With that in mind, these days the one thing that will gravitate me towards a wanton mee stall is simply the noodles.
If they do a decent bowl of noodles, I will be happy. If they can hand make this aspect, it will be a miracle. In Singapore.
But I am not talking about Singapore today. In Johor Bahru, the best wanton mee places all make their noodles by hand. And wow, what a difference this makes!
|Chicken Feet Noodles|
Take a look at the above photo, and you can clearly see it's not your regular wanton mee you find in Singapore. It looks even better than the best wanton mee establishments here. The color is pale beige, none of that yellow kee that permeates most factory made noodles.
The strands are finer, and less squiggly. They look like fine dragon beard candy and has that intoxicating egg aroma when you get close to it. And what's more, even allowing the noodles to sit for some time due to our incessant photo taking, it will not dry and get rigid and sticky like most noodles that are not handmade.
We had the chicken feet and the regular wanton variants. The chicken feet had a tasty savory sauce that suggested of a balance of soy and braised chicken flavors. Using this sauce to coat the amazing noodles was simply heavenly.
The wanton mee had the usual mix of chilli tossed noodles, coupled with char siew and served with a side bowl of wanton soup. The less said about the char siew the better. Everything else was superb.
The texture of the noodles was exactly how I remembered one old Smith Street wanton mee stall when I was young. Perfectly al dente, the fragrance of the egg flavors journeyed through my entire palate and then back, before making me succumb to the spicy chilli aromatics underneath.
There is simply no way to describe how ecstatic I was as I chomped down every strand of this beautiful set of egg noodles. And the wantons themselves were no slouch either. Humbly small in size, every bite had a nice explosion of well seasoned filling that had packed just enough fats to make it lubricate in your mouth with a flavorful pork infusion.
|The Son Taking the Reins|
The father of the establishment was justifiably proud of his food, and is currently handling over the business to his son. Watching the dad talk about how his family is continuing his legacy, you could sense there is a genuine sense of passion and pride that has gone into this place.
Watching the son diligently cook the noodles, bowl after bowl with equal portions of grace and precision, there is this unspoken bond that exists between father and son that says so much of a family tradition that will linger on for at least another generation.
|Chilli Making Machine|
Like all good family food, everything is made from scratch. Not just the noodles, but even the chilli sauce that goes into every bowl of their noodles. This is what makes every mouthful so delicious.
The sauce is fresh, and you can taste all the infusion of garlic and lime that went into the making of it. If anything else, even a average cook can make a dish great by simply using fresh ingredients. It is that simple.
And simplicity is often a neglected attribute. And so is good old fashioned hard work. Instead of succumbing to short cuts, many eateries in Johor still persist with their age old ways of doing everything by hand and insisting on not cutting corners.
This is something that is very surely going away in many places in Singapore. With increasing rentals and labor crunch, many owners here have resorted to buying premixes and bottled sauces and other factory crafted foods.
Instead of making good food to please folks, Singapore F&B eateries have largely resigned to making money instead. And this is very sad. But it is also a reflection of our philosophical ideology and our always increasing craving for titles and rankings that we forget that winning isn't everything.
Throughout our trip visiting various food places, it has become clear to me that food businesses in Johor is not just about making money. It is also about preserving a past that is so important to the folks there.
Preservation is not just lip service, but a sincere effort to connect with the people that are still around to practice those traditions. And to extrapolate from them, the way to continue their hard work for future generations to not just appreciate, but to hopefully continue the good work.
I am so grateful for Tony for doing such wonderful work in visiting all these great places in JB and writing about them. In the process, I am awakened to the amazing food and more importantly, the people behind such great cuisine.
Remember, food is only a means to something more. And that something is ...
Restoran Chin Chin
Junction of Jalan Lawang and Jalan Kaloi
Click here to check out Bonding Tool's excellent retelling of this experience too.