I just realised that I've never done anything on Wan Tan Mee. The Klang Vally signature dish that no other Malaysian variation does justice to. Wan Tan Mee outside of Klang Valley is schlock. Anyone who talks of Penang Wan Tan Mee or Sibu Kampua or Kuching KoLok Mee as comparable needs to have his taste buds checked. The cheap imitations that pretend to be Wan Tan Mee may be reckoned for what they are, and may actually be pretty good in their own right,.. but get this straight: they are NOT Wan Tan Mee.
CHAR SIEW WAN TAN MEE is a tradition,.. no, it's an INSTITUTION. And an art form of gustational delight. Where should I start? The noodles? The charred pork? Or the soft wanton?
Let's start with the noodles, seemingly the most easy part of the dish. It looks like, well, just, noodles.. but if not done right it's crap. The wanton mee chef must be able to take the raw, lightly powdered noodle-bundle through a series of boiling-hot and cold water baths, in the exact timing and sequence for it to come out cooked, tender, and separate. Before there was the PCR thermocycler, there was the wanton mee kungfu master. Each noodle must be a single discrete strand not enmeshed into one another. And they must be individually firm, not mushy and slopping on to each other. To add to its silky strand-by-strand smoothness they may be laced with a hot stock-sauce that is barely noticeable but lifts the noodle from the ordinary to the heavenly.
Then,.. comes the charred pork, or CHAR SIEW. These are chunks of pork, marinated with a secret blend of spices and sauces and roasted, usually in a large, blackened oil barrel almost the height of a wanton-mee kungfu master. For all its primitiveness, it is a wonderful way to make roast pork. The wanton mee kungfu master worth his salt, charres his own siew. Early in the morning he will be seen setting a pile of coal ablaze under his large black cauldron. Chanting, puffing and occasionally lifting out the porcine portions for inspection, a billowing cloud will shroud the populace, signalling the coming of char siew. When the tender meats are ready, they are sliced thinly but not so thin that they blow off in the wind (like Kampua) or so thick that you have to gnaw for hours. The peripheries are reddish-brown, almost black and will be crispy at the farthest edges. The meat within should be firm and still retain some moisture. The aromas of the spices would have permeated the meat thoroughly and jet steam into your olfactory nerve upon first bite.
Wanton. Wanton are simply meat-rolls. Light, in a refreshing soup. But again, this can be done wrong in so many ways. Too much meat and it will feel like having a whole meal in itself. Too little, it's nothing more than a flour ball. Just right, and again rapidly passed through the boil, the meats should be chewy, the wrap silky, and the after-taste, oh-so-yummy.
OK. Where can you get this? KL has quite a few places that passes the test of authenticity. You can't just walk into any coffee shop that has a stall selling wanton mee and think it's KL Wanton Mee. There's practically one in every coffee house and food court in this city. The few that make the mark in my list (and I'm happy to be introduced to any I've missed) are: Khoon Kee (Petaling Street), Toong Kwoon Chye (Jln Bukit Bintang), and one I've recently discovered that top them all, Jalan Pahang (corner shop, few shoplots from Kamal Book Store.)
The one at Jalan Pahang (I'll update this one I get the name), from which these photos were taken is a classic place. Attesting to its superior quality are two things: the crowd, and the behavior of the crowd. It's always packed in the mornings. People with papers, people in neckties, doctors with stethoscopes (the General Hospital is just opposite), renal failure patients with cathethers in their neck, schoolkids with their bags and doctors late for work because they are waiting for their wanton mee. And all these people, regardless of their status in society, sits quietly, not raising a finger or whimper. They wait. They do not annoy the lady-boss with rude orders. You are seen, not heard,.. until the lady-boss decides it's time to take your order, and not a second earlier. Amateurs are seen walking up to the stall and demanding their portion... hahaha... they will never eat. This place has all the above qualities of wanton mee, plus the attitude.
Needless to say, I love it.