Thomas is a good friend of mine from Penang. He is a property agent from Penang, and despite of still being young, he has proven to be very capable in getting good tenants for my properties in Penang. He was in Alor Setar back in early July 2011, and I must say I was quite in a dilema at that time. When I went to Penang, Thomas took me to a very nice Indian restaurant where I enjoyed a festive spread of dishes, especially the lamb curry. Now that Thomas was in Alor Setar, where should I take him? As it was about 2.30 in the afternoon, I decided to take him to one of Alor Setar's legendary Indian Muslim restaurants, Mee Abu. Nasi Lemak Ali and Nasi Lemak Royal only open in the evening, so Mee Abu was the perfect choice.
According to those who know it, Mee Abu started off in the 1960s in front of the Royal Cinema (where Menara Alor Ria stands now) selling mee rebus and fried noodles. Later he set-up a small restaurant in Jalan Teluk Wan Jah which still is still in operation today and a branch in Jalan Sultanah. A few years back, as I was told, the two shops parted ways in management as the one in Jalan Telok Wan Jah is owned by Pak Abu's brother and the one in Jalan Sultanah by his children. Which one is better depends solely on personal preference, for me, I prefer the Jalan Sultanah branch. I have frequented the shop for years and I found that the particular branch has a better edge in taste. As I have said before, it depends on personal preference and taste.
The Mee Abu Shop is not that big in size as it has about 10 - 12 tables inside, and during busy hours, the atmosphere can be quite stuffy. As of any Mamak restaurants, you can see your dishes prepared at the front of the shop. Located just outside the shop is a lady selling popia, or spring rolls...no, not fried, but the nice, freshly rolled ones. Would you believe that this branch of Mee Abu consist of 2 legends which started out as humble street food?
In the 1970s, an Indian Muslim by the name of Jamal set-up a stall at the very junction of Jalan Putra, just beside the Court building, next to Wisma Negeri and Balai Nobat. At the time, the road were not that busy. In a short span of time, Popia Jamal became a household name in Alor Setar. The generous fillings and his delicious sweet sauce drove Popia Jamal into one the of the legends of Alor Setar delicacies. When development was carried out in the 1980s, Popia Jamal moved out and not much was known of his new locations. In the mid-1990s, every now and then, I would see a Popia Jamal stall at pasar malams in Alor Setar. Today, one of Jamal's sons runs a Popia Jamal outlet at the Tesco Mergong Food Court. Jamal's daughter has a stall at Mee Abu Jalan Sultanah, which is a perfect addition to the already famous eating outlet in Alor Setar.
The spring rolls, or popia, unlike some other popia stalls, has quite a moist skin, filled with crunchy vegetables such as bean sprouts and a sort of a sea-food flavor. The sauce is just nice, not too sweet and not too hot. The single pieces are quite large in portion, and as an appetizer or snack, the popia is just perfect.
After all these technical or overly-too-draggy explanation, one thing remains, Thomas really enjoyed himself. Although he is not a big fan of cow lungs, he went all out for the dishes. He loved the pasembor and koayteow, but differed slightly at the Mee Rebus. The savoury fried flat-noodles, the sweet and hot pasembor and the lavish noodle with gravy, all, except the Pasembor, cooked over a charcoal burner. Yes, charcoal, no gas. The Mee Rebus is actually quite hearty, with noodles, bean sprouts, cow lungs, fritters, boiled egg with a rich, thick gravy with a beefy flavor. Even Thomas acknowledged the difference in taste and flavor that distinguish the differences between Penang and Alor Setar Mamak food. In fact, I must say that this also distinguishes the difference between Alor Setar's old school Mamak food and the new ones.
For those who would love to try the old-school Mamak food of Alor Setar, Mee Abu will be one of the perfect places to start. They open early in the morning, serving roti canai and nasi lemak, and then their trademark Mee rebus/goreng, pasembor and popia from afternoon till evening. Murtabaks are available around 4.30 in the evening. The prices are reasonable. Who knows, you might just run into somebody who is somebody in Kedah there. Then again, with all the food to savour, who actually cares?
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