Sometimes when I eat out I’ll come across a dish so awful, I occasionally fantasise about bringing the bowl to the kitchen, pouring the contents into the sink and then storming out of the shop, leaving glitter and rainbow dust in my midst.
What actually happens is that I eat it and then quietly leave, vowing never to come back. And then I rant at every other person about the dish: How do I hate thee? Allow me to elaborate…
This time it was soup yee mee*, a noodle dish you see at hawker stalls here and there in Malaysia. I didn’t think it would be so hard to fuck up in London -- the restaurant we went to does a perfectly decent laksa (spicy coconut curry soup) and bak kut teh (pork bone tea) -- but it takes a special kind of genius to serve you a broth that has even less flavour than tap water. Still, eating it prompted a misty-eyed recollection about the yee mee back in Malaysia, specifically the yee mee at a particular hawker stall in Golden Kim Wah.
I don’t even know the uncle or aunty** who makes the yee mee. I’ve never stood at the stall and watched them ladle broth into the claypot or crack an egg atop the noodles. The noodles begin brown and crispy, and soften beguilingly in the broth into a slurpable tangle dotted throughout with slices of pork and leafy greens. It's not especially pretty but it is delicious. When it arrives, the claypot set on a cheery lime green plastic plate (careful, it’s hot!), you can break the yolk of the just-poached egg. One of the principal joys in life is breaking the yolk in a poached egg.
But I never ordered yee mee growing up. On those rare Saturday mornings that I could be coerced out of bed before 10am, my mother would drive us to have breakfast at Golden Kim Wah. Saturdays for my dad meant tennis in the morning with friends, followed by hawker breakfasts of varying levels of unhealthiness with a side of political gossip.
Panoramic view of Golden Kim Wah
Yee mee was one of those dishes my mother would order at these breakfasts, and I would ask to try a bit and concur that it was, indeed, delicious and that I would order it next time we were there. And then I would forgo it again for something more assertive, like wan tan mee (sauce-tossed noodles with char siu and wontons) or Penang prawn noodles or char kuey teow (fried rice noodles with bean sprouts, prawns, sausage, etc). Opportunity cost, ya know?
Penang prawn noodles, from a hawker stall at the same place. Decent, though this is not the place for the Ultimate Bowl.
Robert’s Penang fried char kuey teow, also from the same hawker center. Also delicious, by the way.
But this summer when I went back to Malaysia I discovered that I really, really like yee mee. I love eating it in the hawker center, and I love slurping it straight out of the claypot. It might’ve been because a year of eating in Japan teaches you how to better appreciate subtler flavours in many ways, or that I needed to balance out my other oil-laden binge eating of street food with something more wholesome. Who knows. But something flicked a switch in me -- yee mee is now all I want for Christmas this winter in London, even though you can only eat it in hot, muggy Malaysia.
In the grand scheme of things, yee mee is not going to win a Michelin star or anything like that. But it is so simple and comforting -- kind of like a spine-worn book, lovingly read from cover to cover as a child, and revisited time and again for old time’s sake. Yee mee will never be cross with you or judge you. It will never let you down.
Well, unless you order it from that restaurant in London. But you should just visit Kim Wah instead.
RESTORAN GOLDEN KIM WAH
47400 Petaling Jaya
Selangor Darul Ehsan
*Yee mee is better known as yi mein, and refers to a kind of yellow Cantonese egg noodles.
**In Malaysia/Singapore, as a mark of respect you call those significantly older than you uncle/aunty, regardless of whether they’re related to you or not.