Cantonese restaurant

Big call from China: why Chinese food is always a good idea


From dumplings to hotpots and stir-fries, the cuisine of this vast country has something for everyone.

Behind Din Tai Fung’s glass, nimble fingers bend the last folds that will seal a patch of ground pork, one of the meticulously crafted assortments of dumplings that will have patrons lining up for a table.

A few blocks away, at the legendary Flower Drum, a group hoot and bark over a dish of mud crab and flying fish roe, the start of a luxurious banquet.

Just south, at Lee Ho Fook, Victor Liong pushes the limits (and a few buttons) with creations like scampi with dragon tea and basil emulsion.

Meanwhile, at Panda Hot Pot, one of 400 such outlets around the world, diners dip their premium shrimp dumplings and chunks of beef into bubbly cauldrons of iced broth under the piercing gaze. of a giant metal dragon. And in countless great restaurants in the suburbs, happy families enjoy their honey prawns and black bean steak, as they have been doing for more than half a century.

These random examples of Chinese cuisine across Melbourne only evoke the culinary treasures of a huge country with so many different landscapes, climates and cultures.

For the curious mind, the possibilities are endless, the history and intricacies of each regional tradition a worthy field of study on its own.

Take for example the northwestern province of Xinjiang, closest to Russia, India and all the “Stans”, and crossed by ancient Middle Eastern trade routes.

It makes sense that the Uyghur people there cook mostly with lamb and spices such as cumin.

But why do chefs in Sichuan favor such large amounts of hot peppers and small peppers that will thrill your palate, while other regions prefer relatively delicate and sweet dishes? The first among these is Cantonese cuisine from Guangzhou, the style most Australians would recognize as “Chinese”.

It dates back to the first wave of Chinese migration in the 1850s, many of whom headed for the gold fields and prepared meals for the miners in order to earn a salary. In fact, at the end of the 19th century, it is estimated that a third of Australian cooks were Chinese. When political rhetoric and some sections of the population turned against immigration, Chinese residents began to stick together in their own

communities, resulting in the clusters of “Chinatown” restaurants and businesses that can still be found today. It’s a perfect place to shop, sit down for a yum cha or a bowl of noodles, and start exploring what China has brought to the world of fine dining.

ON THE MENU: THE FLOW DRUM TRADITION

Tucked away in an unassuming Chinatown alley is Melbourne’s most famous Chinese restaurant.

Now 46, Flower Drum is where Melburnians like to go, all dressed in their fancy gear, to celebrate a milestone event around rice paper rolls and crispy skinned chicken.

This place is devoted to fine dining in a comfortable and mostly unchanging setting (keep an eye out for the new bar). Red carpet, tables draped in tablecloths, and waiters dressed in black and white all reflect the formal theme, which extends to food served in a silver service style.

Flower Drum chief executive Jason Lui said two of the most popular dishes are Peking Duck and Baked Crab Shell, both on the menu for decades.

He attributes the restaurant’s success to consistency and the way the staff treat customers.

“We have been serving some of the same families and the same guests for over 40 years,” Lui said. “For a lot of them, they feel like they’re coming home, which I love.

The a la carte menu is extensive, but you can narrow down the choices by opting for a banquet. Oh, and traditionalists, rejoice: banana fritters and fried ice cream are on the menu.

“We can’t get rid of it,” Jason laughs.