Sunday, June 1, 2008

Lor mee, comfort noodles

Mum made the quintessential Hokkien noodles lor mee for lunch yesterday… what a treat! Lor mee is a simple soup noodle dish in a thick-ish broth that is easy to cook and a staple fare in traditional Hokkien families. It is less well known than the dark fried Hokkien mee that KL is famous for, although a self-respecting fried Hokkien mee stall would serve lor mee, too.

The basic ingredients are garlic, pork, prawns, thick yellow noodles, whatever vegetable you can get your hands on (we used spinach this time round), eggs and black vinegar. Cut the pork into small strips and marinate with a little soy sauce and tapioca flour (or arrowroot flour if you prefer). De-shell the prawns. Beat up the eggs (we used two for the five of us).

Put a little oil (or, a lot of oil, if you are cavalier) into a heated big pot or wok, and cook the prawns. Remove prawns and then throw in come chopped garlic and the prawns shells and sauté until the combo smells heavenly and you’re reaching for some snacks to stay your hunger pangs.

Add in the desired amount of water (depends on how many people you are cooking for) and boil. Mum adds anchovies too to the soup to give it extra oomph. Add salt to taste.

After the soup has boiled and simmered for a while (oh, anything from 5-15 minutes, depending on how rushed you are), remove the prawn shells from the soup (use a sift) and then throw in the big fat yellow noodles and the pork, and bring to boil again, cooking for a couple of minutes. At this stage you might want to add a thickening mixture of tapioca flour dissolved into a little water. This gives the soup its dense, smooth character. Then throw in the vegetables (spinach cooks very quickly) and the cooked prawns, and simmer for another minute or so. Turn off the heat and stir the beaten eggs in evenly. Viola!

We eat lor mee with a couple of standard accompaniments. The first is fried diced shallots and ewe poke (or itsy bitsy pieces of lard). Mmmmmm, larrrrd.

The other is a combo of super hot chilli padi (Thai chillies), chopped garlic and soy sauce. Spicing the noodles up with some Southeast Asian heat marks the inevitable evolution of a community’s culture as it moves away from the motherland and assimilates and takes root in its new (chilli-eating) home.

The ingredient that makes the dish distinctive, though, is a generous helping of black vinegar. And not just any vinegar, mind you. Purists will insist on eng choon lao chor (in pinyin, yongchoon laocu, 永春老醋). This aged vinegar is one of the most well known products from Eng Choon/Yong Chun, an area in China’s Hokkien/Fujian province known also for its Mandarin oranges. I managed to sample both at its source over 10 years ago when visiting my grandfather’s ancestral village there. That was so gooood.

Don’t skimp on the vinegar – get in a good two tablespoon-full (at least) for the invigorating kick!

Why, you might ask (or you might not) are there no precise measurements for the instructions above? Well, I don’t pretend to be running a recipe site. And secondly, have you ever tried getting precise measurements from your Mum, especially if she’s been a homemaker all her life and doing this with her eyes closed?

Me: How much noodles are you using, Ma?
Mum: Depends. Are you hungry? [Yes, I was, so she added noodles!]
Me: And how much water did you put in?
Mum: Usually just short of the rim of the wok should be enough.
Me: And the pork?
Mum: I’m using a portion from a piece I bought the other day.

Hope that was helpful for you, too ☺


Jen L. said...

All I can say is that those were NOT itsy bitsy little pieces of lard.

And oh, Happy Anniversary, honey.

z said...

omg, i'm totally going to try this recipe yo!!!

z said...

wait, you mean you FRY the prawn shells with the garlic AFTER you remove the cooked prawns??

that means you leave the prawn shells in the soup???

Aromatic Beans said...

Oops, you got me there! Yes, remove prawan shells with sift after the water's boiled!

z said...

i just visited this site again to get this recipe and found myself laughing at your directions!!! you are hilarious!!