It has been some time since I put pen to paper in homage of the slurpy beast, the unequivocal noodle. The great culinary creation. The more often enjoyed in plural snack is a recurring motif within eastern and western cultures and a constant agenda that gives direction in my life.
The many nuances of this glutenous length of carbohydrate are all worthy of mention, from the delicate simplicity of a contemporary fettuccine through to the mo’ recent contageon spread of bone brothed ramen. Placing each and every instance of their edible existence on this page is a little beyond bother, so instead I will point toward a more pertinent example.
The particular context that this little diddy is set lies within the Wollongong central business district.
The South Coast or more appositely Illawarra noodle scene is a good one. It dips and floats from corner to corner of the time-money-quality triangle that so oft rules the purchasing process of local diners. The many blips that such noodle-centric dishes place upon radars each time a tum aches for the aforementioned ingredient base is not to sniffed at. However, this particular rambling is inspired by a single noodle providore.
It is not among the newly acclaimed hot spots that have so vividly captured the attention of Wollongong’s avant diners. Rather, this place is among the quiet achievers of the local food game. The slow burners. The evergreens. The type of place that doesn’t need a newspaper article or A-game instagram, just a WOM following and thin margin.
The restaurant named Pho is a quaint little establishment that sits upon the artery of culture known as Crown Street, some two beats east from the gong’s retail heart. The Cantonese-Viet hole-in-the-wall that will probably never know I’ve even written this crappy article (and definitely won’t care either way) makes the best Asian in town and it’s bloody cheap too.
The decor is decidedly shabby chic, with odd and interesting touches adorning the walls. Think Fantastic furniture meets the home decorating budget of a habitual bong smoker, but hold the weird smell and crowded coffee table. Check, those weird tubular fairy lights, faux wood, waving cats, wobbly tables and a door that doesn’t close properly. A list of features that come garnished with affection and the strange comfort when a place remains un-gentrified. At the of the day the place is clean and passes the smell test with flying colours.
Nonchalance hangs in the air at Pho, but don’t let it get to you. There are enough pictures in the menu to give you an idea, labelled alongside the allocated number for ease in ordering and wrapped in a pleather portfolio that says business, but really means pleasure.
But what this establishment is most well endowed with noodles, as the pretentiously written introduction might have clued you. Ahuh, they hands-down-easily plate up some of the best fucking noodles in Wollongong. And I won’t be so coy in my instruction to not direct you toward any selection other than those prefixed “handmade”, and here’s why:
The little old lady out the back.
She is why this establishment’s noodles are better than anything you have been served within the ’00 locale. She kneeds, stretches and cuts the extraordinarily long farinaceous subsistence all by hand. Her arms reaching wide in a similar gesture to your loving Nonna’s, but with noodles strung across her arm span, mercilessly slapping them upon the bench in a technique that probably hasn’t changed since first conceived. A masterful display that only bears tragedy if ever lost.
Her husband is the genius Saucier charged with invigorating this matriarchal craft. The resulting plates are a to-the-brim, don’t-bump-my-table serving, enlivened by the sensual flavours of the Szechuan region. The Spicy Chicken is still on the bone and drowned in a sauce so delicious you could feel guilty eating it yet, at the same time, reserve no intention otherwise. The chewy texture of the fresh noodles makes them a joy to bite through. The metre long ropes of noodle might remind of the stringy spaghetti that once engulfed the Swedish Chef on The Muppet Show. Your company will be at a loss for a more efficient technique as you stand in ovation to get one end of the beasts into your little bowl. The Ting Ling Noodle is like a Szechuan rendition of an Aussie bolognese that has had a pepper steak meat pie dropped on it. Butcher’s parsley is replaced by a chiffonade of iceberg lettuce, hold the shaker of parmesan sand.
Live a little and eat the seafood eggplant or keep things classic and get the salt and pepper pork spare rib (but do so with beer).
Yes, Pho has slowly gathered weight in the entry level diners corner. Like many economically unchallenging eating destinations, the students came first, bringing with them the attention of curious diners and holding court with a mixed bag of demographics.
But it has to be said that the best bit part about the whole situation is the underdog tale that it implores. It’s the cheap Chinese outdoing the other guys.