Melbourne's best snacks - Melbourne CBD
Read about the best snacks around Melbourne's CBD. When you're ready to eat, use the map to journey through the city, one snack stop at a time.
It's time to find some of the best snacks around Melbourne's CBD.
Melbourne Food & Wine Festival has brought together some of Melbourne's most established and promising illustrators, along with the city's leading food writers, to capture the best street eats around our city and beyond.
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Snacks of the CBD.
Some of these might be on your tried and tested list for when the hunger pangs strike, others might be a new hidden delight to discover.
Read all about the people that make these delectable snacks, what makes them the best, and where you can find them.
When you're ready to eat, use the map to journey through the city, one snack stop at a time.
Pork and prawn shengjianbao, A Little Joy, Melbourne
Combining the yeasty paunch of the baozi with the secret soupy surprise of the xiaolongbao, the crisp-bottomed shengjianbao is the hybrid dumpling that does it all.
Most commonly filled with pork, prawns, vegetables, or a combination thereof, shengjianbao are topped with spring onion and sesame seeds and fried solid on the bottom – a technique that does as much for preventing soup loss as it does to create its signature two-tone texture.
But it’s all about the dough. They’re tricky to get right, says Sam Chen, owner of A Little Joy, because you need to know “what and how much flour raising agent to mix, and the max time and temperature you can expose the dough to air before it gets too fluffy”.
Though popular Chinese chain Yang’s landed up the road a couple of years ago, you won’t find better shengjianbao than at Chen’s four-seater hole-in-the-wall in the inauspicious Target Centre in the CBD. Just be prepared to wait a minute. “It normally takes about eight minutes to get a fresh serve,” Chen says.
“Chinese people generally know about the process and are happy to wait, but we found that Western people generally fancy a quick bite.”
A Little Joy, Target Centre, 222 Bourke St, Melbourne.
Text by Frank Sweet.
Doupi, Chef Tan, Melbourne
For the workers of Wuhan, there really is no better way to start the day than with a tool belt-busting slab of doupi. A triple-tier melange of stir-fried pork, glutinous rice, and the doupi, or bean skin, that gives it its name, it’s the fortifying tradie breakfast that puts the bacon-and-egg roll to shame.
Opposite an alleyway construction site, Chef Tan teems with Chinese labourers hoeing down on the bone-sticking staple – a positive indicator for this dish. “In Wuhan, the doupi is gone by 8.30am. If you get up too late, you miss out,” recounts owner Ke Chen.
Made fresh to order, his exemplary rendition starts with a seasoned layer of fatty pork, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and tofu that fuses to an inch of sticky rice. “The rice has no taste,” he says, “but it draws up the flavour of the pork layer as it cools.”
The rice and pork are then capped with a layer of eggy bean skin, creating a taut film that holds it all together when the doupi is cut and stacked in brownie-sized slabs.
Paired with a bowl of rice wine-charged osmanthus and egg soup, doupi is fuel for the tools, and one of the great unsung regional Chinese breakfasts.
Chef Tan, 8 Downie St, Melbourne
and 75 Station St, Burwood.
Text by Frank Sweet.
Jam Doughnuts, American Doughnut Van, Queen Victoria Market
The 70-year-old doughnut van parked at the Queen Victoria Market is the embodiment of doing just one thing and doing it well.
The family business was started by friends Arnold Bridges and Dave Christie in 1950, and it’s become deeply embedded in Melbourne life in the decades since: a visit to the market isn’t complete without a bag of hot jam doughnuts.
General manager Belinda Donaghey is Bridges’ granddaughter, and she says that just as their business has passed down through generations, she’s seen long-time visitors to the van bringing the next generation of customers.
Although the shop is named American Doughnut Kitchen, the recipe for the golf ball-sized pastries is actually German in origin. The dough is mixed off-site at a factory, then brought to the van early each morning to prove.
Peek through the windows to watch staff efficiently shaping, frying, filling, dusting and stuffing the hot, oozing morsels into bags. There’s always a queue – and for good reason – but the hot, fresh doughnuts with warm raspberry-plum jam are worth the wait.
American Doughnut Kitchen , Outside I Shed, Queen Victoria Market, 470 Queen St. Melbourne.
Text by Chynna Santos.
