Friday, 30 November 2012

No Name Laksa and Yong Tau Foo Stall along Jalan Stulang Darat (near Hotel Zon), Johor Bahru, Malaysia (Guest Post)

I thoroughly enjoyed this informative and hilarious guest post on Johor Kaki blog by my friend and makan kaki, Kumes. I am sure you will too. My thanks to Kumes for being Johor Kaki's first guest blogger!


Johore Bahru - Nov 21st, 2012: It was a rainy Wednesday night, and I had promised my family a warming dinner of delicious Yong Tau Foo from my favourite stall in Pelangi.

What did I do to anger the Yong Tau Foo gods so much?......Was it my brief flirtation with wantan soup?” I wearily wondered to myself. “But that happened when I was a much younger and more foolish boy,” subconsciously gripping the steering wheel harder in protest. “….it was two weeks ago….I repent, I swear!” slumping back into the drivers’ seat. After 45 minutes of driving around, not only was my favourite stall closed, but so were two others that came highly recommended by my friend, Joe.
 
 
Yong Tau Foo-less, I headed home in disappointment. Speeding down the road that led to my house, a glimmer of hope appeared. I noticed a shack out the left corner of my windscreen off Jalan Stulang Darat. I vaguely recalled the sagely Johor Kaki mentioning it contained good eats. Desperate and out of options, I pulled over to investigate.

Bingo! The offerings laid out in colourful baskets looked decidedly average, but hey, average Yong Tau Foo is definitely better than no Yong Tau Foo when you’re craving it on a cold rainy night.


Based on looks alone - the aubergine was very thinly stuffed, the bitter gourd looked generic, and the tofu looked bland…. I was truly expecting a forgettable meal. I truly expected to think “Well, it’s not horrible; maybe if everywhere else is closed, or my mum steals the car I stole from her, I might buy this again since it’s so close to the house.”

Boy was I Wrong. Wrong with a capital W. This then, is a culinary version of the shabbily dressed geeky girl in the corner no one notices - except at night, she just happens to turn into Catwoman.


The camera shy Madam Lua has been a Yong Tau Foo hawker for over 20 years, since her son who now mans the furiously boiling soup pot was just knee high. Before this she was located in the car park of the nearby old 3 storey flats, where her husband used to man their stall. Her personal favourites are their very own handmade fishballs, which come in both the boiled and fried varieties. Some of the other items such as the fish roe balls and Foochow fishballs are supplied by a friend of hers.


This is where all those hidden gems are tucked away - I strongly recommend the items shown in this general picture.



This is really the most deceiving piece of the lot. Biting into what appears to be a mild mannered tofu skin wrapped fried fishball reveals a jewel like filling of flavourful caviar. Biting into this is like pressing the call button for a lift, but instead of a lift, the Space Shuttle appears. Unexpected, Interesting, Surprising. Joyful even.



The flavourful roe and associated flavours that just spurt into your mouth when you take a bite is utterly delightful, almost like how a perfectly steamed onde-onde releases its payload of gula Melaka like a sensory nuclear bomb when you bite in. The firm microbubbles of caviar pop against your tongue as you chew, the texture and flavours released are just lovely. I have a strong feeling even those who don’t usually like fish roe will love this as the flavours are well balanced. No strong fishy taste to be found here.



This delightful morsel is a minced pork dumpling with salted egg yolk wrapped in wantan skin. Delicious. The salty richness of the egg goes so well with the pork mixture that has hints of dried cuttlefish and the silky slurpy wantan skin wraps up the whole package.


This Foochow fishball was also delightful. The flavour of quality sesame oil and what I suspect is prawn or fish paste made it taste almost like a siew mai stuffed fishball. Bouncy with a succulent filling. The juice spurting out from this when you bite in is very addictive.



