Much as we looooove Malaysian food, Dave and I are always thrilled to happen upon zhenwei ('true taste') China-style Chinese food in Kuala Lumpur. In past months cravings for pork, pork, and more pork, in a multitude of preparations; lamb; doughy foods like thick noodles and weighty dumplings; and truly mouth-burning chilies have led us here and here.
Many Malaysians have difficulty with Chinese food prepared as it's done on the mainland. "Too oily" is a complaint I hear often. It's true - stir-fries outside of China's furthest south tend to be heavy on the slippery stuff. Perhaps cooks in China overcompensate for the decades of rationing that made regular cooking oil a dear commodity and sesame oil a nearly unheard of luxury. More likely, the surfeit of oil in 'China-Chinese' food can be attributed to the fact that most Chinese cooks view oil as a carrier of flavor. I tend to agree. While it's good for neither the thighs nor the heart, spooning up the last drops of chili and meat essence-infused oil that pools the bottom of a just-demolished platter of Chinese food is, for me, one of life's evil pleasures.
Here, though, is an authentic Chinese nibble that any noodle-loving Malaysian, oil-phobic or otherwise, could love: la mian ('pulled' noodles). For over two years this vendor, who hails from the far northern city of Harbin, has been supporting a husband and two children (still back home in Harbin) by pulling noodles to order.
She starts by softening the dough with vigorous kneading.
After it into a long rectangle, she folds the dough back on itself a few times to increase the number of noodles she'll get from this one batch.
Twisting the dough into a 'rope' readies it to be separated into threads.
Dough becomes noodles mid-air. After several seconds of simultaneous flipping and twisting, the rope magically separates into strands.
The noodles are dusted with flour and twisted/flipped again, doubling in number.
The result is truly a noodle connoisseur's fantasy: absolutely smooth and silken, tender yet exquisitely elastic noodles. Whiter and less overtly wheaty in flavor than the streetside la mian we used to enjoy in Shanghai (served there in a yummy, yellowish curried broth, with a few sprigs of coriander), this lady's noodles are nonetheless sturdy and pleasantly chewy. She dishes them up in a light but porky broth, with large chunks of soy and star anise-infused hongshao zhurou (red-cooked pork). Also occupying the bowl are thick slices of dried mushroom, plenty of crisp-tender greens, scallions, and - in a nod to Malaysian tastes - small clumps of lightly salty seaweed (see opening photo). The noodles are served with an authentically northern China-style grainy and oily ground chili dipping sauce.
To me, this bowlful of noodles tastes of China. Though there's something slightly off about eating them in the tropical heat (one should be perched on a tiny wooden stool in a streetside concrete shed, bundled up against a gray and wet Shanghai winter, trying to maneuver spoon and chopsticks around spontaneous bouts of the shivers), they still qualify as luscious.
Also noteworthy are this stall's shuijiao (boiled dumplings), stuffed with pork and (not quite enough) pungent Chinese chives. The skin on these morsels is appropriately thick, but softens quickly in the hot broth - order them dry, served on a platter, with broth on the side. Should push come to shove I'd be forced to rate Dongbei Restoran's moist and flavor-packed vegetable shuijiao higher, but these babies are no slouch.
Bengjing (sic) mee (Beijing noodles) at Sea View Restoran, Jalan Klang Lama, OUG, Kuala Lumpur. Early morning to late afternoon.