Friday, January 14, 2011

Super Hokkien Mee

Penang Hokkein prawn mee is absolutely unique to Malaysia. You don't find it in any other country - not even Singapore. Indeed we can proudly claim undisputedly that this wonderful soup noodle is Malaysian true and true. The noodle is known by various names - Hokkein mee, prawn mee and mee yoke. I have tasted quite a few good prawn mees in KL and PJ. However, I believe Hokkein prawn mee originated from Penang and to get the real thing, I needed to go north.

On a recent visit to the island, my brother-in-law SL suggested a Hokkein prawn stall which he said was very good and famous. But he cautioned that we would have to be there very early as they sell out very quickly, and that we have to be willing to wait. For the sake of a good bowl of prawn mee, we left SL's place just after 7.30am one morning and drove about half an hour to Burmah Road. The place we ended in was the One Corner Cafe (和喜茶室), directly behind the Royal Hotel (formerly the Sheraton). It is a coffee shop cum mini hawker centre with stalls selling the various Penang food.

The Super Hokkein Mee (雲福 建麵) is one of many stalls in this place. Soon as we arrived, we quickly headed for the stall. A lady with a clipboard took our orders. But before that, she tersely told us "45 minutes" - the time we needed to wait. We had pulled ourselves up before 7am that morning and drove all the way here. What was another 45 minutes? We resignedly ordered our coffee and sat down to wait.

We were not the only people waiting. In that early hour, the place was already crowded. Many were sipping their beverages or reading their papers. Most were probably like us, crazily waiting for a bowl of Penang prawn noodles. While waiting, I could see more people making their orders. All of them were greeted with the brusque "45 minutes" from the unfriendly lady.

We did not have to wait the full 45 minutes. Our noodles arrived after about half an hour. The bowls of prawn mee looked no different from those we get in PJ and KL. Each came with a spoonful of chili sauce. I mixed the sauce into the soup and took a slurp of it. It was good. I liked the rich flavor of prawn. The accompanying ingredients were no different from any prawn mee stall. There were slices of boiled pork, boiled prawn and a generous sprinkling of fried shallots. Some stalls provide boiled egg, but there was no egg here. I also noted a conspicuous absence of kangkong.

SL approached the stall keeper and got a small plate of chu yaw char (猪油渣). It added more flavor to the noodles.

The essence of any prawn noodle is in the soup. And the soup I slurped was rich, aromatic, fully prawn-flavored and very delicious. The stall owner obviously put a lot of effort in it. I enjoyed the bowl of prawn noodle very much. I wished I had an egg. I personally like the yolk in the soup to make it even richer and tastier.

Was Super Hokkein Mee great? Was it the ultimate "holy grail" of all Penang prawn noodles? Unfortunately, I do not think it was. I think there is one stall in PJ that perhaps cooks a better bowl of Hokkein prawn mee. Perhaps I will blog about that one day. Would I drag myself up again before dawn and drive all the way for the same bowl of noodles? I think I would need greater incentive than that.

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