Sunday wet marketing is hungry work. Luckily Bentong offers no shortage of chow options for ravenous, foot-sore shoppers. Vendors outside the central market sell everything from nasi lemak to yam cakes, and there's a cluster of curry houses a few blocks from the town's Hindu temple. We decide to stay 'in theme' with the mostly Chinese character of the market and sample a few of the town's noodle delights.
First up, Phoon coffeeshop (or is it Leong Yew?), right in the center of town. The place is heaving at 9:30am, when we grab a table with a fine view of the comings and goings at the outdoor market's dried fish stall, and place an order for a couple of bowls of what everyone else is having: wonton mee.
Made to order when it's this busy, the wonton are admirably silky if a bit overcooked. Mee, however, are outstanding - al dente, with a lovely springy bite, and doused in black soy and something greasy and fragrant that could only be lard. Topped with slices of smoky, oh-so-porcine BBQ pork, it's a memorable meal in a bowl.
Or, in our case, a meal-in-a-bowl prelude to ... more meals in bowls.
Fortified, we make our way back to the car to drop off our market haul: a bulging bag of Bentong ginger, heaps of mak choi, a kilo's worth of spanking fresh Spanish mackeral mid-section, and four gorgeous 3-inch thick pork chops (never set off for an out-of-town wet market without a blue-ice packed cooler in the back seat). The effort reawakens our appetite and we cruise quiet Ah Peng Street, one block over from the market, admiring Bentong's old-style shophouses and keeping an eye out for Breakfast Number Two.
We find it at Aik Hup coffeeshop, where a skinny grandmotherly type in a pale pink baseball cape with a wide, if nearly tootheless, grin welcomes us in for a single bowl (we're sharing, now) of pork noodle soup.
When our order arrives I'm disappointed. It's just a bowl of kuey teow (wide rice noodles), meat, and greens, in a cloudy broth.
But one taste and I'm reminded that the best dishes don't need bells and whistles. The broth is light but rich in flavor, tasting not only of meat but also of green vegetable freshness and white pepper, and the noodles are smooth and perfectly cooked, not at all flabby. Pork comes two ways: as eggshell-hued, surprisingly tender strips and as 'balls' that are really nothing more than a smidge of lightly clumped, rough-chopped meat. All meatballs should be so soft, textured, and devoid of filler.
Despite my initial scepticism I find I have to exercise restraint to keep from eating Dave's share of the ball as he fiddles with his camera.
Heading on to Breakfast Number Three, we stop to watch a streetside board game. This poor man wishes the gawping foreigners would quit ruining his concentration.
Our final morning sup stop Low Yew Kee, beef noodle specialist. The proprietor of this busy shop takes our order (Hainan-style chicken rice is another option), asking if we'd like our noodles 'wet' or 'dry'. "Dry!" he answers for us, before we can answer for ourselves. We trust him. After all, if anyone would know, he would.
As I eat my (own - Dave has decided that sharing is for the birds) bowl of beef noodles I realize that, as much as I've stretched and grown (in the innard-eating department) since we moved to Kuala Lumpur, I'm still not what you'd call an innard fan. But I suspect that innard lovers and beef noodle connoisseurs would find this to be an exceptional bowlful. The broth is truly intoxicatingly fragrant with anise and sharp with the bite of Bentong ginger, and the whole dish is rounded out with plenty of crunchy bean sprouts and a few sprigs of coriander. And there's lots and lots of chunks and slices and pieces of insides.
Each table sports a jar of an unusual and addictively sour (vinegar), peppery (freshly minced ginger), and fiery (red chilies) dipping sauce, a boon for innard non-lovers who like their parts well disguised.
When I pay our bill the owner tells me that just a few months ago a writer and photographer from Singapore sampled his noodles, which subsequently made press in the island state. I assure him that our commentary and photographs are destined for a little-known blog that will result in not a single whit of new business for him. To his credit, he wishes us a fine day anyway.
As Dave and I walk back to the car we agree that three breakfasts is probably at least one too many. It's time to head home and hope that we haven't completely ruined our appetites for a dinner of fresh mackerel fillets. But first, there's just one more food-focused stop that we have to make ....
Phoon/Leong Yew coffeeshop, Jalan Chui Yin (across the street from the central market building).
Aik Hup, Jalan Ah Peng (kittycorner to the market building).
Restoran Low Yew Kee, Jalan Loke Yew.