Watched a TV show recently about a very popular restaurant (link given thanks to a reader) whose Hokkien noodles are said to be the best in KL. The grandfather of the present owner was the 'creator' of Hokkien mee, a dish ethnic to Malaysia and not anywhere else, not even Fujian (Hokkien), China. The restaurant is so popular that customers sleep-walk there at 3 am for their Hokkien mee and meat soup that goes with the noodles. Each plate of noodles is fried individually over charcoal flames. The Hokkien noodles are not as saucy or black as the ones we are used to in KK. Hokkien mee in KK is usually a plate of noodles swimming in black sauce to cover up the fact that there's hardly any meat and the excess sauce is to make the portion appear larger. Pork crackling is not an essential ingredient, making the noodles basically just a plate of soy sauce noodles without much flavor. As a result, many KKians have no idea what a good plate of Hokkien mee tastes like, until they eat the real thing in KL.
I am so glad I watched the whole episode (am not much of a TV person) because they actually showed how their delicious mee is fried, right down to the main ingredients used. The secret ingredient took me by surprise, and I happen to have it in my fridge but never used it. For dinner tonight I cooked Hokkien mee using the surprise secret ingredient and I am still floating with excitement and euphoria because Wey rated my Hokkien mee 9/10 (although I rate it 10/10 myself, humble me!), leaving me room for improvement yet again. I think the 1/10 he's not awarding me is maybe because the noodles weren't fried over a charcoal fire and also there wasn't enough crackling (he cycled to Lido market to buy more pork fat himself when he saw I had only half a cup, and the butcher cheated him, but that's another story) because I was concerned about eating too much of that. Wey loves crackling so much that he wished there's such a thing as crackling chips. He refused to talk while eating the Hokkien mee, so serious was he while eating it. He has been rather disappointed with all the Hokkien mee he has eaten in restaurants recently.
So you'd like to know the secret ingredient? It's ---surprise---dried sole fish (like a flounder), toasted over a charcoal fire and pounded into a powder! When I sprinkled the spoonful of dried sole fish powder into the hot pork oil, the aroma was just like that of the restaurants' -- a robust, mature, smoky and meaty fragrance that the pork oil alone cannot give. I got my stock of dried sole fish in Hong Kong for making the soup for wontons. I don't think you can find dried sole fish in KK, unfortunately. I also don't think most restaurants use this ingredient for cooking Hokkien mee, especially in KK where Hokkien mee is probably the last thing you should eat.
p.s Wey got home from school today (27/5) and wanted to learn how to cook KL Hokkien mee. I made sure there was enough pork crackling this time and gave the cooked noodles a final drizzle of pork oil. Wey declared, "Mom! This is 10/10!", stamping his feet crazily on the floor. Practice makes perfect, son.
Below is the previous post, but the recipe that follows has been revised.
Ah, who doesn't like a good plate of Hokkien mee? My family loves Hokkien mee (noodles), especially Wey and I but because this dish is coated with pork oil, it is something we can only eat once in a long while. We manage to live without it because there aren't any good Hokkien mee after Kim Loong Restaurant in Lido closed down (the owners went back to KL). Now we go to Diamond Restaurant, but it's not as good there. Last time we went there, the mee wasn't topped with cracklings. It was like eating a McD burger with no patty.
After a week of healthy dinners (a lot of fish and veggies), I knew we were all ready to clog our veins again, so why not go to the max and have Hokkien mee, which has pork oil as its most important ingredient. I didn't want to tell you all this, but being the (mostly) honest person that I am, Wey and Ming both said last night that if it was fried mee I cooked, they'll rank it high but since it was supposed to be Hokkien mee, they rated it 7/10 only. Now I wouldn't give you any recipe that ranks below 9.9, but since I'm out of something to post and I think the recipe is really good and can be a 10/10 if you can get hold of the right soy sauce, I will post this. Who knows, maybe someone can tell me what soy sauce to use. I've watched a hawker fry Hokkien mee from beginning to end but the sauce he used was already in a bowl.
I've found that there are 4 important must-dos if you want to fry up a good plate of Hokkien mee:
1. You gotta be brutal enough (hawkers are) to use lots of pork oil and crackling. If that is missing, the whole dish is a goner. I only used 1/4 cup pork oil to fry 1 kg of noodles last night. I just couldn't do it, remembering the cholesterol in animal fats and the fact that 1 gm of oil gives 9 calories compared to starch or sugar which at 1 gm give 4 calories.
2. The soy sauce is important. I used Lee Kum Kee's dark soy sauce and Camel thick soy sauce (but didn't use much of this because it looked toxic), but the resulting sauce was not the same as the restaurants/hawkers'.
3. The noodles must be thick yellow fresh noodles. I couldn't bring myself to feed the family with noodles full of color and preservatives (I know that for a fact because years ago I visited this big noodles factory in Kolombong and it was 2pm Saturday and they were closing. I saw bags of yellow noodles and kwey tiau (flat rice noodles) on the counters and asked what they would do with it. They said they'll distribute them to their buyers on Monday. Remember, this is tropical paradise and they weren't storing them in the fridge) so I used udon which Fussy Younger Son said had a slightly sourish taste, so please do not use that if you do not want to compromise on the taste.
4. Do not attempt to cook more than 1-2 portions at a time, to maintain the heat of the wok.
Hokkien Mee (for 1-2 persons)
250gm fresh thick yellow mee (washed quickly & drained well 1/2 hours b4 cooking@)
1/4 cup pork or chicken, in thin slices (marinade with salt, pepper & some cornflour)
3 or 4 prawns, shelled
a few pieces of squid or cuttlefish or fishcake (optional)
a handful of thinly sliced cabbage or Chinese cabbage
1 heaped T dried sole fish powder (toast dried sole fish until fragrant and pound in a granite mortar until fine)
dark soy sauce (Woh Hup)
light soy sauce (Lee Kum Kee Selected)+
1 T chopped garlic
1/4 t fine sugar (optional)
a pinch of msg (optional)*
1 cup concentrated chicken stock (homemade, or Swanson's)
a few shakes of white pepper, pinch of salt
3 T pork oil
pork crackling bits
@if you don't mind the oil, don't wash the noodles. Washing the noodles may result in a pasty texture if the noodles are cooked too long.
+if you like your noodles black (Sabah style), omit light soy sauce and use thick soy sauce. You can omit the sugar then because thick soy sauce is sweetish.
* this is what restaurants use, and they use much more but I found msg unnecessary because the chicken stock was good enough.
1. Get a good thick solid piece of pork fat and cut into small 1 cm cubes. Put the fat cubes into a wok and fry over medium-low heat. Keep stirring until all the oil comes out (you'll be surprised how much oil comes out!) and the crackling is golden brown. Remove the cracklings into a bowl and pour the pork oil into another bowl, leaving about 3 T (more if you dare) in the wok.
2. Increase the heat , add the chopped garlic and dried sole fish powder, fry a few seconds, then add the pork/chicken. Throw in the noodles and stock and stir to loosen the noodles, using a frying ladle and a pair of chopsticks. Add about 2 T thick soy sauce, 1-2 T light soy sauce, the sugar, salt, pepper, msg and top that with the veg. Cover and increase heat to high. Check once in a while, stirring to mix and add the squid and prawns when half done.
3. Check if the texture of the noodles is to your liking. Do not overcook the noodles or they will become pasty. Taste and season with more soy sauces if necessary because different brands have different levels of saltiness. You may have to add some more stock/water as this dish should be wet, but not too watery. Dish out onto a plate, scatter the crackling bits on top of the noodles. Serve hot with a hot chili sauce.