Malacca-style curry laksa
The sun's warm but not yet scorching. There's still a bit of freshness to the air and, as far as the photographer is concerned, the light is still golden. We've already got an hour and a half of satisfying marketing (and a tasty Nyonya zong) under our belts. Everything seems possible.
Even another breakfast.
Heading up the street from Malacca's Eng Seng market we come upon a food court partially hidden under low eaves. The din issuing from within tells us it's popular. Inside we find spotless marble-topped tables, wooden chairs, and a bossy manager.
'What you want?!' she demands, before we've even had a chance to take in the possibilities. Every stall seems to be doing a roaring business. We ponder the possibility of yong tauhu, Cantonese-style fried noodles, Hokkien mee, chee cheong fun, laksa ....
'Laksa!' she barks, not unpleasantly. It's not a question, it's an order, and we nod. 'Laksa!' she barks again, louder this time, at the laksa vendor on the other side of the room.
After a few minutes of small talk our order arrives. 'Here's your laksa. Carry on.'
Malaccan curry laksa is like KL curry laksa except, well, better. The version served at Tung Fang Food Court is fragrant with coconut milk but not too lemak (fatty rich) or sweet, and it's packed with slices of fish cake, shrimp, lots of crunchy pieces of deep-fried tofu skin, and plump cockles. The mound of finely slivered cucumber mixed with minced daun kesom (Vietnamese coriander) carefully arranged atop the laksa is a splendid touch. The gravy is lip-tinglingly spicy - always a plus for us - and the sambal served alongside, curiously devoid of belacan (as was the sambal we enjoyed with our Nyonya zong), adds another welcome hit of heat.
All morning we've been struck by the easy friendliness of the locals. We exchange smiles and share a table with three elderly ladies who, like everyone else around us, seem to be Tung Fang regulars. They're all eating chee cheong fun, with little saucers of pork dumplings on the side. The chatty-bossy manager is back, wondering if a bowl of laksa shared between the two of us really constitutes a proper breakfast (she doesn't know about the Nyonya zong). She's pushing the chee cheong fun. Now the elderly men at the next table get in on the act, raising their eyebrows at us in what we take to be a challenge:
Hey gwailo, you gonna walk out of here after one measly bowl of laksa, without even trying the chee cheong fun?
You already know how this story ends. We place an order, for chee cheong fun only, and then amend it to include some dumplings. The two women running the stall are probably the busiest of all of Tung Fang's vendors, the chee cheong fun maker in perpetual motion over her steamer trays and cutting board.
It can't possibly be as easy as she makes it look, spooning watery batter onto a cloth spread over the holes of a steamer, sprinkling its surface with shrimp, bits of char siew (barbecued pork), and chopped green onion, pulling the cloth from the steamer after it's spent a couple minutes under cover and then laying it onto an oiled stainless steel surface,
and lifting it up to reveal a rectangle of paper thin rice flour dough.
With a wide spatula and a few flicks of the wrist she maneuvers the rice flour sheet into a loose log,
slices it into chopstick-able chunks, and slides them onto a plate.
It's a wonderful Hong Kong-style chee cheong fun (the chili on the side and fried garlic on top are Malaysian flourishes) with an impeccably smooth texture. The rustic dumplings are unevenly sized and filled with pork that boasts the nubby texture of hand-chopped meat, rather than the usual machine-processed paste.
The chatty-bossy manager's back, and she nods approvingly as we finish off the chee cheong fun. 'Do you get these in your Chinatown in America?' she asks.
'Not like this,' we say. 'Not made to order three steps from your table, pulled off the steamer, plated, and placed in front of you all in the space of a minute.'
(Malaysians, do you know how good you've got it here?)
Tung Fang Food Court, Egerton Road, Malacca. Mornings. Laksa RM3, chee cheong fun 3.40, 3 dumplings 1.20.