154 Rathdowne Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9347 1739
The above statement would be accurate if the owners of Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe proclaimed it 30-odd years ago when they established this dive. Of course, now with the influx of Asian immigrants and students, there are several dozen eateries specialising in noodles that exist in Carlton. Some have been successful while others have quietly faded away like Lance Whitnall’s AFL career. CCNC belongs to the former group. Its longevity surpasses even the heavyweights of the industry such as Supper Inn and its production line of fried siu mai is as strong and efficient as the ones you find at the Ford Motors plant, but still the smiling owners of CCNC desire no award and no hats. Instead, their sole purpose is to satisfy the hungry bellies of local residents who live in the nearby flats, and regulars such as my dad who has been going here since his Swinburne Uni days in the late 70s.
My first memory of this place consisted of wearing my Sunday best at the age of two… and vomiting all over the place. This act of vomiting was not at all reflective of the food that was served, but probably because I was feeling the heat of the 30+ degree day in stockings, laces and wool. Or something like that. But anyway, I shan’t digress no further. Yes, the cafe may have the most original cafe name known to man and okay, fine, the food may not be innovative but it’s good, home-style fare, mmmkay? Just trust me on it. And when you do make a visit, order only the following items:
Popiah (spelt ‘poppia’ at the cafe, $2.40 each), a Fujian-style spring roll. While a popiah is traditionally a fresh spring roll that isn’t fried, CCNC fry theirs to an almost burnt crisp and that’s the way I like it. Unlike Adam, I’m not at all a spring roll person unless they happen to be Vietnamese prawn ones but I do like CCNC’s version of the popiah. Filled with a sweet pork, cabbage and bean shoot filling, they are a must-order entree for everyone in my family. Eaten with chilli sauce and soy, they are filling enough on their own too.
Singapore fried noodles, indisputably the most popular dish on the menu. Okay, so it’s not actually on the menu (at least not when I was there last) but it’s what every second person seems to order when they’re at the cafe. Fresh prawns, chicken pieces and egg mingled with several handfuls of soy and curry-seasoned vermicelli noodles, before being lashed with a gorgeous peanut and chilli dressing. Simply. The. Best.
The nasi goreng special is another family favourite. We normally get the version with the chicken ($7.80, without the chicken is $7.00) which is a lovely, fragrant dish of chicken pieces, pork, egg, bean shoots and vegies all intertwined with deliciously sweet soy-seasoned rice. Those of you who know me will know that I’m not at all a fan of nasi goreng so I’m saying something when I tell you that the nasi goreng at CCNC is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Finally, the Indian mee goreng. Like the Singapore noodles, this dish wasn’t on the menu for whatever reason but it is yet another popular dish so the owners have no issues with making it for people who so wish to eat it. You may have also noticed that I didn’t put the prices for the Singapore and Indian noodles which is very unlike me. Quite simply, I just forgot. Shut up, I’m allowed to have off days, OKAY? Anyway. The Indian mee. The noodles were spicy enough for us chilli fiends to enjoy, yet also mild enough for chilli haters to comfortably eat without frantically reaching for water. An optional squeeze of the lime half heightened the dish’s beautiful flavours that were readily soaked up by the spongy fried tofu squares.
CCNC itself may be smaller than Australia’s first innings in this year’s Boxing Day test (it only had two tables that seat four each, and a squishy bar counter with like, six stools), as famous as Steve Smith prior to this Ashes series (it doesn’t even have an urbanpoon entry) and its location somewhat out of the way (insert appropriate cricket reference here). However, the friendly hospitality, the quality of the food, and the fact that most dishes are less than $10 means that the crew at CCNC are a team that will never let you down. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the Carlton Football Club. Hah.