing is), but the deep fried chicken was moderately crispy and appropriately savoury. I got my chilli kick out of chewing on a pepper — literally.

Din Tai Fung Miranda: Chocolate Ice Cream
Chocolate Ice Cream
Din Tai Fung Miranda: Black Sesame Bun Inside
Steamed Mini Black Sesame Bun (inside)

Comparing to Central Park, Richard and I both independently agreed that our dinner tonight at the Westfield Miranda branch was the better experience. I would quite happily return, but probably not to order any of the Shire-spicy noodles again. wink

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Opera Kitchen, Sydney Opera House

We only had half an hour before the performance at the Sydney Opera House and I still needed to pick up our tickets from the box office. We needed food now, right now! We headed straight for the Opera Kitchen at the lower concourse of the iconic concert hall.

The Kitchen serves a variety of food and cuisines including seafood, burgers, Japanese and… Is that Asian dumplings on the menu? Yes! Dumplings! One of my favourite foods! We ordered, sat near the water outside the cover and waited for our food. The view wasn’t as nice as it would have been because it’s been gloomy and slightly rainy the whole day, reminiscent of our first date at the Opera House. Our food arrived very quickly.

Opera Kitchen: Our Tower of Dumplings
Opera Kitchen: Our Tower of Dumplings!

I didn’t mention how much food we ordered despite being short on time, did I? The server with our order walked by us the first time, doubtful that this amount of food could possibly only be for two, and our tower of bamboo steamer baskets attracted attention from diners nearby. Oh you amateurs. tongue Well, there were only three dumplings in each so it’s not really a lot of food. Not even for the fact that I ate two dumplings for every one Richard ate. Nope.

But, the food! We worked our way down the tower. First layer, steamed barbecue duck buns ($5 each)!

Opera Kitchen: BBQ Duck Bun
Opera Kitchen: BBQ Duck Bun ($5 each)

The steamed buns were as big as the bamboo basket! I couldn’t tell that it was in fact duck because it tasted just like the typical barbecue pork bun, but I still enjoyed it. Next!

Opera Kitchen: Prawn Dumplings
Opera Kitchen: Prawn Dumplings ($12 for 3 pieces)

Prawn dumplings ($12 for 3 pieces), also known as har gow, also big! I loved the chopped up prawn filling and thought the wrappers were very decent. Next!

Opera Kitchen: Pork Dumplings
Opera Kitchen: Pork Dumplings ($12 for 3 pieces)

Pork dumplings ($12 for 3 pieces), shaped similarly to a xiao long bao but without the soup inside. Just yum and nothing too out of the ordinary. Next!

Opera Kitchen: Scallop and Prawn Dumplings
Opera Kitchen: Scallop and Prawn Dumplings ($12.5 for 3 pieces)

Scallop and prawn dumplings ($12.50 for 3 pieces). The chunks of scallops and prawns made the perfect pairing as a dumpling filling. This was Richard’s favourite; it’s a toss-up between this or the prawn alone for me.

Opera Kitchen: Our Bill
Opera Kitchen: Our Bill

In addition to the extra little takeaway containers of sauce and chilli they gave us, all the dumplings came with a little soy sauce at the bottom that leaked through the baskets when we took them off one by one. It didn’t bother me as much tonight because the table was already wet from the rain.

If the performance wasn’t starting soon, I could have eaten another round or two of these expensive little bundles of deliciousness that always make me thirsty after. The total came out to a pricey $93 for our tower of food plus one drink. I hope it’s not raining the next time we’re in the area!

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Din Tai Fung, Central Park, Chippendale

I love dumplings. If there were no health repercussions, I could quite possibly literally eat hundreds of steamed or boiled dumplings every day. During our July trip in Hong Kong, we went to a dumpling place, Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐), to discover that they had branches in Sydney. We decided that since I love dumplings so much and Richard also really liked a chicken dish there, Din Tai Fung back in Sydney would make quite a nice half-year anniversary dinner for us.

It’s finally our anniversary night. We researched ahead to find the best Sydney branch for us, all the while wondering how neither of us could have not heard of this famous dumpling place. There are 6 Sydney branches at the time of writing, but only George Street (CBD) and Central Park seemed to have the full menu available. We were also told that the George Street branch was always super packed, so Din Tai Fung, Central Park dinner for us it was!

I was slightly worried about not being able to get a table at the Central Park branch in the beginning what with it being so close to a university, but then I remembered that it’s Friday today and students never go to classes on Fridays. Yep. Nice and empty at 6 pm. A staff quickly attended to us, shielded my jacket and handbag (Wait, exactly how messy is this going to be?) and took our order.

We got the Drunken Chicken ($10.80), Shrimp and Pork Wonton ($10.80), Taiwanese Specialty Fried Pork Chop ($10.80), Xiao Long Bao (8 pieces for $12.80), Shrimp and Pork Jiao Ze ($11.80) and Pork Buns (2 for $5.50). We looked up and down but none of the chicken dishes seemed to be the one Richard liked from the Hong Kong branch. Oh well.

Din Tai Fung, Central Park
Din Tai Fung, Central Park: Xiao Long Bao (top left), Taiwanese Fried Pork Chop (middle top), Drunken Chicken (middle bottom), Shrimp and Pork Wonton (bottom left)

The dishes came quickly; the portions were quite small but Richard wasn’t starving. Being such a dumpling lover, it wasn’t surprising that my favourites were the xiao long bao and wontons. The rest of the dishes was mostly good, too; the drunken chicken was tender and the jiao ze weren’t greasy. The very thin fried pork chop didn’t quite taste like pork to us, though, and had an interesting spice on it, but I guess the keywords were “Taiwanese Specialty”. I wasn’t anywhere full after the first round and was going to order more, but we got very thirsty very quickly and I just wanted to drink water.

I love dumplings, and I can’t really fault Din Tai Fung at Central Park, but there must be MSG-free alternatives other than my ugly homemade ones out there!

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