COMMENTARY, May 19 — The wide, orange melamine plates are almost iconic. The colour and texture of the tableware seem to be chosen less for their cost and practicality, and more to set off the pristine white mountain of noodles and meat.
This is my favourite kai see hor fun for breakfast, the sort you get at a corner stall in a neighbourhood kopitiam.
The ribbons of flat rice noodles lovingly layered the way a Michelin-starred chef would with some handmade pasta or ramen; the strips of shredded steamed chicken dressed with sleeves of tender, lemon-yellow skin; the dusting of fried minced garlic and fresh chopped green onion; and the slick, soulful sauce to bind it all together.
Call me a glutton, but I love noodles at my local coffee shop to start the day. There’s nothing quite like it.
But first, a confession.
Most mornings, truth be told, I don’t even have breakfast. I have been practising some form of intermittent fasting (popularly known as IF) since reading about it on Martin Berkhan’s Lean Gains website many years ago.
Berkhan typically advocates a 16/8 fasting protocol (16 hours of fasting, followed by 8 hours of “feeding” or the eating window). For me that just meant not having breakfast.
I believe the words we select can be helpful here. “Skipping” breakfast sounds unhealthy or dangerous; it entails making a mistake or a personal failing. “Not having” breakfast denotes a personal choice; we have agency and control our own lives.
In my case, it just means being far more alert and focused during my most productive hours of the day. Work flows more smoothly. Stuff gets done. Add a pot of freshly brewed coffee to the mix (a brief ritual that is both mindfulness practice and saving on the price of an Americano bought from a franchise café) and I’m ready for anything.
But even a daily routine benefits from the occasional break. As we get older, we learn to listen to our bodies and discern what they really want. Some days that might mean something more substantial than a cup of black coffee before midday.
And as I get older, I find that what I crave for breakfast (when I do have it) isn’t a smoothie bowl with organic granola or smashed avocado on toast with a vinegary poached egg.
What I want is noodles at the coffee shop. Slippery smooth and slick with sauce. Greasy and punchy with wok hei. Swimming in a bowl of hot broth. Buried under a mound of toppings or plain as day. It’s all good.
I mean, what’s not to love?
Even if your nearest kopitiam only has one stall selling noodles (“Unglaublich!” as the X-Men’s Nightcrawler might exclaim. “Unbelievable!”), chances are that the stall will offer the same noodle dish in both soupy and “dry” versions.
There are days where a bowl of noodle soup is simply the comfort food you need; maybe it’s been raining and it’s a chilly morning, or you’re simply dreading the Monday blues.
Then there are days when it’s a plate of “dry” noodles that hits the spot (though you can always have the soup on the side). It’s good to have options.
Other options also abound. For instance, some prefer pork noodles with more lean meat; others are all about the offal such as liver. I’m unfortunately in the latter category, always trying to pawn off the innards to my dining companions who generally appreciate a sliver of tripe more than I would.
A helpful reminder too, as you slurp and chew, that we always have options. Life isn’t one long, grim slog (though we all have had days when it seems that way). Even when things aren’t going particularly well, we can pause and ask ourselves, “Soup or dry?”
We can determine our response. We have agency. We have a choice.
Breakfast can be a riot of colours, even from a single bowl of noodles – red from the char siu, yellow from the omelette strips, green from the leafy greens. Life can be that way too: colourful, generous and joyful.
And is there a greater pleasure than when you happen to order the last plate of noodles from a particularly popular stall? Perhaps there are more meaningful examples of happiness but I wouldn’t knock this tiny, secret joy either.
So, no: I don’t often have breakfast. But when I do, there’s nothing like noodles at the coffee shop to start my day. Whether it’s kai see hor fun or char kway teow, every strand promises there’s more to life. That it’s all going to be alright.
For more slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.