“I had a very stereotypical Chinese upbringing. My parents wanted me to study hard, go to a good university and find an office job,” explains Kevin Houng to SBS Food. He did do that, but after a few years, his passion for food became inevitable.
“It might be in my blood,” he ponders. “One of my cousins has two sushi trains in the CBD, one of my uncles is a chef at a Chinese restaurant here, and another uncle in Taiwan has a bento box shop.” Going to his uncle’s to eat Taiwanese beef noodle soup with his family is one of his fondest memories.
Houng’s light-bulb moment
Everything fell into place for Houng when he visited his partner’s hometown, Chongqing, in southwestern China. She brought him to the shop of a noodle master who has been preparing the same few dishes for a quarter of a century.
The bowl of beef noodles he had was so good that he quit his job and went to train with the master for several months. “The noodle master was willing to teach me because my partner’s dad had been going to his shop for over a decade,” he explains. He learned how to cook different cuts of meat, make the noodles from scratch and prepare complex broths.
When he returned to Melbourne, Houng spent another few months finding the right suppliers and tweaking the recipes. He opened Hi Chong Qing at the end of last year, with a short, five-item menu.
Five noodle bowls
1. When you go to Hi Chong Qing for the first time, Houng will suggest the signature Chongqing noodles with a punchy pork bone broth. “It’s a flavour bomb,” he says. “I hope people have the same reaction I had the first time I ate them, wondering what are all those flavours on my tastebuds, trying to understand what’s going on.”
While he gets his wheat noodles from a supplier, he makes the broths himself every day. It’s not as hot as what you find in China, but it still packs some heat. The spring onions, greens and crunchy peanuts make for a nice contrast in texture. For an additional hit of flavour, add pork mince or a fried egg (like people do in Chongqing) on top. You can even have a vegetarian version of the dish with a vegetable broth and tofu.
2. Houng is also a big fan of the hearty spicy beef noodles, which reminds him of his uncle’s. It comes with tender slow-cooked beef in a broth containing five-spice powder, spring onions, coriander, onion, garlic and beef oil made in-house.
3. The third bowl has the same beef broth, but switches the slow-cooked beef for beef tendons. If you’re keen to try it, but are unsure about the gelatinous texture of tendons, try a mix of tendons and slow-cooked beef.
4. The pork mince and chickpea dry noodles are served with only a little bit of the pork bone broth to let the meat shine.
5. The fifth bowl, the Chinese herbs beef noodles, is lighter than the others; Houng compares it to Vietnamese pho and Malaysian bak kut the. Its broth is made with 22 traditional Chinese herbs and medicinal herbs.
With very reasonable prices ranging from $10.80 for the signature noodles to $15.80 for the Chinese herbs beef noodles, why not try a few and figure out yourself which one is your favourite?
26 Orr St, Carlton, VI
Monday – Friday, 7:30 am – 9 pm (noodles from 11 am), Saturday 12 – 9 pm