Category: Penang Street Food

It’s all about ‘mee’

By Nooraini Mydin

HIGH-FRYERS: The Penang ‘mee rebus’ has won fans and fame in Malaysia, thanks to a few good Mamak who are still ‘frying high’ even after more than half a century

GEORGE TOWN: EVEN if you haven’t tasted it, you surely would have heard of the Penang mee rebus. But where can you find it these days?

It is a dish that is fast disappearing from Penang’s landscape of hawker stalls, but thankfully, the Mamak who has been feeding my family our regular doses of mee rebus since the 1970s is still “frying high”.

The so-called mee Mamak in Kuala Lumpur tends to be laden with soy sauce, which makes it dark, dry and unappetising.

The Penang version is a delicious, red colour from the specially-made chilli sauce.

Mee rebus is a meal in itself, laden with yummy goodness like cuttlefish, prawn fritters, beef, egg, potato, tauhu and of course, the all-important taugeh which gives it that fresh crunchiness.

The secret is in the sauce, which should be thick and hot, with a tinge of sourness. And the only person I trust to do it properly is Mahboob of Mee Rebus Bangkok Lane fame.

The stall is the keystone of the corner coffee shop in Lorong Bangkok, off Jalan Burmah.

Having started at 15 to help his father, Mohamad Zakaria at the stall after school, Mahboob was ready to step into his old man’s shoes when he was taken ill.

From the time he had a full afro till now, when he sports nothing more than a bald pate, Mahboob has been whizzing about behind the piles of ingredients on the stall shelf; a pinch of this, a sprinkle of that, Mahboob is on auto-pilot after 42 years on the job.

Long before Merdeka, his father sold noodles out of a pushcart (in the pre-tricycle days), in nearby Bagan Jermal. Tired of being harangued by the British-run Municipal authority, he set up shop at the current location in 1949. Mahboob offers the same fare his father did —mee rebus, mee goreng, kway teow, bihun and pasembur.

It is the original mee rebus that the noodle connoisseurs order, but he says: “The new generation don’t seem to go for it. They prefer the fried mee, probably because they don’t want to have to worry about the sauce spilling onto their clothes.”

Indeed, mee rebus ranks as high in the danger-to-clothing stakes as spaghetti.

Still, Mahboob is content that the regulars, including those who’ve lived abroad, have returned to seek him out. These have even taken the mee rebus to far flung places.

“Before Australia banned food items, parents visiting their children studying there would take it there. Now I’ve people taking it with them to China and Egypt.”

The biggest order he has had for despatch abroad was 50 packs.

With air travel and refrigeration, this is not unusual.

Penang food buffs worried that their favourite hawker food might go the way of the dodo will be relieved to know that Mahboob has his son, Sabiq, all ready to take the baton.

’Mee Agong’/’Mee CRC’

The name “Mee CRC” came from the stall’s old location outside the Chinese Recreation Club. Its current spot in Larut Cafe in Jalan Larut, is its fourth home.

The stall was started four generations back by Mohd Musa, who set up his stall at the Pykett Methodist School canteen in 1941 before deciding to set up shop on a pushcart along Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, then known as Jalan Northam. It was here, in the early 1960s, that Raja Perlis, the then Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, upon passing by, got his aide to order the mee rebus.

He liked it and became a regular. What an endorsement. Since then, it has been known among regular customers as mee Agong.

Road works there sent Mohd Musa and son, Nagoor Meerah, to peddle the noodles outside the Chinese Recreation Club (CRC) but for the last 22 years, the stall has been in Larut Café, and run by Nagoor’s son, Mohd Razali. He is now grooming his nephew, Muhammad Faris Abdul Aziz to take over the family business.

The stall offers the full array of noodles. but for me, it is the mee goreng it does best. The mee Agong is also nice because even fried, the mee is moist.

’Mee Sultan’

Mee Sultan used to be in Lorong Swatow, outside New World Park, a former entertainment venue from pre-Independence days.

The stall proprietor, Mohd Sultan Mydin still remembers the pre-war days when joget sessions featuring P. Ramlee and Ahmad Nawab, and boxing tournaments were held at the park.

He moved the stall there from Jalan Argyll in 1980.

Lorong Swatow was a popular eating place with a Chinese kopitiam supplying the drinks, an ais kacang seller and a popiah stall.

Apart from the standard noodles, Mee Sultan also serves pasembur but my all-time favourite has to be his kway teow goreng , which is moist like char kway teow but red and spicy.

All the stalls had to move out while New World Park was demolished for re-development. Nobody seemed to know where Mamak Sultan had gone. I was gutted. Mee Sultan sightings were posted on Facebook, but nobody could take me to it.

Then, when the site reopened as a food and retail outlet in 2007, there he was. What a lovely surprise!

He’s been there ever since, cooking up a regular treat that has fans wiping chilli-induced sweat from their brows and calling for ice-cream ais kacang from the nearby stall.

The 73-year old has many fans indeed. Last year, his regular customers enjoyed a novelty in the form of a “Mat Salleh” frying the noodles in his place.

It was his son-in-law, Norwegian Mohamad Thomas Broen who was giving the Mamak a hand before claiming that of his daughter, Habsah and whisking her back to Norway with him.

Although his children are not interested in the business, Mamak Sultan can rest easy as his nephew, Kadir Mydin is ready to take over the business.

Perhaps it is because upon reaching your 50s, you are hit by nostalgia for all the good things past, but I would hate for these hawker delights to vanish from our culinary repertoire because of a lack of interest from the younger generation.

Fortunately, this might just not happen in my lifetime.

[Courtesy of NST,]

Category: Penang Street Food