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Ginger Wine Noodles: Imbi Pasar Mee Halia @ ICC Pudu, Kuala Lumpur

Here in Malaysia, wet markets are more than just places to get fresh ingredients and household essentials – they’re social hubs where people gather to shop or meet friends and neighbours (well, pre-pandemic, at least). This is why you will often find kopitiams and food courts close to or located within a wet market facility.

Pasar Baru Bukit Bintang (also known as Imbi Market) was one of these places. The market was an icon of Kuala Lumpur for over 60 years, and the food stalls there were equally legendary: you could get noodles, classic kaya butter toast with coffee, Nyonya Kuih and more.

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A couple of years ago, the market had to be relocated to make way for a building project, so they moved to new premises at ICC Pudu. The new building is much cleaner, has a better layout than Imbi and has proper facilities. While it lacks the chaotic charm of the old market, the hawkers are still the same – so you can still get that authentic taste.

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One of the stalls here sells a rather unique dish: mee halia, or ginger wine noodles. You don’t often find this dish sold commercially, as it is usually served at home to new mothers, especially during confinement (for my non-Malaysian readers, confinement is a traditional practice following childbirth whereby the mother stays at home to rest, and have to adhere to things like avoiding water, eating certain types of food to boost recovery, etc.). In traditional Chinese medicine, ginger is thought to have beneficial properties and it is often recommended to expel ‘wind’ from the body, improve digestion and reduce bloating. 

The owner-chef is 70-year-old Wong Mei Lan, who has been selling the noodles for over four decades. “There was a young mother in my neighbourhood who had just given birth. She asked if I could make her a dish, as she didn’t have money to eat the proper foods for nourishment,” she explains. “More women started coming to me after that, and then even men because they said it was tasty. That’s how I started my business,” she shares.

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Each bowl costs RM9 and comes with a large portion of rice noodles, swimming in a cloudy broth topped with egg that has been fried with minced ginger, as well as tender pork slices and fresh prawns. The broth is definitely the star – after simmering for hours, the ginger, rice wine and pork bone create a deep and complex flavour, and a warmth blossoms in your belly with each sip. Comforting is the best word I can think of to describe the taste. The proportion of the wine has to be done right in order to achieve this effect, and although Madam Wong doesn’t make it in-house, she gets it from old folks from Perak who mix it at home. Basically everything that you’re eating is homemade, rather than commercially produced.

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One of the things I love about Malaysian hawkers is that they often last generations: you can find century-old establishments that are now into their fourth or fifth generation in the business. And even though age has caught up to Madam Wong and she can’t move as fast as she used to, she’s glad that there’s someone to take up the mantle: her youngest son Lee Chee Wai. Now, just as Madam Wong used to cook for her customers and their kids, so will Chee Wai cook for a new generation – and keep his mother’s cooking traditions alive.

IMBI PASAR MEE HALIA 

G20, ICC Pudu, Jalan 1/77C, Pudu, 55100 Kuala Lumpur 

Opening hours: 6AM – 2PM 

Note: I interviewed Madam Wong and Chee Wai for the October issue of Fireflyz, the inflight magazine for Firefly Airlines. This article features a few tweaks and some additional info I wasn’t able to fit in to the story.

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Spices – Indian Claypot Rice (Sattisoru) @ Restoran Try To Eat, Rawang

Claypots have been used in traditional cooking for centuries and across many different cultures. It is said that the porous quality of clay helps to retain the food’s nutritional value, whilst also giving the dish an earthy aroma and deeper flavours.

Here in Malaysia, claypot chicken rice is very popular among the Chinese diaspora. It usually contains chopped pieces of chicken, salted fish, chives and Chinese sausage, drizzled over with dark soy sauce. The dish was traditionally eaten in Southern China as a dinner dish, and it was later brought over to Southeast Asia (Malaysia/Singapore) by Hokkien immigrants.

