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Queuing for dim sims is not like it used to be

September 19, 2014

19 September 2014

That scene at South Melbourne Market below, the young Warrior used to sell newspapers there on a Saturday morning right where beige jumper is walking. Those were the days you would just walk up as close to the mob as possible and looked for the fastest passage through to be served the fastest. That was before the dark times; before conformist, socialist insanity.

South Melbourne Market Dim Sims - stall from the 1980s

South Melbourne Market Dim Sims – 1980s style

To facilitate the speed of service, there was a quaint board near the counter showing the cost of dim sims in various multiples. Typically from 1 to 12, then multiples of 5 or 10, up to a total of 60. I clearly remember the price at 13c and that 3 dim sims cost 39c. Hey, we only learnt our multiplication tables up to 12 at school, so this was as much as a learning experience as having the correct money ready. Now a dim sim costs $1.20. That’s still good value as three of them is a solid meal.

Those days in the early 80s were the days when South and Port Melbourne were primarily inhabited by Greek and other migrant communities that worked in the many manufacturing industries. Many of the fruit and vegetable stalls at the market were also run by Greeks. My high school, then known as Albert Park High, was 70% Greek. We’d play our lunch time sports (typically downball) as Greece vs The Rest Of The World. Needless to say, such racial divide would be banned these days, and, given the nanny state craze that afflicts Australia, anyone playing school yard sports would be required to wear a helmet.

Newspapers were much different too. The Sun was the morning paper and The Age was a million pages thick with classifieds. The Herald Sun came much later when the Herald, the afternoon paper, was merged with The Sun. It was always a close battle as to which one of The Sun or The Age would sell more, at least by the measurement of weight or volume.

As South and Port changed, the dim sims never did. Nor did the family. Their children (a boy and a girl, if I remember right) were roughly my age, and it was fun watching them grow and become integrated into the business. In the years after the newspaper selling finished, I’d still frequent the market, and those children would be serving as fast as they can, itching to overtake mom and pop, who would eventually recede more and more into roles behind the scenes, and now it’s only the children.

South Melbourne Market Dim Sims - the delicious product!

South Melbourne Market Dim Sims – the delicious product!

Nowadays, most of those old industries are long gone, with the precincts turned into housing land, mostly modern apartment blocks and smaller units. Most workers would be in white collar jobs in the nearby CBD. The facade of the South Melbourne Market has really changed too, being littered by trendy fast food stalls and seating zones for the pretentious latte-sipping ensemble. Even the dim sim stall has been given a make-over, and also moved a few stalls closer towards Coventry Street.

Even though the dim sims haven’t changed over the years, the ordering process certainly has. There’s usually a neat line that starts about 2 metres away from the stall, extends to the kerb and and then arcs around, and people actually wait to be called to buy their dim sims. You’d think we’re in the former USSR queuing for bread. If there’s people walking through the gap between the stall and the queue, or people even approaching the queue, the comrades will still wait. That’s even despite our genetically predisposed mega-fast dim-sim-serving stall attendants motioning furiously to come forward and be served.

While I’ve occasionally joined this inane, conformist nonsense, I never wait to be called, and hurry forward even before the comrade before me has finished applying the mushroom soy sauce to their dim sims and left the counter. Most people in the line, even when called forward and the path is clear, will not encroach until said comrade has totally evacuated the scene. It really is a sight.

South Melbourne Market Dim Sims - no mad rush these days

South Melbourne Market Dim Sims – no mad rush these days

Mostly I prefer to pretend not to notice the line and just walk straight up to the counter and ask for my “two fried” – just like the good old days. So far, yet to experience any grief from comrades waiting their turn. Most likely, their ritual is commonplace in the area and it has turned them into vacuous drones. Even if they did notice something odd in their utopian and orderly world of purchasing dim sims, I’m served and done within 10 seconds that they wouldn’t have time to compute a reaction.

Clearly the quest for dim sims is far less anxious than it was queuing for bread in the former USSR. Really, that’s the biggest indictment on the entire process. The dim sims are so good that they deserve a mad rush to the counter. I’m proud that I provide some nostalgia for the stall attendants, giving their long dormant white twitch dim sim serving muscles some action. Sometimes I sense a pause of reflection from them – are they thinking is that the kid that used to sell newspapers next to us all those years ago?

Important information

Visit South Melbourne Market for your dim sims. They are sure to be fresh and crispy. The shops in the city often cook too many at a time, leaving them to sit in the warmer so long that the delicious coating becomes soggy. Trust me, the coating is more than half the delight of the dim sim.

South Melbourne Market Dim Sims - one of stores in Melbourne's CBD

South Melbourne Market Dim Sims – one of stores in Melbourne’s CBD

Note the that South Market Dim Sims also sells Spring Rolls. While nice in their own right, they pale next to the dim sim. Much of that is the coating. Time for a vegetarian dim sim?

This exercise of reminiscence was provoked by a recent article in the Leader newspaper about students wanting a shrine in Melbourne to the dim sim. Are we serious? To think, these clowns will be our future leaders one day. Click


Looking for photos has revealed the sad news that Poppa Dim Sim died in 2006. From The Age newspaper:

Market loses its dim sim master

THE maker of South Melbourne Market’s famous dim sims, which attracted a cult following, has died.

The family of dim sim chef Ken Cheng said yesterday they would continue to run the stall, which opened in 1949.

Ken Cheng - South Melbourne Market Dim Sims. Thank you wise man for the legacy you've left.

Ken Cheng – South Melbourne Market Dim Sims. Thank you wise man for the legacy you’ve left.

Mr Cheng, who died yesterday after a short illness, was said for many years to make Melbourne’s best dim sims.

His daughter Lily said the dim sims, at $1.20 each, became popular because they were a Melbourne first. “At the time we started making them, they were so different to the ones you got elsewhere in Melbourne,” Ms Cheng said.

Her father believed his dim sims were the best in the world, Ms Cheng said.

“And he was quite right. We’ve got people who fly in from interstate, and the first thing that they do is come straight to the market.”

Born in China, Mr Cheng reputedly arrived in Melbourne as a chef with General Douglas MacArthur during World War II.

“According to South Melbourne Market legend, General MacArthur feared that wartime Melbourne would be a culinary desert, so he brought in his own chefs when he retreated from the Philippines,” South Melbourne Market manager Ray Walton said yesterday.

“Even Ken Cheng’s family can’t swear to the truth of this story. Nor do they know how old Ken was, but he must have been in his mid-80s, at least.” A funeral service will be held next week. Source


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