As if Byron Bay needed any more reasons to visit. Beaches and cafes, pubs and restaurants, live music and massages can all comfortably fill a weekend – except that there’s one more item fast becoming a Must Do. The steamed Yum Cha at iconic Asian emporium Red Ginger down the cinema end of town might just become your new Byron addiction…
Those puffy little mouthfuls of silky savoury lusciousness have, for over twelve years, been seducing people through the door. Hand-made to restaurant quality exclusively for Red Ginger, they are kept warm and fragrant in a glass cabinet by the entrance. Soothing ambient music, sandalwood incense, aromas of fish sauce and shrimp paste, wooden shelves cluttered with crockery and candles and Chinese tin toys, lanterns and bird cages overhead, herbs and spices and teas and soaps: this vibrant narrow space is a wonderland of so many enchanting things – and that’s before you have settled down on the comfortable daybed up the back, poured yourself a complimentary green tea and preceded to feast on an array of buns and dumplings. Spicy Chinese BBQ pork inside puffy fluffy yeasty buns; delicate soybean skins encasing seaweed and vegetables; bok choy and shitakes in velvety gyozas; sweet plump prawn and spinach dumplings: all of it fresh and full-flavoured and fabulous.
New Zealand-born owner Leslie Ford, an ex-voice coach and drama teacher, is by her own admission, a person unafraid to jump into doing something different – she ran a gym in WA’s Port Hedland before this. When she and her then-partner arrived in Byron Bay in 2002 the question was: “What does Byron need that we can do?”
A rundown Asian grocery store provided the answer – that coupled with the fact Leslie’s ex-partner was Portuguese-Chinese from Macau. They started up Red Ginger in smaller premises, selling several dumplings from a small steamer, but it wasn’t long before demand required both bigger store and bigger steamer. Since then there’s been another Red Ginger established in nearby Bangalow, and the popularity of the steamed Yum Cha growing beyond expectation.
Of course locals have loved them for years: children request ‘Red Ginger’ as shorthand for an after-school dumpling snack; surfers post-surf wolf them down in place of – or perhaps alongside – the mandatory meat pie and burger; busy mothers take home frozen packs for future easy dinners. Regular visitors flock to Red Ginger too for their dumpling fix – and the hungover kids at music festivals have already worked out that the Yum Cha there is one of the best cures around.
And they’re healthy! Steamed not fried, bursting with protein and vegetables, substantial without weighing you down, and available in gluten-free vegan varieties as well. Before you know it, you’ll be a Red Ginger convert too.