Should you find yourself in Kuching, get to know this man. And be nice to him, because he stands between you and what may well be the most sublime bowl of noodles in all of Malaysia.
Arrive at Min Joo, in Kuching's Chinatown, expecting a wait.
This half century-old tiny corner shop, with only two tables outside and three or four within, heaves with customers opening to closing. Would-be diners hover at its edges, jealously eyeing the progress of those already eating while silently laying claim to their chairs. Seating is China-style - no queue, in other words - so when a chair is vacated move it or lose it. A politely uttered 'I think I was here first' may prompt an impatient interloper to hand over the space that should, by all rights, have been yours.
But don't bet on it.
The draw here is mee kolok, a Kuching specialty of flat-and-wide or round-and-thin noodles tossed with soy and lard and topped with pork three ways: charred (char siew), chopped, and stewed-and-sliced. Jin Moo's version features top-notch fresh pasta and is especially fragrant with the fat of the pig.
During peak hours (mid-morning, especially on weekends), as the orders pile up and customers and would-be customers jostle for space with servers, things can get a little crazy. That's where Mr. X comes in. Taking and giving orders with the staccato bark of a drill seargent, all the while maintaining an at-the-ready supply of soy and chile-filled condiment saucers, he keeps chaos at bay.
At Min Joo it's important to observe protocol.
First, don't expect to be seated. Mr. X is likely aware that your presence well preceded that of the barrel-shaped, sharp-elbowed aunty, but he'll not intervene when she pole-vaults across two tables to plant her rear in the chair you've been staking out for half an hour. At Min Joo the rule of the jungle prevails; you gotta fight (in a polite, understated sort of way) for your right to eat.
Second - do not, in your eagerness to place an order, raise a hand - or even an eyebrow - at Mr. X or anyone else. Min Joo is a bit like elementary school: you may speak when called upon.
This is no cause for vexation, for Mr. X's eagle eye has registered the moment at which you sat down and you'll be asked what you'd like to eat in proper order, relative to other diners. Though you may keel over from hunger or torment, or both, as you wait your turn while watching others blissfully shovel in Min Joo's sinfully lard-coated noodles, never fear, for once Mr. X has heard your wishes vittles will arrive shortly.
Pass idle moments by observing the action at the shop's front prep area. Here, a gentleman with permanently hunched shoulders - Mr. X Sr., perhaps - and a woman with an ever serious mien, both seemingly glued to their spots behind the glass, seamlessly and without pause pull together order after order after order.
Into a bowl go a splash of soy, a glug of dark vinegar, and - dished up from a large pot at the center of the work area - an extremely generous amount of lard.
Noodles fresh from the boiler are piled on top and the lot is deftly mixed and tossed with a ladle almost as large as the bowl.
The elastic noodles are then apportioned, with the help of scissors, into awaiting serving vessels.
There are several options here. A request for kolok mee with wide noodles will net you a mound of pasta topped with three-ways pork (plus a pork ball), sliced fish cake, a piece of innnard or two, and chopped scallions (seven photos up, green background). The fettucine-like noodles are beyond reproach - eggy and chewy, cooked al dente - and the array of pork toppings flavorful to a one.
But most of Min Joo's customers order their thin kolok mee kosong (plain), and it must be said that these strands of pasta bare of solid pork serve well to focus attention on their fantastic springiness larded almost, but not quite, to excess.
Kolok mee kosong are best accompanied by Min Joo's 'vegetable soup'. Vegetarians, or anyone looking for a healthy dose of fiber, be forewarned: the only sign of produce in this bowl is a murky green blob of pleasantly briney seaweed and a few slivers of preserved salted vegetable.
In our book pork balls, belly, kidney, liver, stomach and intestine (as well a small prawn or two) don't qualify as produce. Neither is there a trace of veggie flavor in the full-on meat broth.
But Min Joo's noodles are so fine, and their 'vegetable soup' so slurp- (and chew-) worthy, that we're willing to cut the place some slack.
Anyway, haven't you heard? Offal is the new bok choy.
Min Joo, Carpenter Street (look for the packed out corner shop across from Bollywood Cafe), Kuching, Sarawak. 730a-3p. No phone, no fixed off days.