Xiao long bao, HuTong, Melbourne
The history of xiao long bao begins in late 19th-century Shanghai, but Melbourne’s love for the soup buns can be carbon-dated to the opening of HuTong Dumpling Bar in 2010.
They weren’t entirely unknown in the city, but it took the efforts of Shanghainese-born, Melbourne-based property developer Jeff Xu to send them into the trend stratosphere at his Market Lane restaurant, where diners are greeted by the sight of chefs in tall white hats deftly giving the dumplings their 18 pleats and trademark topknot.
The precision engineering includes aspic along with the pork filling; this is the ingenious addition which melts in the steamer and turns into soup. A certain method is required to eat them with any decorum. Load a spoon with a dumpling along with a sliver of ginger and a slosh of black vinegar; the two ingredients will spark the XLB’s central nervous system into life. Then nibble a hole in the bottom of the bun and slurp the broth out before eating the rest in one hit.
It probably goes without saying, but don’t wear white. When he came to Australia in 1998, “Chinese food meant sweet and sour pork,” says Xu. “Xiao long bao were known on menus only as pork dumplings. Now everyone can speak xiao long bao.”
HuTong Dumpling Bar , 14-16 Market La, Melbourne
and 1/162 Commercial Rd, Prahran.
Text by Larissa Dubecki.
Char siu bao, Nam Loong Chinese Restaurant, Melbourne
When the hankering for Cantonese steamed bao strikes, Melbourne has for generations made a beeline for Nam Loong Chinese Restaurant. Just off Chinatown’s main artery, in Russell Street, it’s one of the oldest Cantonese tea houses in the state, run by the Chen family since the 1970s.
Although this no-frills eatery serves staples including congee, noodles, and dim sum, the crowd favourite is the extensive selection of buns. On display in the glass cabinet are classics such as egg custard buns, Chinese sausage buns, black sesame buns, chicken and mushroom buns, and the dai bao, the “big bun” less often seen in Australia, stuffed with pork, boiled egg, shiitake mushrooms, and Chinese sausage.
But one bao surpasses the rest: the legendary char siu bao. Also called a barbecue pork bun, it’s a fluffy white bun filled with juicy barbecue pork flavoured with five spice and hoisin sauce, steamed to produce the characteristic split on top, which is the result of using yeast, baking powder, and perhaps baker’s ammonia.
A well-made bao is truly a snack that can be eaten at any time of the day, and Nam Loong has long made one of Melbourne’s most essential examples.
Nam Loong Chinese Restaurant, 223 Russell St, Melbourne.
Text by Tony Tan.
Mackerel dumplings, Shandong Mama, Melbourne
If you ask a Melburnian where the best dumplings are in town, you will be told to go to Shandong Mama, and you’d be advised to order mackerel dumplings.
Made by hand and seasoned gently, these fish-filled dumplings encapsulate the essence of the cuisine of Shandong, the province on China’s north-eastern seaboard, with straightforward flavours, a focus on technique (and seafood), and generosity.
Chef and owner Meiyang “Mama” Wang uses line-caught Queensland mackerel to recreate her home-town dumplings with nothing more than ginger, coriander, and oil inside her house-made wrappers. Deft handling keeps the mixture delicate and mousse-like, and they’re enclosed by pressing the tops of the wrappers between a thumb and an index finger.
They’re sold steamed or pan-fried, the steamed version coming in the typical ingot shape, whereas the pan-fried dumplings are squared-off and open-ended, a bit like cannoli.
Either way, they’re best eaten with a touch of vinegar. Each dumpling is made and served within 24 hours – Wang believes they begin to lose their ethereal quality overnight and is devoted to presenting Shandong’s cuisine in an uncompromised fashion.
Shandong Mama , 7/200 Bourke St, Melbourne.
Text by Jess Ho.
Spicy lamb börek, The Borek Shop, Melbourne
Nancy Turan and her team of bakers have been baking börek, pide, and gözleme for Melburnians for 26 years, and the recipes have hardly changed since she first set up shop. The original Queen Victoria Market stall (as well as the offshoots on Elizabeth Street and in the South Melbourne Market) was Turan’s way of introducing the foods and flavours of her home.
“To be honest, not many people knew what börek was when I started this business, and now everyone knows what it is,” she says. Each day they bake fresh batches of Turkish bread and pastries, with the spicy lamb börek a crowd favourite.
