The sweet Jawa Mee a throwback to Penang’s rich past

Picture by K.E. Ooi
Picture by K.E. Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Aug 24 — In name it is called Jawa Mee (Java noodles) but this dish of boiled yellow noodles in a thick rich sauce has evolved to become very much a Penang hawker fare with local flavours.

Though it looks almost like Mee Rebus (boiled noodles), the Jawa Mee is slightly different with additional ingredients that set it apart in taste and appearance.

The origin of this hawker fare is unclear but its name suggests that it is linked back to the heydays of the Java Peranakan as its varied ingredients suggest different cultures.

There is also another belief that the dish was introduced by the Indonesian Java or Minangkabau community when they settled in Penang.
It has become one of the many hawker staples that is uniquely flavoured and can be easily found in Penang and several other states in Malaysia.

In Penang, the secret to this dish is in the thick sweet gravy that is basically made from boiled sweet potatoes, tomato paste and shrimp stock.

In some instances, the gravy is made of pork ribs stock to give it a slightly meaty flavour on top of the sweetness of the sweet potato and tart flavour of the tomato paste.

The resulting gravy is a thick concoction with the natural sweetness of the sweet potato base balanced out by the tomato paste so that it is not cloyingly sweet while the shrimp or pork stock adds another layer of flavour to it.

The yellow noodles are first scalded before the piping hot gravy is ladled onto it.

Next, it is given a three-dimensional touch in terms of textures with its garnishing of refreshing bean sprouts, soft-boiled potatoes, hard-boiled egg, slices of bean curd and prawn fritters.

Shredded lettuce give the dish some colour while fried shallots, ground peanuts and pieces of crispy thin fritters give it a crunchy bite.

Finally, the plate of noodles is served with a slice of lime to squeeze over the noodles before eating and a blob of spicy sambal.

These last two are what give the dish the extra zing of sour and spice, adding to the mishmash of flavours and textures.

Jawa Mee is a popular breakfast, lunch and teatime food in Penang as it is considered a “light” meal but it is also sometimes available at some night hawker centres.

Here are some Jawa Mee stalls to try out in Penang:

1. Roadside stall, Jalan Raja Uda, Butterworth

GPS: 5.423186,100.381785

Time: 3pm-6pm

2. Market stall, Lorong Ipoh

GPS: 5.389124,100.312203

Time: 8am-noon

3. Genting Café, Lorong Delima 6

GPS: 5.383003,100.303851

Time: 8am-2pm

4. Super Tanker Hawker Complex, Lengkok Nipah

GPS: 5.342861,100.295273

Time: 6pm-11pm

5. Cecil Street Market, Cecil Street

GPS: 5.40757,100.328768

Time: 9am-5pm