Lovely Malaysia. How can I almost forget it. It’s been a while since I have this feeling. The feeling of peace, relax and of no rush whatsoever, in a nondescript roadside Indian stall, eating my favourite tosai for breakfast and having an exceptionally Malaysian kind of warmth service. How else can we start a day in Malaysia better? Maybe with a new generation touch which is having my netbook with me along with Internet connection.
Thanks to the burgeoning so called upper class kopitiams around Malaysia, many of us youths had start to forget how nice it is actually to go back to basics. The old times. The sitting near the roadside, having other locals buzzing around you, some chit-chatting, some flipping their newspapers and some just plainly stare around (like me but without the netbook ha-ha). The stall people walking around taking orders, serving, laughing, sometimes kacau (a Malay term for disturbs) and treating everyone as if they are long time friends.
So yeah, sometimes we forgot what makes something tick, something that stand the test of time. Sometimes we forgot how wonderful it is to be Malaysian. Now I would hope to relive more of these simple joys in life. Like good ol’ Malaysian warmth and good ol’ healthy tosai to start the day.
Indian roadside stall Between Jalan 33/70A and 19/70A,
50480 Kuala Lumpur,
Hokkien Mee / Prawn Mee / Har Mee / Xia Mian / Hae Mee
Yes being of so many names (due to dialects), and not to be confused with the black stir-fried Hokkien thick noodles, it is actually a prawn noodle soup. Up north in Malaysia, Taiping included, we normally called it Hokkien Mee, so imagine my confusion when I moved down south to KL initially. From then on I have started to identify it as Har Mee (in Cantonese dialect that is widely use in KL), and so will this post for consistency.
The soup is a broth made of prawn shells broth that is boiled with pork ribs. Later on prior to serving, the soup will be added with belachan chili paste, which is an important ingredient to make it truly Malaysian. Though this dish may have originated from the Fujian province in China, the Hokkiens in Malaysia must have tweaked it with our famous belachan to make it more complex and intense in flavour. It is normally served with yellow noodles and/or mee hoon / bee hoon (rice vermicelli), and served with various condiments like fried pork lard (a personal must even though there are various health concerns about it, validated or not), taugeh (bean sprouts), kangkung (spinach), sliced tauhu (tofu) and of course prawns.
Tale of two mothers Due to my mother’s lack of culinary inclination, the kitchen in my Taiping house have not seen much fire activities except the occasional boiling of eggs or cooking rice or quite scarily cooking instant noodles. Thus since a kid, I have the luxury to go out often and explore the street food and hawker stalls of Taiping. In fact my mother is not one who is tham jiak (I wonder where I get mine from, must be the Hokkien blood in me, my mother is Hakka by the way) but one who prefers familiarity and comfort. Therefore she would always go back for familiar Malaysian food. One of the food that she kept revisiting on our Saturday lunch rituals (she goes to work on weekdays so Saturday lunch is quite a precious mother-daughter thing), was the Har Mee in Tai Chien, Taiping. Sadly though the stall is no longer there as the proprietor had retired and there was no one to take his place, which unfortunately have also been the fate of most of the good food in Taiping.
My other mother, which is my nanny who had taken care of me in the first five years of my life, was totally different. Not only does she have a flair in culinary, she was also as tham jiak as me. We can see the similarity between us where she would seek out to try various food popping up in Taiping while she also loves to cook and bake at home. Besides, she have this good quality, which sadly I do not possess, was the determination to keep making something until it is right, so most of her signature dishes are to die for. She has her family and friends vouching for her, but most importantly, her husband who sing praises of it.
“You should ask Lai Ma to make Har Mee for you, hers is the best! You should definitely learn from her before its lost”
“Lai Ma, let’s make Har Mee, I want to learn”, I chirped.
Lai Ma rolled her eyes “There’s no ingredients…it’s troublesome….” and she continues with whatever grumbles she can come up with, as she knows, as much as I know, as much as also my Lai Pa knows, is that my Lai Pa himself wants to eat it. Of course I am sure his intention of me learning the trades are definitely there, but being tham jiak himself, he is obviously hankering for it. Despite my Lai Ma’s various excuses, she would next day wake up early to go marketing and even prepare all the necessary ingredients before calling me up, “You come over now, we are going to make Har Mee”, which is of no surprise to me and also much to my delight to be able to learn and eat it of course.
Ah, this is the power of love, and one that has been around for a long time. One hints, one understands, one gives excuses, one pretends and in the end both happy. One happy for the labour of love from the wife, another because her husband appreciates her labour of love.