Juicy chopped meat is punctuated by heat, chilli, and herbs, all wrapped in a soft blanket of dough that’s crisp on the outside and tender and cloud-like on the inside. Other flavours include cheese and spinach, spicy potato and chicken.
The Borek Shop, Shop 95-96, Dairy Produce Hall, Queen Victoria Market
and Cnr Victoria & Elizabeth sts, Melbourne; The Borek Bakehouse, 481 Elizabeth St, Melbourne; Market Borek, Stall S9, Food Hall, South Melbourne Market, cnr Coventry & Cecil sts, South Melbourne.
Text by Chynna Santos.
Musubi, 279 Victoria, West Melbourne
If musubi doesn’t ring a bell, it might be because it’s better known as onigiri in this part of the world. In any case, they’re cheap, hand-held, rice-based snacks that originate from Japan, eaten there as often as sandwiches are in the West.
You can find excellent examples of them at Austin Allen and Kantaro Okada’s café and musubi bar in West Melbourne, which produces not only traditionally flavoured rice balls but “Aussie-flavoured” versions too, like the smashed avocado and brown rice musubi.
What really draws the crowds to 279 Victoria for musubi isn’t the punchy add-ons (mustard greens, house-pickled ume plum, shiso leaves, or fried chicken); as good as they are, Okada says the real secret is the Japanese Aomori rice.
It’s gently steamed between thick sheets of seaweed before each rice ball is shaped by hand, to order. “Even in Japan, you’ll find a lot of pre-made musubi on the shelf, but making them to order is more delicious,” says Okada.
If you’re new to the joys of musubi, try the Takuni, which is flavoured with tempura flakes, salted kelp, and bonito soy sauce, and is the most popular item at 279 Victoria. Okada’s pick, meanwhile, is the Shiso Miso, topped with torched, house-fermented miso and shiso leaves.
279 Victoria , 279 Victoria St, West Melbourne.
Text by Jess Ho.
Banoffee custard pie, Beatrix, North Melbourne
You have to love an innovation that encourages a bigger slice of pie. And that’s exactly why Natalie Paull put her own spin on the classic banoffee at her North Melbourne bakery Beatrix.
In its original form, the English-American hybrid, with its hefty base of toffee or dulce de leche, often threatens to bludgeon the diner into a sugar coma. Moderation is almost mandatory. Paull sidesteps this, using a (slightly) less sweet caramel custard, a traditional mix of sugar, water, and cream.
She fills a blind-baked pastry shell with the custard and then puts it in the oven till the custard blisters a little on the top. It’s then topped with chopped perfectly ripe bananas tossed with passionfruit pulp.
The pulp keeps the banana going brown while also adding a refreshing tang to the mix. Then there’s a layer of whipped cream sprinkled with milk-chocolate rubble.
There’s real complexity to the layers here, from the contrast between fudgy caramel, whipped cream, and soft chocolate crumble, to the sweetness of the bananas with their passionfruit coating and the robust, handsome custard. Eat a big slice.
Beatrix , 688 Queensbury St, North Melbourne.
Text by Michael Harden.
Dim sims, South Melbourne Market Dim Sims, South Melbourne
In Melbourne, you can find superb dishes and drinks hailing from all over the world; much rarer though, is a food product that originated in this very city. William Chen Wing Young is credited as the inventor of the dim sim, a dumpling-style snack inspired by Chinese siu mai, though it’s the South Melbourne Market stall established by Ken Cheng in 1949 that’s become a mainstay of Australian cuisine.
Now his two sons Phillip and Edward run the business, which has expanded to Emporium and the Preston Market. Cheng’s recipe differs from your usual fish ’n’ chip fare thanks to its shape (round, as opposed to the more common rectangle), hefty size, and a focus on fresh ingredients.
Inside the thick, chewy skin you’ll find a mix of beef with a touch of pork, as well as cabbage and spring onions. Choose from either fried or steamed – the former gives you more crunch, while the latter results in a soft and tender morsel more akin to its Chinese predecessor.
While much of the assembly has been automated now, Phillip says the recipe is still true to his father’s original, and that’s a key part of the charm of their dimmie.
South Melbourne Market Dim Sims , Stall 91, Cecil St, South Melbourne Market, cnr Coventry & Cecil sts, South Melbourne.
Text by Chynna Santos.
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