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Monday, 17 March 2008

A Flood Of Prawn Noodles

It has been a hectic week of travelling for me since last week, so much so that I have not had the time to update my blog. Nonetheless in terms of eating, the weekend before has been a week of good tidings where I have had the pleasure to compare three Malay stalls that serve the quiessential prawn noodle dishes, that most Chinese of noodle dish known as mee yoke for the wet version and sang har meen for the dry version, that has been given the Malay touch with the addition of large prawns to make it a dish fit for kings. However the experience has been limited to two northern localities in the peninsular mainland, and a taste of the other prawn noodles on Penang Island has to wait awhile longer not withstanding the ones I already tried at Padang Kota Lama.

Yet it is in the northern state of Penang where this meal journey begins, when in the course of business travelling by car to the north I suggested to my travelling companion that we should try out the famous Sungei Dua prawn noodles for dinner. Thus we went in search of the famous Seri Tambang Mee Udang, supposedly the original keeper of the prawn noodles prepared the Malay way. After making a wrong turning requiring a u-turn back to Sungai Dua town, we finally found the shop beside the river. Unfortunately since I took a long time to relieve myself after long drive in the rain due to the long queue for limited toilet facilities available, my travelling companions already ordered the dry prawn noodles with large sea prawns instead of the large river king prawns that would have made a better sauce since they were with roe. Nonetheless the noodles that are basically fried noodles mamak style were still delicious, as the sweet prawns lent their sweetness to the dish. And these prawns are definitely no shrimps, as the pictures will attest. I like this dish better than the wet style prawn noodle, as to me this wet style noodle dish is just basically mee rebus like my mother makes but enhanced by the addition of large prawns that again lent their sweetness to the dish. My travel companions lapped them up nonetheless and they said they have never tasted such a delicious dish, but I told them that to me the prawn noodles in Matang or Kuala Sepetang near Taiping was much better in my books. Also I feel that the prawn noodles here are expensive, as they were charging RM8 for 100 grams of sea prawn and RM7 for the river prawns. Thus we ended up paying a good amount of money just for 600 grams or a catty of prawns used in both dishes, which comes up to about a dozen of prawns to be shared by four people. This is much more than what you pay in Taiping, and definitely you cannot get an affordable overflowing prawn noodle bowl in this case.

Well in Matang Taiping there are two prawn noodle stalls that are recommendable, one of which is the more famous Warong Mak Teh with the overflowing prawns that floods the noodles and the other shop recommended by my sister that is less well known publicly but to me the better of the two. This shop was in fact the first shop we dined in when we were in Taiping, and it is located at the junction in front of the football field just before Kuala Sepetang town. It has no sign, just a simple banner advertising they sell prawn noodle and their menu is just pasted on the side wall. But they cook a mean dish of prawn noodles Penang har mee style, and their dry version is also Penang style mamak fried noodles. However this time we tried their fried rice prawn, wet “har mee” style prawn noodles and fried prawn with white rice. Each dish starts from RM9, and increases in price to 12 and 15 ringgit each with more prawns. Here the prawns are uniformly sized, and you get about eight large prawns for the nine ringgit serving that we had. These are soft shelled white sea prawns, what we call as udang kertas in Malay. Their meat are sweeter than the harder shelled sea prawn or udang kelong, although these have firmer flesh. With three prawn dishes on the table, it actually became a chore to finish them, but finish them we did leaving prawn shells on the table. Since I still wanted their fried prawn noodle, we took back one to the hotel since the room had a microwave unit, but we didn’t actually need it since the noodles was still warm when the kids had it for supper. When packed in a styrofoam pack the size of prawns is really shown off, so it was no wonder that the kids even polished of the heads of the prawns, since frying them turned the ‘brain’ into a palatable solid piece of roe like mouthful pleasure. Again a mount of prawn shells was what was left behind as evidence that the meal was happily devoured by all of us.

The next day we had another fix of prawn noodles, as I wanted to compare the no name stall with the reputed Mak Teh offerings. Here the stall is more commercial, with satellite stalls selling fruit juices, burgers and such. This means that Mak Teh concentrates on preparing their prawn noodles, although they do offer other dishes like chicken rice which my elder daughter wanted to try. Here the prawn noodle is prepared Malay style, in a chilly based soup that I think uses prawn shell as the stock base. The dry style fried noodle is also Malay style, that depends much on soy sauce for the taste but again using prawn stock as a base as it was fried wet style. True to their reputation, the dishes were flooded with prawns where the size determines the price that starts at eight ringgit. At this price a dish would have about 15 pieces of their smallest sized prawns and the size would increase incrementally with the price. Accordingly you really needed to push aside the prawns to get at the noodles. However as I mentioned before, these were the hard shelled types that although the flesh was firmer, was not so sweet tasting. Thus it did not surprised me that there was many types of condiments put on the table, as the dishes really could not stand on its own with just the sweet taste of prawns to enhance the dish. But we could not bear to adulterate the taste of the noodles with the condiments, so we soldiered on though my younger daughter actually had to dip her prawns in some soy sauce to make it more palatable for her. We again tapau-ed a pack of fried prawn noodles for breakfast the next day, but even after being microwaved the no-name version fared much better, since the noodles had absorbed the sauce and expanded, and the prawns being the smaller version had not much head juice to savour.

Thus we could make a conclusion that day, that the next time we are in Kuala Sepetang the no-name stall would be our choice as it serves a far better prawn noodles than the more famous Mak Teh. Yet to be fair it would boil down to personal taste, as we as a family really favour the Penang style prawn preparations therefore we prefer the no-name stall, although we believe more Malay palates would prefer Mak Teh’s version. But be forewarned, these stalls only opened from around three o’clock onwards after getting their fresh supplies of prawns, and you must content with flies that hover on the tables despite many cleaning attempts, as the leftover prawn juices that are from the prawn shells usually piled high on the table will still remain to attract the flies. But this is a small price to pay for a flood of prawns in your bowl, where you can actually eat like a king for a price that is definitely a fraction of the prices in Kuala Lumpur, or even Sungai Dua in Penang.

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