Har Mee from a Taiping stall: Taiping Har Mee have the flavour that is very similar to the Penang hokkien prawn mee but minus the char siew slices. I must say the Har Mee that I had in KL had always paled in comparison, so do try out Har Mee if you are up north in Malaysia. Else you can try to make one as below!
Har Mee from a Taiping kitchen: The difference of the Har Mee coming out from your own kitchen is the quality of ingredients that went into it. Here you will see big prawns and big chunks of pork ribs. Besides you can choose to have which ingredient more (or less) according to your palate. Just try not to be as tham jiak as me where it was overflowing with ‘lius’ (ingredients) till even the noodles were hidden. Then again, forget what I just said and liberally pile on your favourite stuffs!
The soup 1 big pot of prawn shells
800g to 1kg pork ribs
Dry fry the prawn shells till fragrant
Then boil them in water to extract the flavours
Strain the liquid and discard the shells
Add extra water and then put in the pork ribs
Boil for about 2 hours or till meat is soft
Add rock sugar and salt to taste
Crispy lard and fried onions Roughly a bowl of pork lard, chopped to small even cubes and then marinate with some salt
Big handful of small onions, sliced thinly
Add about 1/2 cup oil (depending how much pork lard) to wok and heat up
Deep fry pork lard till brown, pork lard will yield more oil in the end
(Lai Ma’s tip: normal oil is mixed with the pork lard so that it would not congeal after cool)
Scoop out the fried pork lard to a bowl, leaving bout 1/2 cup fat in the wok
Then fry the sliced onions in the fat
When almost brown, lower the fire and add a tablespoon of sugar to mix
(Another Lai Ma’s tip: sugar is added for the secrecy to crispy fried onions)
Scoop out to drain and then cool. Once cool keep in a bottle to keep it crispy
Chili paste and prawns Blend belachan, onion, dry chili and fry till dry
1/2 cup small prawns, shell removed
Heat oil and fry 3 tbsp of the blended paste
Scoop out the paste leaving bout 2tsp behind
Fry it with the prawns till cook
Set aside both paste and prawns
Noodles and other toppings 1 bunch of Kangkung
Bee hoon, pre-soaked till soft
1/2 cup big prawns
Bring water to boil
Blanch the kangkung, then remove
Then blanch the yellow mee
Then blanch the bihun mee
Finally right before serving, blanch the big prawns
To serve Pile the noodles into the bowl
Pour the soup over the noodles till just covered and then pour it back into the pot (this is the secret to most noodle soups for the flavour to first coat the noodles)
Pour in the soup again with some pork ribs if desire
Top with the chili paste and little prawns
Then pile on remaining toppings as per preference
I am sending this story and delicious Malaysian dish hailed from Taiping to Babe in City KL‘s Merdeka Open House 2011 – Makan Through Malaysia. The first time that I joined was her first open house 5 years ago (how time flies!) with my Chiffon Cake recipe and story. Thank you babe for choosing one of my ideas for the theme again and I can’t wait for the rest of the virtual roundup for delicious food from all over Malaysia!
There is three place that I spent the most time in when I am in KL. First would obviously be my home in KL. Second, being in the rat race itself, would be my workplace. The first two places are typical for normal rat racers. The third place though, which I believe would differ from people to people, and as for me is actually the communal house. What?? In my own definition:
Communal house – “a place where like-minded people hang out and mostly bum around doing nothing much other than enjoying each other’s company and presence”
For me, my communal house is strategically located near to me and at the same time conveniently sheltering few of my bestest of friends – Y, L and E, which is actually why the place is the communal place anyway. So if you don’t find me at home sleeping/doing the usual things at home or at work earning my dough, you would most likely find me at the communal house bumming around. The thing with bumming around is, there is nothing you wanna do other than nothing. Not even when your stomach starts making sounds. Sometimes we would be bad enough to just order food in and continue bumming, but sometimes when the lure of food is strong enough and the delivered food are no longer satisfying, we would drag ourselves out of the house to the nearest comfort food place – Teochew Noodles.
My good friend L once say her comfort food is just a bowl of Chinese noodle soup, I must say it has its good reasons. Imagine a big bowl of soupy goodness, with fresh juicy meats (fish/chicken/pork) and rice noodles so soft it slides down your throat. That is what I call simple food at its best.
This hidden place, with the shop in a inner road of Damansara Jaya, facing the Atria supermarket, which may not seem so hidden after all as every time as we go there, it seems to be almost pack with people. Most of them are families, having their meal together, so us a bunch of boisterous girls are a bit of a stand out, but still it did not deter us or anyone there in enjoying their meal.
