Hi Chong Qing

Time Out (Melbourne) - - FOOD & DRINK - So­nia Nair

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.

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