 
This stall is just full of surprises. Nothing is as it seems. The rich sambal looks like your average home made dried prawn sambal, but she adds ground curry spices to it. This may be an acquired taste as I personally felt normal sambal would have gone better with some of the pieces I chose. I have a faint suspicion if I were to boil a dollop of that sambal with coconut milk I’d end up with a bowl of curry laksa. It has all the elements of a curry laksa base, the lemongrass and galangal flavour, along with the dried prawns and curry spices. My mum loved it so much she mixed a whole packet of that sambal into her soup before dunking more bee hoon in. As I also discovered after trying her soup, this was a rather good way of enjoying the sambal, almost like getting two different soup bases in one meal. It tasted like the curry mee you get in some places up north, where the soup is clear, with either none or very little coconut milk, but all the flavour of curry. The umami laden soup helped give it that "full" mouthfeel, without coconut milk as a thickener.



 
Speaking of the soup, notice how Ah Hui was proudly showing me the generous amounts of pig skin he added to the soup? I happen to know from my own soup making efforts that boiling pig skin takes a lot of time and patience, having to skim off loads of oil from the melting subcutaneous fat that is impossible to remove completely before cooking. At this point in time, some readers might have noticed food writers sometimes use the word “umami” rather a lot in their scribbles, but what is it exactly, and what does it have to do with pig skin?

Let’s start with the basics - Umami is a term coined up by some Japanese dude called Kikunae Ikeda, a Professor at Tokyo Imperial University to describe the taste when L-glutamate receptors on your tongue are activated by foods that well….contain L-glutamate and members of its happy family known as 5’ribonucleotides such as inosine monophosphate and guanosine monophosphate.

In plain English, this means our good friend MSG and foods such as seaweed, tomato, mushrooms, dried oysters, and shrimp among other natural ingredients contain chemicals similar to MSG that will have a similar effect on your taste as MSG.
 

But another thing that can give you that umami mouthfeel, albeit without triggering these specific tastebuds are skin, bones, and tendon. Boil them long enough and the complex three dimensional protein strains within called collagen that women love to see on the ingredient list of their cosmetics, unwind into a less tight form known as gelatin. Yes gelatin, the same thing you use to make gummy bears and mentos. Why does this make soup taste more umami? It’s because it tricks your tongue into thinking you’re eating fat, and back when we were cavemen who had to hunt for our food, fat was good. Now you know. Also, just in case you were wondering, boiling your girlfriend’s makeup will not result in better soup. Rather it would probably result in her unwinding into an entity known as ‘the ex-girlfriend’.

I honestly think some of these items might have come from a dim sum menu. They are just so delectable you could eat them on their own, or with a dab of Kampung Koh style chili sauce - but when matched with that umami laden soup it just takes things to a whole new level. I have never come across another Yong Tau Foo stall which made me go “Wow” at every bite. Not just because it was delicious, but because it’s so different and unexpected. Every first bite was a process of discovery. I thank the Yong Tau Foo gods for this blessing in disguise. To borrow some words from Optimus Prime; there is certainly more than meets the eye at this humble stall.
 
 
Restaurant name: No name makeshift stall in a shack
Address: Along Jalan Stulang Darat (near Hotel Zon)
Map: http://g.co/maps/km32z
GPS: 1.472092,103.777295
Hours: 6:00pm to sold out
Non Halal
 
Date visited: 21 Nov 2012

About the Guest Blogger

Kumes is an ardent foodie born a Johorian, but spent most of his teenage and young adult life as a Londoner. He is currently located in Singapore, however, the whereabouts of his mind are unknown and probably couldn’t be found on any map.

2 comments:

  1. the stall is no longer there. Not sure where they move to

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Terrance. Hope we can find them again.

      Delete

I firmly believe that taste is subjective and so, warmly welcome differing viewpoints :-D But, I disapprove negative comments that are anonymous or hide behind fake identities. I feel that that is the same as speaking ill of others behind their backs. I look forward to all your comments :-D Thank you. (Date: 18 Dec 2015)

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