One of the noodle dishes in Kuala Lumpur that crept up on me was the pork noodles - nothing like it exists in Singapore and, despite my hundreds of visits to KL thoughout my life, it was only when I was posted to KL for work and live there from 2011 till early 2017 that I was introduced to that dish by my colleagues and finally “understood” what that dish was.
KL-style pork noodles can be served in soup or dry form. But since KL’s Chinese are mainly Cantonese, the soup form holds sway (as the Cantonese, among all the dialect groups of Southern China, are known for their love of soups). The closest thing I’d ever encountered to KL-style pork noodles has to be Penang’s koay teow th’ng, a Teochew/Chiuchow noodle dish which is sweeter in taste, and much lighter (as the Chiuchows like their food light & subtler in flavours than other dialect groups).
Hence, my culture shock when introduced to a bowl of pork noodles swimming in greasy soup, replete with pork strips, pig liver and with a barely-cooked egg poaching inside. The soup would inevitably be blandish (to my taste), unlike the delicate savoury-sweet broth of the Penang koay teow th’ng. Throughout my five-and-a-half years stay in KL, I tried quite a few places which KL-lites claim to be leading proponents of this dish: Sun Sea Restaurant in Overseas Union Garden, Peter’s Pork Noodles on Jalan Tun Sambanthan, Yuyi in Pudu, etc.
But one which I really liked was this one: Mui Chea Pork Noodles, then located in Seng Lee coffeeshop in Jalan Batai, Damansara - a mere 5 minutes’ drive from my apartment in Bangsar. Seng Lee coffeeshop had been operating for 3 decades and was an iconic lunch-spot for KL-lites. Then, astonishingly, the whole Jalan Batai retail area was closed down for an “upgrading” project by the landlord towards the end-2013. By the time the whole place re-opened in mid-2014, a clutch of upmarket dining spots have replaced previously grimy, aging eateries. I wasn’t too enamoured by the change - coming from Singapore, where we have more than our fair share of sterile, run-of-the-mill bistros and cafes which are indistiguishable from those one would find in NY or SF, KL’s older spots possess character (grime & all) which I found interesting & exciting.
But Shangri-la Restaurant - which is actually more of a foodcourt - was the exception there at the revamped Jalan Batai dining precinct. The stalls offer the hawker food items which patrons of the defunct Seng Lee kopitiam had sought after. Mui Chea Pork Noodles (now run by Khoo Mui Chea’s son, Khoo Kah Hing) occupy one of the stalls.
Mui Chea Pork Noodles is served with hor fun, i.e. flat white rice noodles. I was back in KL early this week and couldn’t resist hitting my old neighbourhood. I opted for the dry version of the pork noodles, which I find much more acceptable to my taste, as I had never taken to KL-style pork soup. The hor fun noodles are tossed in lard, and a dark soysauce-based dressing, then topped with minced pork and a slice of pork ham. There’s an accompanying bowl of clear soup with pork balls.
The noodles were every bit as good as I remembered - almost as fine as those from Ipoh, that other Cantonese/Hakka-influenced food city to the north of KL.
Other options at Shangri-La Restaurant were every bit as good. The other popular one is the Char Koay Teow stall. At the old Seng Lee, the CKT stall was run by husband-and-wife duo, Khoo Meng Hian & Eng Lee Ling, but who relocated to Klang. Not sure who’s the current owner but the CKT is really good - worth the trip to this place just for it (more so than even Mui Chea’s pork noodles)
The CKT is fried almost like Penang-style, but not quite - it’s lighter, closer to the original Teochew/Chiuchow/Chaozhou fried rice noodles in China, but it incorporates shrimps like the Penang version.
Shangri-la also boasts a good Wantan Noodle joint. The one which used to be at the old Seng Lee, run by the 3 Chan sisters: Lyn Tai, Lin Yeng and Fong Lin, did not move to Shangri-la but went to Jie Mee, another kopitiam in Sri Hartamas. The replacement one here is pretty good as well - my favourite type of wantan noodles has always been the KL version, not HK’s one in its staid soupy form, nor Penang’s version with its al dente noodles, or Singapore’s Hakka-inflected one with chewy noodles dressed in lard and ultra-spicy chili paste.
KL wantan mee, with its tasty blend of soysauces (dark & light), drippings from good “char siew” (caramelised BBQ pork), tasty wantan dumplings with a blend of pork-shrimp, and finely-textured wheat noodles are, to my taste, the best rendition ever of all regional styles.
7, Jalan Batai, Bukit Damansara
50490 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +6019-315 4893
Opening hours: 7.30am-2pm, 6pm-10pm Mon-Sat. Closed on Sunday.