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ChungKing Noodles x GiftShop
ChungKing Noodles x GiftShop
09 August 2023
We're about to meet a unique individual. This week, we've asked Ash Lee to share with us the story of her restaurant in Berlin, ChungKing Noodles, which she developed on her own. We're keen to understand her perspective on the restaurant business - both within the scope of her ChungKing Noodles establishment and the industry as a whole. Furthermore, we wish to explore her viewpoint on the relationship between merchandising and the restaurant business in her life. Lastly, we are interested in her personal experiences as a woman, owner, and chef.

Ash in the Chungking Noodles tee by GiftShop

GiftShop is launching a collection in collaboration with the Berliner restaurant, ChungKing Noodles, located in Kreuzberg. All products from this collaboration are now available.

Ash Lee - Head Chef & Artistic Director 

ChungKing Noodles
Reichenberger Str. 35, 10999 Berlin, Germany

When did you launch ChungKing Noodles?
I started by doing pop-ups for 3 years. ChungKing Noodles was all over the city of Berlin. Then I opened the actual restaurant in Reichenberger Street in October 2019 on my own. It’s a great adventure to do it by myself !

What did you do before ChungKing Noodles ?
I used to do real estate in Shanghai. When I moved to Berlin a few years ago, I started from scratch. I am a self-taught chef in Berlin with no gastronomy background (laughs) !

What gave you the urge to create this food adventure ?
Real estate in Berlin was not in my perspective because I’m a Chinese woman, and my network was there in China. Since I always cooked and my family is really kin on cooking, I started doing diners once a week at my place called “private supper club”. With time, I got bigger, so I started my 3 years in raw pop-ups to learn how building a restaurant would work for me.

What's your family background inspiration ? 
My education was really military style (laughs). Both of my grandparents were in the army. My granddad on my mom side used to fight American people from North Korea and my grandma was the boss of the house. She was the first woman in the family that did not foot binding. This Chinese custom of breaking and tightly binding the feet of young girls in order to change their shape and size band her feet is something ! She said “fuck that shit I don’t want to do it”. That’s a great model, that’s why our family gimmick is “if you want to do this, work hard on that”.


Did you travel before doing pop-ups and launching your restaurant ?
I made a couple trips to Chongqing. During those trips, I checked out how the local eats on a daily basis and how they eat their noodles.
It’s the same system as Italian families, they have their own recipes and everyone has its touch.

What's the story behind the name ChungKing Noodles ?
Chongqing, it’s the name of a town in the Sichuan area. When I thought about the name, I wanted to do something funny, but I quickly choose something really simple because it’s a one dish restaurant basically. I am always the “don’t overthink” type of person in the end.

Who’s in charge of the kitchen ?
I used to be in charge of the kitchen, and now I am slowly stepping out. My sous-chef Jonas is German and a quarter Korean, he is getting more and more responsibilities and maybe will take over the kitchen later this year.

What are the particularities of your restaurant interior design ? 
My open kitchen brings lots of good vibrations. My customers can feel the hit, the flames from the kitchen while walking and eating. The lighting is very minimal and warm, with wooden tables and benches. Makes sense for a come and go noodle place that open only on evenings.

What are your signatures' dishes ? 
The meal at ChungKing Noodles is usually 3 starters and 1 noodle dish with different kind of toppings. Everything is homemade, mostly organic and seasonally. I am trying to break this image of Asian food that is typically shitty quality. We have four options: one is mixed pork (close to Bolognese), beef shanked (close to Goulash texture), vegan (shiitake, tofu, yellow peas) and All dresses (combination of 3 toppings). The spiciness and the flavour are unique : chillies flakes and oil, peppercorn Sichuan that is really addictive, infused soy sauce with herbs, and umami paste.

What’s your beverage program ?
Besides water and sparkling water, some alcohols are on the drinking program. One beer only, which is a pale ale we've made. It's called Motel Beer. We got one white, one red and one rosé wine. Sometimes we do cocktails by the weekend.

What is funny about doing only spicy noodles ?
What is funny is that sometimes I have people that want “German spice”. But I don’t know what is German spice (laughs) ! I just answer “never heard of it, what level you want of spiciness?”. I love to challenge people ! Furthermore, I put it in a really playful way.

How would you describe the ambiance of your restaurant ?
ChungKing Noodle is a beautiful mess. It is loud, fun and sassy (laughs).
It's not a place to make a deep conversation, it’s a place to eat and go.

Let’s talk about employees, clients, and noodles.
Can you share us some numbers ?

We have 200 customers on an average day. Sometimes we can get smashed and welcome 300 people! 20-30% of my customer, come once to twice a week.
For example, to make 280 portions of noodles, it takes us 5 hours.
We are 13 people in the team, and mostly we work only 4 days a week. So we can have side projects, one shift per weeks in another place and go on holidays.
That’s really German way of work.

What’s the surface area of your restaurant ?
70 square meters.

Do you plan on building something else aside ChungKing Noodles ?
I am processing a new project for next year…

Have you ever come across people wearing ChungKing Noodles merchandise?
Yes ! I usually start like this: “Hey, nice T-shirt, how did you get it ?”. A friend saw ChungKing Noodles caps at a Berlin Music Festival. But what is the most incredible is that my employees get recognise in Berlin. I had a guy that worked for me that used to be recognised every weekend at parties across Berlin. I am blessed.

If tomorrow was the end of the world, what would be your last meal ?
Chicken bouillon, the Chinese hot pot for sure. And probably will eat it with friends.

Where do you eat with or without the team on a regular day-off ?
Donner kebab ! Sometimes I go to a different category of restaurant, very fancy, it’s called Grill Royal, and the wine list is amazing. I am not a big fan of Michelin stars restaurants. I enjoy more French brasserie like Bistrot Paul Bert or La Grande Brasserie.

What is your fav merch you ever bought ?
Don’t laugh, most of my merch comes from GiftShop ! While I am speaking right now, I am wearing a Dreaming Man T-Shirt. Yesterday it was Haikara.

What’s your dream merch ?
A fun bib for adults and babies ! Definitely would be the perfect merch for us because we are a noodle place and everything is really splashy.

Do you play music at the restaurant ?
Yes, we love playing some music, everyone is a DJ here in Berlin at some point. 
We love a good hip hop music, but also groovy techno music. Last time it was Beyoncé night (laughs).

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