The outing of Camy Shanghai Dumpling House’s secret

Camy Shanghai Dumpling House

When salmonella went feral a few years ago at a favorite Turkish restaurant, hospitalising a wardful of unlucky diners, I felt the urge to eat there out of solidarity with the owners but sadly, the health inspectors had put paid to my plans. The joy of returning to a previous favourite restaurant is built entirely on nostalgia. If a restaurant is beloved enough, you can eat an objectively bad meal there and love it, which tends to happen most of the time at Camy Shanghai Dumpling House.

The food at Shanghai Dumpling is not the drawcard as much as the price of the food. When you ask a fan of Camy for their reasons, they inevitably reply “It’s cheap” without much elaboration on the dumplings themselves. They’re filling, greasy and lack subtlety. The pork dumplings taste like pork when steamed and like lardy starch when fried. Even though there has been much conjecture as to the dodginess of their dumplings, there hasn’t been an outbreak of anything deadly there. If there was, I’d still go back.

So from whence does the fierce, nostalgic pang for Camy arise?

You’re not likely to be surprised by anything on the menu except for the prices. Shanghai Dumpling is one of the few places that you can get a sub-$5 plate of dumplings or even get change from $10 when sharing a multitude of plates amongst other Camy cognoscenti.

Camy Shanghai Dumpling House soup
Bland wonton and noodle soup, topped with the least piquant pickle available. But only $5.80!

The furnishings and staff don’t necessarily drive the nostalgia. Since my departure to Cambodia, the decor has morphed from typical cheap Asian to velour banquettes and chairs; glass over the top of wooden tables. I don’t miss it. The tacky art (CopperArt?) remains as does their much-loved policy of hiring Melbourne’s shirtiest front-of-house staff. I assume that the price of the dumplings shows a close correlation to the size of their paychecks. Tea is still self-serve into plastic mugs; the rest of the plateware uniformly melamine. My biggest surprise was that secret menu item: ordering the wonton soups sans-soup, has now slipped into the public domain. And this made me realise why Camy is so loved.

Camy Shanghai Dumpling House is the perfect example of an open secret. Everyone already knows about it but revels in the joy of feeling like they own privileged information. Their alleyway position helps: just hidden enough to make it an unmemorable location; as does the nondescript-ness of the decor, menus and ultimately, food. But the pleasure of being let into the fold, of knowing something that you believe that few others do, never wears off.

See also: Melbourne Gastronome’s I ate at David and Camy’s Shanghai Dumpling and survived (but only just) Facebook group

Location: 25 Tattersalls Lane (Between Little Bourke and Lonsdale), Melbourne CBD

10 Comments The outing of Camy Shanghai Dumpling House’s secret

  1. Ed

    I think Camy were closed by the council for a while until they cleaned up their act around a year ago. Good to hear you survived. I believe they are also in Box Hill which warrants dumpling exploration.

  2. Maytel

    Camy’s was one of my fav haunts when I lived in Melbourne. I knew there was a solid foundation to our friendship, the love of dodgy dumplings. I heard it had closed, so I’m thrilled to hear it is still open. My favourite other dodgy menu items were the hot and sour soup and the sticky rice parcels

  3. rach

    It’s also a total hipster joint. You go in there on a Friday evening and it’s wall to wall ironic glasses and asymettric Agyness Deyn hair.

    I like Shanghai Dumpling, but I’m not in love with it. My favourite cheap city pre-drinking dumpling joint is by far Shanghai Village up the road. Their fried vegetarian dumplings are better, and their dry fried string beans are gloriously salty and greasy for a vegetable dish. My best friend is dedicated to the Dumpling, though, and sees my preference for Shanghai Village as something of a betrayal.

  4. Claire

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with your “open secret” observation, Phil. I find it most amusing on a Friday night when the queue for Camy’s is at least double that for Section 8 just up the alleyway… :)

  5. Daniel

    Not really a fan of the place.

    I’ve only been there twice.. the first time I walked in to get takeaway.. and was met with this look of contempt from this 20 something lady screwing her face up shouting “what??!!” when i tried to order something.. I was a tad hungover at the time (was a sunday night) and i was in no mood for someone elses crap so I turned around and walked out to my dinner from one of the other nearby slop houses.

    Frequenting melbournes inner city slop houses is something i thankfully no longer do. I’m pretty cynical after spending a few years living in the cbd of melbourne, but I am yet to find a decent “cheap eats” resteraunt in the cbd. By decent.. i mean.. where you actually feel like you are eating quality food. I don’t really share the idea that price can make a resteraunt worth going to. If the dumplings are bad then go to your nearest asian grocer and get a bag of frozen ones and eat them at home saving your pennies for dinning at a place that is worthwhile.

    I wonder how successfull camys would be if it weren’t for section 8.

  6. Pingback: Indentured Labour: Camy Shanghai Dumpling House’s secret, part 2 – The Last Appetite

  7. Kat (Spatula, Spoon and Saturday)

    I’m actually taking our mothers’ group to the one in Box Hill. I can’t believe they’re the same people, though! Yes, the cutlery is the same but the food are just so different. So much better.

    We don’t go to Camy in the city as a rule simply because, well, the food just isn’t worth it.

    You know what I REALLY don’t get? Queues. At Camy. And at Section 8.

    Or am I just not trendy enough?

  8. Cj

    They are not owned by the same people! Dave and camy started the camy shanghai noodle house many years ago, but have no association with the place other than the name.

    Dc noodles in box hill is awesome, and run by dave and camy.

    Go out to box hill if you want brilliant dumplings. The way they used to be in the cbd


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