Hi Chong Qing
IF WE WERE to tell you we know where the best noodles in Melbourne are, you’d most likely be expecting a ramen or laksa place, not an offbeat joint specialising in the food of the southwestern Chinese city Chongqing. Hi Chong Qing is housed in an unassuming shopfront between RMIT and Lygon Street, obscured by road works on every side and easily missed if you’re not looking for it. Trust us: you should be looking for it and its short-but-sweet menu of five noodle dishes.
Fresh and springy wheat flour noodles, a mouth-numbing broth due to the inclusion of Sichuan peppercorns, and toppings ranging from intestines to pork feet are features of a traditional bowl of Chongqing noodles, but restaurateur Kevin Houng has swapped out the spiciness for a more subtle level of heat and the offal with more conventional meat cuts. Houng says the noodles are considered a breakfast staple in Chongqing, but Hi Chong Qing instead serves up a standard fare of coffee and pastries such as Danishes and croissants in the mornings. It’s not till 11am the real fun begins and the noodles start being wheeled out.
Prices start from $10.80 and go up to $15.80, and for a few extra dollars you can add a fried egg or additional meat. The ‘signature Chongqing noodles’ can be made in a vegetarian version if requested. The heady and restorative broth, whether veggo or reduced down from pork bones, is concocted from ingredients that include garlic, ginger, coriander, spring onion, soy, chilli and, of course, Sichuan peppercorns. The fried egg that we add absorbs the pungent aroma of the broth and is a textural delight. Don’t venture near these noodles with a white shirt – they are messy, and they will stain.
Thin, slippery wheat flour noodles take centre stage in the ground pork and chickpea combination because this dish is traditionally served dry. Bound together by a fragrant marinade, the slightly sweet, browned pork mince sauce is an explosion of umami and saltiness when eaten in a chopstick-pinched heap of chopped-up spring onion, slivers of peanuts and smooth peeled chickpeas. As mentioned, the taste-obliterating fire of traditional Sichuan and Chongqing food isn’t replicated in Hi Chong Qing’s noodles. Instead, the piquancy is subtler and the undertones of the meat sauces are more vinegary and reminiscent of ground red chillies. The spiciness of the noodles can be customised upon request, but we bravely request the chilli-laden versions of our respective dishes. The heat gradually rising in our throats induces brow sweats and causes us to reach for our boxed soft drinks.