I love the way a certain food or meal can instantly transport you back to your childhood. Food is so evocative and nostalgic. When I was growing up, I had such a strong impression of Penang from the tales my mum would tell me about the different foods she ate there as a child, and from the yearning in her voice I almost felt like I missed them as much as she did.
One of the foods that takes her back to being a teenager in Penang is Hokkien Mee. My mum has sent me her recipe for this dish as her entry into the Care to Cook challenge, which is a celebration of good family food. If you’d like to enter a dish, you still have time – the closing date is 12 August. And there’s a copy of the Care to Cook recipe book signed by Lorriane Pascale for the winner.
So, I hand you over to my mum, Cheryl…
This is my recipe for Penang’s Hokkien Mee. It’s different from how they do it in Singapore or anywhere else in Malaysia, and it’s so delicious!
We used to eat it at our favourite haunt, a coffee shop with a juke box near Cantonment Road where we lived. The Kopi Tiam or coffee shop had lots of different food stalls around it where you could order food. We would eat the noodles with our ice coffee or kopi-o-peng and meet the Thai boys (who came to study in Penang) and listen to music.
Penang Hokkien Mee
10 tbsp chilli boh (about 35 deseeded, soaked dried chilies – blended in 3-4 tbsp water)
15 shallots (minced)
6 cloves garlic (minced)
2kg pork bones
2-3kg prawn shells (chopped)
2 pieces rock sugar (golf ball size)
6 eggs (hard boiled)
300g bean sprouts
5-6 stalks of morning glory (kangkung or green veg from Chinese supermarket)
300g pork ribs
1kg yellow noodles (chow mein)
1 packet rice vermicelli (bee hoon)
Wash all the bones clean with salt and put them in a big pot of boiling water. Lower the heat, close the pot with a lid and simmer for about two hours. Remove all the bones and you should get about 15 cups of stock.
Heat about 7-8 tablespoons of oil in a wok and fry the garlic and shallots (leave 1 tbsp of shallots for the cooking of stock) for about five minutes on a low heat. Add in the chilli boh and fry until fragrant. Add a pinch of salt. Scoop out and put to one side the chilli paste, leaving about half a tablespoon in the wok.
Heat up the wok again with another tablespoon of oil and throw in all the prawns. Stir fry until all the prawns curl up. Scoop out the prawns and leave to one side.
Add some more oil to the wok. Put in the chopped prawn shells – drain the shells as much as possible and keep the remaining juice for the stock. Fry the shells until you get that thick aromatic prawn smell. By then, the shells will be a bright orange colour. Pour in the remaining juice from earlier plus another 3-4 cups of water. Let it simmer on a low heat for about two hours.
While waiting for the prawn stock to cook, heat up 2 tablespoons of oil in a soup pot and fry the reserved tablespoon of shallots for about a minute. Add half to one tablespoon of the cooked chilli paste. Mix well and add in the bone stock. Bring to a boil and add in the pork pieces and ribs. Lower heat to a simmer further.
When the prawn stock is ready, slowly and carefully sieve (leaving out all the shells) into the pork stock pot. Bring to boil while adding in 2-3 tablespoons of soy sauce, rock sugar, and pepper and salt to taste. Remove the foam on the surface while retaining some of the floating oil.
Lower the heat and check if the pork is tender. Scoop up in separate bowls. Sliced the meat thinly. Leave all aside for garnishing later.
Cut the hard boiled eggs into halves, quarters or rings to your liking.
Heat up a wok of water and blanch the bean sprouts and morning glory. Make sure you drain the excess water well. Set both aside.
Soak the rice vermicelli (bee hoon) for about half an hour (or according to the directions on the pack). Drain well. Do the same for the yellow noodles.
To serve, place some bean sprouts and morning glory at the base of a deep bowl. Add your noodles then top with some prawns, sliced meat, pork ribs and egg. Pour some boiling soup over the noodles and garnish with some fried shallots and chilli paste.