Here you first pick your choice of noodle, flat rice noodles, vermicelli, yellow noodles or mee sua, to go with your soup and fishballs. Then if you are feeling ravenous you can actually add on with extra ‘liu’ (ingredients) such as fish maw (one of my favourite), seaweed, various yong tau fu usual suspects like fish paste stuff in tofu, brinjal, chili, bittergourd and the lots, to up the goodness in taste and nutrition for your bowl of noodles.
Y and L like to order the noodle kon-lou (dry tossed in light and dark soy sauce) and have the soup with the fishballs and whatever else in another bowl. As for me I always go for the soupy goodness for somehow nothing beats the comfort in a bowl of piping hot noodle soup. Also another must order here is the freshly made fish cake that is fried to almost perfection – for me which is void of excess oil.
No matter which way you enjoy your bowl of noodles and your soup of simple luxuries, you will be guarantee to have a full good meal with a satisfied smile at the end of it. On top of that, the young Shaolin-look-alike owner, who is ever so friendly, chatting us up most of the time with his good English, does make the overall experience much better. As for us the girls, we will then rub our tummies and then slowly move back to the communal house for further bumming around.
As I have written here, durian, the king of fruits, the nasal wars and the thorny looking thing that I had the love and hate affair of. It is indeed a fruit to be reckon with. Not only does it look suspiciously odd on the outside, with a thick husk of thorns all over, it looks even weirder on the inside, a sort of gooey yellowish pulp that reeks of a certain kind of smell many gave various ugly terms to. There are also indeed many people who would curse various ugly terms when they first had their piece, though there are some who would fall in love instantly, rare for such an ugly thing to love but not impossible, but something you can surely learn to love and get attach to for sure.
What is it exactly?
It’s a fruit. Yes it is. It is just another fruit where we would eat the flesh surrounding the seeds. The outer layer, its husk ranges from green to brown with thorns to keep preys away but so it seems it never did for the humans, even despite trying to hide themselves in a really pungent smell. The edible flesh would normally range from pale yellow to almost orange color, with a thick gooey sort of texture. Although the looks of it already might deter some away from it, but nothing beats the smell itself to make on discern a durian from even a kilometer away.
Try it anyway
Yes regardless the smell, the look and the feel of it, be a sport and try it anyway. You will be amaze by how someone looking and smelling so odd can taste so uniquely delicious. The tastes depend on the type of durian that one consumes, but normally it ranges from sweet to bitter with a slight tone of alcoholic characteristics. Personally I am those who goes for the bitter alcoholic ones, but the rest of sweet and mix are just as good themselves. Try it and then let me know what you think. Be forewarn though that you might get hook like me, and went into a frenzy of durian feasting, and then much later on, you would suddenly have a hankering for it.
Durian in SS2 Petaling Jaya
Just last weekend, all of sudden I have a craving for durian, it just feels like its been a long time since I truly indulge in some and moreover the durian season is about starting now, where you can see various lorries and stall selling the king of fruits in almost every street corners beckoning to you. So I managed to gathered a bunch of friends who is crazy enough to agree with me to eat durian for dinner. We brave the crowd to the famous corner in SS2 PJ, where there are rows and rows of stalls selling various types of durians. Here people normally come for the buffet style eating of eat-all-you-can for RM10 or RM25 (for the deluxe). As for me I would rather choose the durian I want specifically, buy it and have it open there for slow indulgence. Being late, we only manage to have a few but it at least satiate my cravings for the time being. Though I must say the prices at SS2 are a bit steep, what not with it trying to charge the city dwellers, normally you would get it cheaper at villages or at least outskirts of town. In a pinch you may go there else try to hunt for better bargains and even fresher durians out there.
Traditional Ways to Enjoy Durian
Most enthusiasts or purists would say that the best durian are those that has just fallen from the tree. When I was young, I had the luxury of eating freshly fallen durian from my Nanny’s husband’s estate. He would come back with a few and the whole family will go into some sort of an esctatic celebration. Everyone will huddle together at the floor, already lined with newspaper and now laid across with durians half opened, and then dig into each for the pulps. Yes these are ceremoniously eaten with your hands, digging into its soft flesh while slowly licking them off the seeds and your fingers of course. Another way that many people like to do, is to stand by the lorries selling those durians, having the proprietor open it for them to taste one after another while standing right beside the road with cars whizzing by just inches away.
Seeing how people go crazy over durian especially during the seasons, the way they crave for it, and then hunt for it, buy in bulk, the eat together like a little ceremony or eat it under any condition, makes this truly a showcase of what Malaysians can be. Therefore not only durian is the king of fruits, I dare say it is the fruit of Malaysia too.