A couple of years ago, my aunt started becoming a lot more active in the Melbourne Chinese Community. She started going to neighbourhood centres in areas like Box Hill and Clayton where there are concentrated numbers of Australians with an Asian background, and took up activities like line-dancing and tai chi. And now…well I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I was to say that she has a more active social life than I do!
During my period of unemployment after our long European trip as a ‘lady of leisure’ (I was actually stressing out and furiously job-hunting), my brother and I took my aunt and uncle out for lunch one weekday. We drove to Box Hill, where my aunt decided to go to Yi Pin Ju or Yummy No. 1.
“I come here with my tai chi friends all the time,” my aunt said. “You know they serve tasty and cheap food, otherwise twenty older Chinese ladies wouldn’t come here every week!”
You won’t find Yi Pin Ju in any online restaurant directories as they’re a bit old-school in that regard. Just make a note of the fact that it’s next to Po Hong on Station St, the Chinese book and newspaper store that’s been around for at least three decades. I can still remember visiting Po Hong as a toddler, and my mum buying the latest issue of the Hong Kong gossip magazine “#1 Weekly” every week.
We ordered a number of dishes to share, exclusively off the cheaper lunch menu. Dishes ranged from $8 to $12 on the lunch menu, whereas you can generally add an extra 50% on top for the fancier dinner menu. You can also indulge in their set banquets for four or more people in the evening, with lobsters and crabs on the menu!
We started with the Fried Glutinous Rice, a specialty of the restaurant. I thought the rice was quite delicious, though my aunt was a bit disappointed as it wasn’t as good as she remembered. I think the main difference is that I was expecting it to be quite wet and glutinous not unlike steamed zongzi at yumcha, but my aunt was wanting a proper fried rice with crispier bits and more ingredients.
Our next dish was a stir-fried Pork Strips and Bean Shoots on Crispy Fried Noodles. I loved the rich and savoury soy sauce used in the stir-fry, and the noodles were fried to crispy perfection. What I particularly liked about this dish was how the bean shoots still remained quite crunchy and fresh, demonstrating that the chefs knew how to treat particular ingredients and cook them with care.
After seeing another table order this dish and getting a particular sense of FOMO, my aunt ordered the Beef Brisket on Noodles. I have to say that I was a little bit disappointed with this dish as there was much more in the way of ngau gun, or beef tendon, than there was of actual beef brisket. I like a bit of tendon or tripe every now and again, but not when I order brisket!
We finished up with a strange Pineapple and Seafood Fried Rice, a choice by my brother who has a more Westernised palate. It was quite plain in overall flavour as far as fried rice goes, relying primarily on the occasional burst of sweet pineapple or fishy seafood for a kick. I wouldn’t bother ordering a fried rice again here – I think their noodle dishes are done much better!
The one outstanding feature of Yi Pin Ju is that their meals seem to be cooked with more care when compared to other Chinese kitchens in the same area. They use less oil overall resulting in a cleaner mouth-feel, and seem to use less MSG as well, which means you don’t leave feeling particularly thirsty.
Overall, Yi Pin Ju serves up a pretty decent feed at a good price. I paid only about $42 for these four dishes, and the four of us actually had plenty left over – enough to fill a takeaway box for lunch the next day. I’d go back – I think my dad was disappointed that he missed out, so I’ll probably go back with him!
Yi Pin Ju is located on Station St in Box Hill, Melbourne.