As I mentioned in a previous post, the selection of food in Malaysia, though vast and varied, is undeniably centered around two starches: Rice (nasi) and noodles (mee).
After exploring Fort Cornwallis, we very happily stumbled upon a huge outdoor hawker stand completely shaded by some sort massive scrap metal overhang. After cruising each small cart and their respective offerings, it was pretty obvious that we were going to go for what was the most popular and simultaneously the most visually appealing– a generous pile of piping hot noodles tossed in a blood red grav y.
Though it probably would have been best to find out what was in this juicy, savory looking blood red gravy, the smells and sights of the dish alone reeled us in. We went ahead and signaled three red saucy noodle dishes for our table– literally, signaled, as I frantically pointed to the dishes being served to other customers and held up three fingers and said, “mee” while enthusiastically nodding my head. Luckily there is more than one language that all foodies understand, and the man behind the stall understood the language I was using.
Waiting for our dish to arrive, I started to read the noticeably aged news clippings posted in the cart window, where I learned that we were about to eat a big pile of sweet-spicy-sour-savory cuttlefish noodles, made by a third generation Halal hawker.
Ahh, so that explained the odd phallic creature floating on the sign above the hawker stall.
We perched ourselves anxiously on a round formica table directly in front of the stall, and watched as streams of people filtered to and from the counter in a nonstop flow, requesting order after order of the same dish. The noodles were made in batches of 8 or 10 plates at a time, with one main chef at the helm of the open gas stove and two “sous” chefs garnishing plates, running orders, refilling the mise en place (if you will), and collecting money. There were no numbers given to customers, no names, no tickets– just a nod of acknowledgement after you placed your order and a quick shout to the head chef.
We watched as the chef vigorously chopped bunches of onions and greens for a quick sauté in a huge wok that looked like had been used to make this dish for decades. He threw massive handfuls of noodles into the sizzling wok, cracked dozens of eggs taken from a tower of egg crates, and squirted and poured various sauces and oils like he was conducting a symphony. Chop, sizzle, Sauté, sauté, squirt, crack, sauté, squirt, sauté, squirt. Watching one…two.…three batches of noodles go out to tables around us, I could not help but wonder how these men kept track of who ordered what. I must admit, I began to doubt that we kept our place in the noodle line, but I knew better than to approach these men who were endlessly making noodle dish after noodle dish.
But finally, we received our three orders of noodles piping hot– fresh out of the wok and delivered to us without any hesitation. Having waited for some time now, we too did not hesitate as we dug in to the steamy red pile of noodles in front of us. At first bite, I was a little taken aback by the fishiness of the squid that infiltrated the entire dish.
But after a couple more bites, the dish became better and better. Nuances of spiciness and sweetness and hints of sour and bites of cuttlefish seemed to become more and more distinct with each bite. Maybe we were hungry, maybe it really was great, maybe the anticipation took over or the cheap $1.30 price tag seemed to be true. But most likely, it was a combination of all of the above.