Friday, December 20, 2013

Mee Bandung Muar: My Kingdom For A Decent Plate

In 1982, I was called up to register as a new student at Mara Junior Science College. As our Penang campus was not ready until 1984, I registered at our temporary campus at Maktab Rendah Sains Mara in Bakri, Muar, Johor.

At the age of 13, I have been traveled to Singapore, but never to Johor, let alone to a town on the west coast of the state, also known as Bandar Maharani. Being brought up in the north, I find the food there vastly different from the heavily-spiced, Indian, Thai, Aceh and Palembang influenced delicacies. The food was was simply different.

Muar town itself, at that time, was not much of a busy place. The shops were simple, mostly old buildings. I have not been back to Muar ever since I left it in 1983, but I can be very sure that the town has grown massively over the decades. Looking back, I realized that most of the time when I go out to Muar town on the weekends, I either rarely or never eat rice. In fact, there are 2 dishes that I remember vividly (and fondly) and enjoyed so much in Muar: Lontong and my all-time-favorite, Mee Bandung.

Mee Bandung originated from Muar. There was a misconception that Mee Bandung came from Bandung, Indonesia, but I was made to understand that the word "Bandung" is an old Malay language meaning "mixed." The popular "Sirap Bandung" has the similar meaning where sugar syrup is mixed with milk. Mee Bandung is a dish where the ingredients are mixed and cooked together, unlike most noodle dishes where the noodle is blanched separately and only mixed with the gravy or soup before serving.

Basically, Mee Bandung Muar's gravy is made of onions, shrimp paste, dried shrimps, chili, tomato and beef stock/broth. Once cooked together, vegetables are added along with noodles. An egg is added while everything boils and seconds before the dish is served, 3/4 cooked with the yolks still runny. In some versions, crushed peanuts are also included.

I remember looking at the bridge from the stall
In 1982, my all time favorite place in Muar town is an area located next to the Muar River where there are a number of stalls operating there, something like an open air food court. The only stall I visited there was Gerai Mak Limah, and, to me, she made the best Mee Bandung in town. I understand that the stalls are no longer there as the area has been developed, and I never knew whether Gerai Mak Limah is still operating or not.

Mak Limah was already middle-aged at that time, and she ran the stall with either her daughter or son. My menu is always the same when I go there: an order of Mee Bandung and a glass of Sirap Bandung. Today's Mee Bandung sellers usually up the ante by adding chicken, shrimp, fish balls and fishcakes, but back in 1982, Mak Limah's Mee Bandung was much simpler, yet hearty. There are a few cuts of beef, some vegetables and always, that cooked egg yet with runny yolks. I was always amazed by how she managed to prepare the Mee Bandung with taste that's always consistent and the eggs always 3/4 cooked, with the yolk never punctured. As always, it hit the spot.

After leaving Muar in 1983, I could never find the perfect Mee Bandung Muar, except for once. In 2000/2001, I was recommended to try a stall at a food court located next to the Petronas Station behind Ampang Puteri Specialist Hospital in Kuala Lumpur. The proprietor of the stall is referred to as Wak, a Johorean. His Mee Bandung was the closest to Mak Limah's although more on the lavish side. In fact, it was served in a clay pot, still bubbling. It was good until after a few trips there, the quality declined. The taste began deviating and we suspected that certain vital ingredients were skipped or skimmed, and that was the end of that.

Between 1995-1999, I was in Johor Bahru a lot, but despite the abundance on the availability of Lontong, the Mee Bandung was a far cry. Being up north, my chances of getting a decent, even if slightly original Mee Bandung is sadly thin. I have tried more than a dozen stalls in Alor Setar and Sungai Petani that claim to make Mee Bandung, which usually not even close. One time I tried Mee Bandung at a restaurant which looked quite posh, but the dish tasted like tomato puree diluted in water. Another stall put my tongue on fire with their Mee Bandung when they put 5 crushed Cili Melaka into the gravy.

Anywhere I can find a decent Mee Bandung here?
Almost 10 years ago, to satisfy the cravings for this dish, I managed to locate a recipe for Mee Bandung and made it myself. Understandably, the preparation was tedious, but the taste managed to satisfy. Still, it was tiring and quite difficult to keep overnight as the noodles were cooked in the gravy and will become soft and soggy if kept over. Furthermore, the taste is best when it's freshly made.

I still look forward to finding an eating place up north that serves an authentic Mee Bandung, it doesn't have to be lavish but the taste must be right. If anybody knows, I welcome your recommendations.

1 comment:

  1. Looks and sounds delicious!
    Your photo and its’ source have been featured on the World Food Guide website: