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I get mostly get my food leads from friends and acquaintances on social media, so when I received a message from my friend L.S. saying she had found what she considered to be an authentic Chongqing noodle joint in Burnaby, I was palpably excited. I knew my source had a discriminating palate, and since she’s actually from the Chinese province of Sichuan, she knows.
Located next to a sex shop (one of many in the area) across from Burnaby’s Metrotown is Chong Qing Xiao Mian. What could be more confusing than the fact that there are many Lower Mainland eateries that include “Chong Qing”, “ChongQing” or “Chongqing” in the name? The awning here still bears the name of the restaurant that previously occupied the address (“Qin Ma Grill”). They don’t make it easy.
Just type in the address on your mobile map or find it in Scout’s database (see bottom). It’s 4685 Kingsway. Don’t confuse it with ChongQing at 4909 Kingsway. It’s worth figuring out.
The restaurant is very small, maybe six or seven two-top tables. At lunchtime, a short but quickly moving line-up forms along the front window just inside the door. Once seated, it’s all business: you order your noodles, slurp them down within fifteen minutes or so, and then you get the heck out. They don’t stand on ceremony here, so expect none.
Of the regional Chinese cuisines that we have access to here in our Metro, I am most intrigued by Sichuan. I like its history, heat, complexity and exacting techniques. It can be further defined by sub-regions, most notably those of the rival cities of Chongqing and Chengdu. If you were to believe the prevailing biases, Chongqing’s food is spicier, bolder, oilier, saltier, and more pungent than that of Chengdu, which is known for its nuance and subtlety.
Chongqing is best known for two dishes: Sichuan hot pot (where it purportedly originated) and noodles. Let’s talk about the noodles.
To say “Chongqing noodle” implies a particular sort. Colloquially it is called xiaomian (“shao mee-an”), literally “little noodles”. It’s a Chongqing street-food staple eaten throughout the day, including at breakfast. Increasingly, you will find them sold at small specialty chain restaurants across the Lower Mainland.
Xiaomian are wheat noodles about half the diameter of spaghetti that are tinged yellow from the lye it contains. (The more familiar “chow mein egg noodles” are yellow for the exact same reason.) The resulting chemical reaction with the dough gives the noodles their chewy texture and spring. They are typically dressed with vinegar, oil, sugar, ground red chilies, Sichuan peppercorns (which adds a citrusy-piney flavour and its signature “numbing” sensation), ginger and scallion. This sauce – called “mala” or “numbing and spicy” – is emblematic of Sichuan cuisine.
Xiaomian can be ordered “dry”, simply dressed and heaped with a variety of toppings like ground pork, braised beef, gizzards, intestine, pickled vegetables, peanuts or what have you. Or you can order it topped up with a spicy, tangy broth to make it more of a soup.
From the laminated one-page menu, you can order one of seven different variations on the ‘xiaomian’ theme with the option of adding a fried egg ($2). Each noodle variant ($9-$11) is distinctly flavoured; their noodle repertoire exhibiting none of the sameness I have often encountered at these types of places. Some of these variants are brothy and some are dry.
If I were to pick a favourite, it would probably be the “Pork Rib Noodle” ($11) with its generous pile of pork ribs to accompany the brothy, spicy sauce. The “Pickled Pork Noodle” (topped with shredded pork and Sichuan pickled mustard stem) is also in the running. One notable omission from the menu is “mala xiaomian” (“spicy numbing noodles”) – the classic and the most basic Chongqing noodle combo that is found nearly everywhere that serves xiaomian. Except here, or so it seems.
I recommend bringing a couple of friends and ordering a few cold appetizers to start. The cucumber with garlic and black vinegar (“cucumber salad” $7) is always a safe bet. But for the full Chongqing noodle stall experience, I recommend what the menu calls “chicken in chili sauce” ($11, koushuiji; “kow shooway jee”). It is better known as either “saliva chicken”, or more perhaps accurately: “mouth-watering chicken” on account of its irresistible, drool-invoking deliciousness. This dish, which is found in nearly every Sichuan restaurant, is bone-in chicken poached in spicy broth then served cold in a complex, oily and slightly sweet chili sauce finished with a dollop of pureed garlic. The meat is so tender (almost gelatinous) and the sauce is so addictive that I wanted to add it to just about everything else at the table. This is the best and most canonical version of this dish I have had in Canada.
I also recommend the “Mr. and Mrs. Beef”, which is better known idiomatically as “Husband and Wife Lung Slices” ($9, Fuqi feipian; “foo chee fey pyan”). Not to worry – there is no actual lung in it; only tripe and shank drenched in yet another complex and spicy oily chili dressing.
At the end of your meal, try the “sugar ice jelly” (bingfener) – a dessert traditionally made from the starchy pectin derived the crushed seeds of the “shoo-fly” plant (nicandra physalodes). The tender, velvety smooth jelly is served ice cold in a light sugar syrup and topped with chopped haw flakes (made from the tart dried fruit of the hawthorn bush). This dessert dates back to the Qing Dynasty and is surprisingly refreshing — a popular street food sold during the stifling Chinese summers.
This is a great little place — exactly my kind of eating. Thank you LS for this tip! Readers, if you have a tip, send them to me at @fmedeats (on Instagram). No hole in the wall is too small. In fact, the smaller, the better!