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Chef Simone Tong’s life has spanned three continents, and on each she’s loved to do one thing above all: eat, specifically noodles. And in all her sampling, from her home in Sichuan Province, China, to growing up in Hong Kong and Australia, then coming to the U.S. for school, nothing compares to the delicacy that is the Yunnan rice noodle, mixian (pronounced me-shien).
“My obsession with rice noodles is pretty scary,” she admits.
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That obsession has taken shape as Little Tong Noodle Shop, now open in the East Village in the corner space that used to be Schnitz. The broths of her five ramen-style mixian bowls ($14-$17) use various broths to complement their ingredients, like pork with minced pork belly and vegetable broth with five-spice tofu, as well as nibbles like ghost chicken and pork chao shou wontons.
Tong, who spent four years at wd~50 “learning the science of food,” chose to focus on the flavors of Yunnan Province in southwestern China, whose incredible natural bounty has created a food culture she describes as “very Nordic.” She spent four months traveling the region as well as interning at the dizzying food palace that is Beijing’s Colorful Yunnan restaurant, where she refined her ideas — and got the name Little Tong from her chef.
Unlike the wheat noodles used in ramen, mixian is made with fermented rice and is less heavy, though the texture is definitely more chewy. Tong creates her broths in a double-cooking process that results in a less fatty soup, but that’s not the only source of flavor in her dishes.
“In Yunnan, they like to eat a lot of pickled, sour-spicy food, so my mixian will have a lot of condiments: chili oil, green peppercorn oil, fermented chili, pickles,” which are made in-house, she says. “It’s not as heavy as ramen, but it definitely has its wholesome depth and deliciousness.”
While Tong is definitely going for the bold flavors of her Sichuan roots, it’s not about blowing out your palate with heat. Mixian should “take you to a happy place,” which she achieves by layering flavors. “Sometimes, subtlety is beautiful as well.”