13 January 2008

You Tarzan. Mee Goreng.

A hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane, and smells like Cheetah
Ronald Reagan 1911-2004, 40th US President 1981- 89

Tarzan: [inside the smoke-filled Club Moonbeam in New York]
Smell like a Swahili swamp. Why people stay?

Jane: It's what they call having a good time.
Tarzan's New York Adventure, 1942

1981. I was feeling a little lost in the world as my emotions spun around family dilemmas and the necessity of swallowing my feelings in order for the world to seem brighter. I reconciled myself to the pretence that on the surface of things, all would appear normal and undisturbed. Lost in thought I sat at a Laminex table in the midst of the clatter and bustle of Penang Coffee House in Hawthorn. The smells were peculiar to me and the people in the room noisy and exuberant.

Danny Ko tossed his woks with vigour - and no fear of getting tennis elbow - while sternly surveying the dining room, lit brightly and highlighted by the glow of neons. If a patron stayed too long after eating, Danny would glower at them until they jumped up to pay the bill. The table would be turned immediately to people waiting patiently outside on the street.

It was here, in the care of my Uncle Alan - a Hong Kong Chinese - and his
Singaporean wife Kitty, that I ate my first Mee Goreng. It was a complex seduction that has had me search time and time again for the holy grail of perfection. I now happily make a faithful version of Danny Ko's Mee Goreng and have visited him occasionally at his current venture Nudel & Wraps for a soul defining fix.

This is a dish of multiple textures and contrasting flavours.
A thick spicy tomato sauce clings to thick chewy noodles. Within the mix are pieces of fried egg, and a slurry of chewy ingredients highlighted with lime and finished with a crisp chiffonade of iceberg lettuce, garnished with coriander and fried shallots. The flavours are rich and tangy, your nostrils will tingle with the smell.

Mee Goreng in my opinion is the dish which most epitomises the Malaysian cultural fusion of races. It is a dish commonly served there by street hawkers from glass fronted carts. Although the fundamental flavour is always the same, the ingredients vary depending on the location and religious mores of the diner. Mee Goreng is a spicy Nonya dish and literally means fried noodle.

In Malaysia, Nonya's & BaBa's were the women and men of Peranakan families. The Peranakan were men of Chinese descent, most notably Fukien from Fujian who came to Malaysia as Seamen, Merchants and Labourers. They married local Malay ladies and immersed themselves in local life. Nonya food fuses the two cultures in a most delicious way.

Mee Goreng takes that heritage and folds in the other major cultural influence in Malaysia - Indian. The spice mix that defines this dish is pure Indian masala. The noodles are Chinese Hokkien style - thick, round egg noodles which soak up the sauce - also Chinese are the bean shoots and sliced fried beancurd (tofu). The spice mix, lime, tomato, potato and chilli reflect the trade routes of the Merchants who settled in Malaysia.

In parts of Malaysia Mee Goreng is served Halal as per the Muslim Indian tradition, where no pork is included, but for me, the best tasting ones always seem to contain lumps of deep fried pork fat and fried Lup Cheong (Chinese Wind Dried Sausage). Cooking in lard makes a difference too.

Fujian cooking incorporates seafood, so into the mix goes squid and prawns. Also native to Fujian cookery is a slight sweet and sour flavour, but not to the effect of the Thai or Cantonese clear sweet pineapple or palm and rock sugar based sauces, this is more of a tang and a sizzle.
Into the mix there can also go chicken and some people like to add Cha Sui (Chinese BBQ'd shoulder pork).

You start with the Masala, mixing a paste of chilli, a little tamarind and Indian garam (spice blend) in the wok at high heat, sometimes I add a touch of Belanchan too. Then comes the chicken, sausage and seafood. Then the bean shoots and the noodles. At this point some people add ketchup manis (Kecap Manis) and tomato sauce (Ketchup), I don't, but I throw in the tofu and sometimes, cooked cubes of potato.

Eggs are beaten, then you push the other ingredients in the wok to one side and briefly cook the eggs on their own before stirring through. Then I toss in coarsely chopped tomato and cook the whole lot down with little water. If it's not spicy enough I may add a glug of the lurid red ABC brand tomato chilli sauce that is popular in Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

You then plate it up. I top with coriander and
crisp deep fried shallots, but put the lettuce and extra lime wedges to one side so that they can be added at the diner's discretion. The pieces of lime are squeezed over the dish to enliven the flavour and heighten the tanginess. Then I pretend I'm Danny and yell at my guests - not!

It's something I just can't get enough of, and has got easier because if you can't be fussed making the spice mix - or haven't the room to store all those spices - Asian Home Gourmet makes an excellent blend in a sachet for the cheat's version that'll evoke the smell of the street on a hot night in Gurney Drive, Penang; tropical dining heaven.

With a waft of the dish I can hear my Uncle Alan's voice again, breaking my reverie, shouting above the raucous restaurant patrons "Me Tarzan, you Goreng" and my own voice responding "You Tarzan. Mee Goreng!".

Nudel & Wraps, 264 Blackburn Rd, Syndal, Victoria (no bookings)

Penang Coffee House, 395 Burwood Rd, Hawthorn, Victoria,
ph. +613 9819 2092


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purple goddess said...

Nudel and Wraps??

Don't know it.

Is it near Nonya Hut?

stickyfingers said...

PG - It's between Lim's Nonya Hut and the grass! Or between Matthew Street and Coleman Parade. The shopfront only has a few tables and Danny has chest freezers of frozen stuff to takeaway - like his delicious beef rendang - opposite the counter at the back.

grocer said...

mmmmmmmmmmmm rendang.
me need malaysia fix.
isn't there a nudel in town?

stickyfingers said...

Nudel bar in Bourke Street was an interesting concept when Dure Dara opened it but has been lacklustre for ages. Definitely not Nonya but a mish mash of anything noodle or pasta-ish.

tigerfish said...

If I were Tarzan (or maybe Jane?), I wld "Or Yee Orrrr..." my way to your Mee Goreng :P

stickyfingers said...

LOL! Thanks Tigerfish if I see someone swinging by on a vine, I'll know it's you.

Anonymous said...

I think you have made me realize one thing I took for gramted in Melb which we are sadly lacking here, good quality Nonya grub.

cin said...

admittedly, I am not a big fan of mee goreng because i find it a little heavy, but your description has me drooling! will need to look out for nudel & wraps next time i'm down that way...

food makes me happy said...

I love Mee Goreng!