Noodles are known to be a versatile food as there are no specific time or ways to eat it. Dry or soup, day or night, they are quick to cook, hard to mess up and universally loved. In Sarawak, there are many types of noodles, and although they are cooked almost the same way, each has its own unique characteristics and distinct taste.
The food that everybody loves
Carbohydrate is a staple nutrient in our daily diet. As Asians, if we are not eating rice, we often have a bowl of noodles instead. Noodles have properties such as nutrition, taste, safety, convenience, reasonable price and longer shelf life which makes it popular.
In a historical site along the Yellow River of China, archaeologist had unearthed a bowl of noodles believed to have dated back to 4,000 years ago. Shared by National Geographic, the beautifully preserved, long, thin yellow noodles were found inside an overturned sealed bowl at the Lajia archaeological site, China.
Over centuries, noodles have been introduced, and re-introduced around the globe. It is debatable whether noodles were first introduced in China, Italy or the Middle East. Nonetheless, noodles made their way to Malaysia through the migration and colonisation period and have undergone various cultural influences over the years.
Whether it is fried or soaked in broth — noodles have always been a local favourite, made to suit the local taste buds. Noodles may look the same, but each has its own distinct taste. These are among the popular noodles served in Sarawak:
With its base ingredients of wheat flour and eggs, these egg noodles appear in few variations locally. Curly noodles (Q mee), straight noodles and mee pok. The latter, originally served in Teochew cuisine of the Chaoshan region of China, is usually seen at ‘kolo’ stalls of Chinese or Muslim Kopitiam.
Meanwhile, the first Chinese migrant to use curly noodles and straight noodles to serve ‘kolo’ dishes in Kuching, Sarawak was a Hakka businessman from Guangdong, China. Settling down at No. 44, upper China Street — the pioneer of kolo mee in Kuching was believed to have brought the delicacy from Baihou Town, Meizhou City, Guangdong.
Since the introduction, egg noodles have gone through numerous localisation to fit the local taste buds, where a variety of egg noodles, fried with soy sauce, egg, meat and vegetables can be found. These are known as ‘kolo mee goreng’ (fried kolo mee), or ‘mee pok goreng’ (fried mee pok) in Bahasa Melayu.
Oily yellow noodle
Not much history was recorded about this ever-popular oily yellow noodle. However, one can remember cautious mothers telling them to eat less of it, due to its potential of causing indigestion. Known as the least healthy noodle, oily yellow noodles are made of wheat flour, eggs, lye water and salt which makes their carbohydrates level high.
Popular among the Cantonese, it was said that this yellow noodle was an accidental creation during the famine war in China, made by a grandfather who wanted to feed his his grandson. To commemorate his grandfather, the grandson opened a stall selling the noodles.
Until today, ‘Gao You Po Mien’, or Chinese Hot Oil Noodles remained a Chinese delicacy.
In Malaysia, oily yellow noodles are normally fried with soy sauce. For a spicier version, one can order ‘mee mamak’ from any Malay stalls, or Indian restaurants. This yellow noodle is also often presented in curry broth, and at some Indonesian stalls, yellow noodles are mixed with vermicelli (bihun) or kueh tiaw (flat noodle) to be served in bakso.
The white noodles — kueh tiaw, silver needle noodles/lao shu fen, and bihun/vermicelli, which usually taste much like rice — are mainly made of rice flour. These noodles contain one of the highest levels of starch, and are inherently gluten-free. The making of white noodles can be traced back to the 17th Cantonese ‘hor fun’, which inspired the Fujian Hokkien to create kueh tiaw.
Meanwhile, silver needle noodles or better known as mouse tail noodle locally are best eaten in a claypot. The noodle was said to have been introduced by the Hakka businessman who had brought in kolo mee into Kuching in the 1920s.
On the other hand, the vermicelli variant is similar to the Italian pasta known as Angel hair, but the Chinese put their own twist to it using the same basic ingredients as kueh tiaw and lao shu fen. In Sarawak, vermicelli, or bihun is commonly used as the noodle for the world-famous local delicacy, the Sarawak Laksa.
The rice noodle variety can often be seen served as kolo, fried, or in soup (clear broth) dishes. The delicacies are much loved for its texture, when cooked in different ways, offers a different gastronomical experience.
Have you had a bowl yet?
Noodles in Malaysia make for the perfect meal during breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is a common dish, yet very special, and each noodle offers a different adventure of its own.
Either kolo, fried or stirred in flavoured broth — almost everyone have their own favourite way of enjoying noodles. Have you actually met someone who didn’t like noodles? Me neither.