You may know that I’ve adopted something of a quest recently. Like the heroic protagonist of the latest video game, or the tough as nails main character of an 80’s action flick, I have unwavering purpose. And that purpose is to eat a lot of delicious Penang food. But not just any food! I’m on a quest to revisit the subtle, challenging, even obscure dishes of my childhood. And to present them for your reading pleasure.
After rediscovering my love for the humble Indian rasam, I started looking around for dishes that may have escaped the notice of visitors and tourists to Penang. After all, we’re quite well known for our Assam Laksa, but Penang has so many more delicious, unique noodle dishes to offer. And that is how I found myself jostling for parking one balmy, weekday afternoon on the corner of Lebuh Carnarvon and Lebuh Kimberley. That’s right folks, this time we’re looking at the savoury, nutritious, fulfilling goodness of Penang Loh Mee.
What is Penang Loh Mee? That can be a tricky question. In its most basic form, it is yellow egg noodles in a broth of egg white, thickened with starch and flavoured with soy sauce, and vegetable or animal stock. It is a South Chinese dish that arrived with one of the migratory waves of Hokkien people, and has since spread across the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula and to Singapore (fun fact: we used to be one country. Before that we were a bunch of different countries. It’s complicated.)
There are an impressive number of variations and interpretations that have become community favourites in the region. You can order Loh Mee in Penang, in KL or in Singapore and get completely different approaches to the dish.
I’m not quite sure in what form Loh Mee first landed on our shores. We have yet to develop detailed record-keeping for our cuisine, and so a lot of what we know come from stories or experience passed down verbally. There are anecdotes about it being originally prepared and served quite differently. We know that it used to be quite straightforward, and gained ingredients and flavours as it evolved over time. Originally, it was served simply, with very little garnish or ingredients besides the egg noodles and broth. Fried fritters and pork sausages would be purchased separately as sides, to be dunked in the sauce. (Side note: That’s how we get Ngoh Hiang. And in Penang, Loh Mee was the catalyst for the creation of two other dishes. But that’s for another post.)
In the midday heat, I found myself a nice seat at the restaurant and ordered an iced coffee. The Loh Mee arrived as it usually does here in Penang, a spoonful of garlic and vinegar resting gingerly (sorry!) on top of the thick Loh gravy, with a generous dash of sweet ground chilli, chopsticks placed together across the rim of the bowl. I opted for egg noodles and vermicelli, but some prefer just the rich, sweet, thickness of the egg noodles.
The first spoonful of thick gravy, with the chili, garlic and vinegar mixed in, rich with the flavour of shrimp stock and pork bits and fried shallots, absolutely won me over. I’ve had Penang Loh Mee in a few different places before, but this one stood out. It wasn’t so much the ingredients or one particular flavour, but rather the expertise with which they were all brought together, that really made this place my new favourite. It was sweet, sour and savoury all at once, elevated again by the addition of the pork and duck egg, rounded out with the hint of fried shallots and a kick of the sweet chilli. Pair that with an ice cold sip of coffee and it made for one perfect afternoon, enjoying the deliciousness of Penang Loh Mee.
And that, my friends, is why you should head to the corner of Carnarvon and Kimberley for lunch. Order yourself a hot bowl of Loh Mee, sip some ice cold kopi, and watch the traffic go by as you indulge in one of the secret pleasures of Penang. Until next time, eat well :)