We were pounding the pavement at Desa Tebrau in the morning when I caught a whiff of distinctive crustacean aroma from puffs of steam rising from a pot of boiling hot broth.
I instinctively stopped and pointed my nose a little forward towards the pot to sniff at the alluring aroma. (I once did this at a bak kut teh stall and was chased away unceremoniously by the boss who thought I was trying to steal his trade secrets ;-p ).
The seductive aroma came from this humble stall called Ah Lau 啊佬 which serves Penang prawn mee 檳城蝦面 (known as Hokkien mee 檳城福建面 in Penang).
Mdm Ouyang and her husband Ah Lau had been selling Penang prawn mee for 30 years now - first in Johor Jaya and now in Desa Tebrau (at this same spot for the last 8 years). Mdm Ouyang and her husband are originally from Bukit Mertajam 大山腳, Penang.
Mdm Ouyang makes just one pot of the prawn broth and lor (gravy for lor mee 滷麵) every business day. She starts serving at 7:00am and often sells out by 10:00am. So, got to be early if we wish to try.
We ordered a bowl of Penang prawn mee (known as Hokkien mee in Penang) to try.
I love it that the Penang prawn mee here is close to the humble dish which had it's roots in wartime Penang. Penang prawn mee is an example of Penang people's ingenuity and will to survive during the Japanese Occupation (1942-45).
(If you like big prawns in your prawn mee, you will be disappointed.)
The prawns were small like 5 cent coins and that is the way it is for old school Penang prawn mee.
During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese took all the big prawns, leaving just the tiny ones for the locals.
But, don't underestimate the flavours of these little shrimps. Mdm Ouyang lightly stir fried them in chili oil and they became little fire crackers of flavours.
The prawn broth is the soul of Penang prawn mee.
During the Japanese Occupation, Penangites used the discarded prawn heads, shells and pork bones to make the signature prawn broth.
At the stall, Mdm Ouyang shells those tiny little prawns everyday with her helpers and uses the heads and shells to make the broth. The medium bodied broth has a rich, deep briny crustacean savoury sweetness. I love it.
Mdm Ouyang said she doesn't use ready peeled heads and shells in bags from suppliers as they are "not fresh enough".
There are small thin slices of fresh pork in Penang prawn mee, which (under Japanese rule) the fishermen got from their equally poor pig farming compatriots in exchange for fish and prawns.
Mdm Ouyang's tender little slices of fresh pork tasted of gentle natural porcine sweetness.
The noodles are garnished with kang kong which during the Japanese Occupation was a weed found in drains. Penangites started eating kang kong out of desperation.
Mdm Ouyang still uses kang kong which makes her bowl of Penang prawn noodles closer to the real thing of the 1940s.
We like the Penang prawn mee here, so we ordered also the Penang lor mee 檳城滷麵 to try.
The lor mee uses the same prawn broth as the prawn mee but thickened to a sticky gooey gravy by adding tapioca flour and eggs.
We love Ah Lau's delicious lor mee too.
We also ordered the "dry" version of prawn mee.
The soy based sauce was a little flat but once we added in the sambal chili, the crustacean flavour of the hae bee (sun dried shrimps) and the spicy sting of red chili brought the noodles to life.
The dry version comes with a bowl of that precious crustacean savoury sweet broth with spicy notes.
Check out Ah Lau's stall if you are craving for Penang prawn mee, or if you are around Taman Desa Tebrau.
Mdm Ouyang's Ah Lau Penang prawn mee stall is inside Restoran Kang Wei (kopitiam).
Restaurant name: Ah Lau Penang prawn mee stall 啊佬檳城福建面 (in Restoran Kang Wei)
Address: Jalan Harmonium 10 (near junction with Jalan Harmonium 13), Taman Desa Tebrau, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
GPS: 1.564848, 103.795741
Hours: 7:00am to 10:00am (Closed on Weds)
Date visited: 31 Jul 2015
Return to Johor Kaki homepage.