Indian-style claypot rice (sattisoru), however, is new to me. Perhaps it’s because I don’t eat Indian food often (blame it on my canto palate!), but I’ve been ignorant about its existence until recently, when I had to interview and write about a street chef in Rawang who sells sattisoru.

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You can find Spices Claypot Rice tucked within Restoran Try to Eat, a no-frills food court by the side of the road. Despite being the only Indian stall here, it attracts customers of all races. There’s a wide variety of dishes on offer, including their signature Claypot Mutton Masala (RM12), Chicken Masala, Prawn Masala and Chilli Chicken Masala. Less common ingredients like salted fish and sardine are also available, and there are vegetarian options for non-meat eaters.

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Spices is run by Janagaraju Arumugam, a young chef with a huge passion for food. Prior to opening Spices two years ago together with his wife, Jana worked as an engineer and had no F&B experience – so it was a big leap of faith.

“We started this as a part-time venture. My wife was a pharmacist and I was still working as an engineer. We’d only open our stall after we finished our day jobs, at 6pm,” he quips. Juggling two jobs was exhausting, but Jana keenly pushed forward. Eventually, he quit his job to run the stall full-time, and has since hired more people to help out at his stalls, of which there are four in the Klang Valley (aside from Rawang, he also has branches in Kota Kemuning, Selayang and Klang).

Why give up a cushy shop to be a chef-cum-businessman? Jana explains that as a boy, he used to help his mother out in the kitchen, and he recalls fondly how his mother’s love for her family shone through the dishes she made – something he is keen on preserving ever since she passed away. The dishes he serves at Spices are all based on recipes and techniques that were handed down by his late mother – and it truly shows in his cooking.

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Food photographer behind-the-scenes. It’s not easy taking shots especially when the chef is moving around – we had to retake some shots several times. Thank you Jana for your patience!

Cooking the claypot rice is an art in itself. Each order starts with a base of onion, potatoes, dried chili and masala paste, which is constantly stirred in the clay pot to bring out a mouthwatering aroma. Rice is
added last, after the liquid has simmered down, so it does not become soggy. Controlling the fire is also important, and because they are cooking it with a slow fire, it allows for a more even cooking process and the natural flavours of the ingredients to permeate through. Since everything is cooked to order, expect a wait of between 15 to 20 minutes.

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I tried two clay pot dishes – the mutton masala and the prawn masala. Between the two, I enjoyed the mutton masala more as the meat was tender and flavourful, having absorbed the flavours of the curry. The heat wasn’t obvious at first bite, but hits gradually and had me chugging down my sugarcane juice lol. Portions are hearty and can be shared between two people. You also get a whole boiled egg in each pot.

The masala paste is what makes the dish, as it contains over 20 spices such as cinnamon, pepper, coriander, cumin seeds and mace. The paste is ground in a central kitchen and distributed to the different stalls, so customers get a consistent quality and taste. It’s also free from additives, making it a healthier alternative to commercial mixes.

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More BTS. Photogs have it rough; they’re often the last to sit down (even after the journalist is done with the interview) because they have to take that perfect shot.

As for future plans, Jana is hoping to open five more stalls across Peninsular Malaysia, as well as a proper restaurant. All the best, Jana! Keep the passion alive. 🙂

SPICES CLAYPOT RICE

Restoran Try to Eat, 48, Jalan 1D, Taman Jati, 48000 Rawang, Selangor
Opening hours: 11AM – 11PM (daily)

facebook.com/spicesclaypotrice

Note: I interviewed Jana for the November issue of Fireflyz, the inflight magazine for Firefly Airlines. This article features a few tweaks and some additional info I wasn’t able to fit in to the story.

Help a Girl Out ! 

If you enjoyed reading this, please consider supporting my website. Contrary to popular belief, I do not make big moolah from writing – and this will go towards hosting fees and ensuring that I can continue to deliver authentic content for your reading pleasure. Thanks for stopping by!

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