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!
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
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!
Update: Get all the juicy roundup here.