Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Tale of two noodles...

Each time I return home for a vacation, I always head for Mee Abu. I had time after time preferred the mee goreng to the mee rebus but for the last two years or so, I purposely switched to mee rebus.

Here in the city of Takamatsu, Japan, where I live, the locals take immense pride in their ‘sanuki udon’. The claim is, sanuki udon is the best udon in all Japan, and rightly so, I must add. Sanuki is the feudal name for Kagawa prefecture, which houses Takamatsu.

Udon is a thick noodle made from wheat. Originally only wheat from the Sanuki plains were used to make udon, but for many years, Australian wheat has become inseparable from Sanuki udon. Kagawa prefecture has recently embarked on a drive to increase local production but I don’t see much hope in achieving self-sufficiency in that.

The udon soup base is made from kelp, bonito, or some small fish, although a combination is normally the case. A little soy sauce plus a dash of Japanese cooking wine completes the concoction.

Three years ago, I ‘discovered’ a small udon shop near my university. It is run by a ‘ganko oyaji’, meaning a stubborn old man. In the world of Japanese culinary, ganko oyaji is taken to mean a compliment. The stubborn old man does not compromise on his beliefs. His sole preoccupation is to make noodles as excellent as can be.

The Sanuki folks love their udon to be elastic and rubbery. This quaint little shop serves udon as good as any other I have ever tasted. But what brought me back again and again was its tempura. The little ladies there fry the tempura so skillfully such that it is crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside.

Shrimps, conger eel, mackerel, eggplants, potatoes, green beans, peppers, burdocks... I was spoilt for choice. So each time I went, I would grab about three or four pieces. And went I did, as in three or four times a week.

I was to be shocked later by my greed. During my annual medical check, the physician told me I had a fatty liver. Have you been eating lots of oily stuff? Oh oh... I put an immediate curfew on the intake of oily foods.

That’s why, the mee rebus instead of the goreng although the prawn crackers probably had quite a bit of oil in them too.

One of my closest pals migrated to Perth a few years back. I had the good fortune of visiting his family last year. His missus mentioned that she had once visited Alor Star many, many years ago. Her friends raved to her about Mee Abu. She apparently tasted it, and politely hinted, ‘hmm... hmmm... but...’

Jeff Ooi of Screenshots once talked about Mee Abu. I sent in a short comment. Just as I was about to forget what I mumbled then, I received an email from a son of the owner of Mee Abu. To say the least, I was pleasantly surprised as well as honored.

Hence, this post as a tribute.

I have tried eating mee goreng and mee rebus in other parts of Malaysia. Still, for a Kedahan like me, Mee Abu is tops...