KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 — The shop is called Noodle Time. Located on a quiet row of shophouses in Happy Garden (Taman Gembira) near Kuchai Lama, you can’t miss large printed pictures of their popular pork noodles with bitter melon or their milky fish paste noodles.
What we are here for, however, isn’t framed and advertised prominently on the walls. (Which doesn’t make it any less worth saluting, but more on that shortly). My friends and I are here for Noodle Time’s curry mee.
Firstly — and perhaps most importantly — you have the rich and flavourful curry broth, redolent of the good stuff that goes into it: dried chillies and curry leaves, ginger and lemongrass, as well as creamy santan (coconut milk).
The noodles are straightforward enough: pick your choice of mee, meehoon, koay teow or a mix. The toppings won’t disappoint either, from crunchy long beans and tau pok (beancurd pouches) to a choice of either tender pork or wontons. The curry is topped with fiery chilli oil and served with a spoonful of homemade sambal on the side for that extra spicy kick.
This bowl of curry mee (or what the menu also labels as curry laksa — though the shop owner just calls it curry mee) is pretty much exemplary, judging by the satisfied grins around our table.
The only thing that is missing is the slippery presence of see hum or blood cockles.
Sacrilege! you cry out but bear with me here. For most of us, a plump cockle with its scarlet juices bursting out isn’t a mere add-on; it’s what makes a dish, be it a bowl of curry mee or plate of char kway teow.
Its absence could threaten the very integrity of what you are about to partake of. It’s akin to half boiled eggs without soy sauce and ground white pepper. It wouldn’t be the same; it wouldn’t work.
I understand. I feel your pain.
But what about those of us who wouldn’t miss this iron-rich mollusc, who, in fact, if we were being honest, might celebrate its very exclusion from a dish? Surely we deserve to be heard and seen and understood?
I have a confession to make (though it might be obvious and redundant now, if you’ve read this far): I’m simply not a fan of see hum.
To be fair, when I’m out with other friends who adore their bloody see hum, whether as a victorious pile atop some enormous curry fish head or strewn amongst strands of stir-fried rice noodles like hidden treasure, I don’t avoid it.
After all, what’s more troublesome or annoying than that one member of the party who insists on reading out their list of omissions to the poor server juggling too many orders as it is.
(No joke; one dai chow auntie once shared with me how a customer asked for yong chow fried rice without... the rice. Given this is a family friendly publication, I’m unable to repeat her strongly worded response to said customer.)
No, it’s easier to go with the flow. When my plate of char kway teow arrives, for instance, I just hunt down every maligned morsel and transfer the lot to the plate of my neighbour who happily welcomes the extra helping of see hum. Waste not, want not.
(Is this too much ado about nothing? Perhaps. But times like the one we live in, every ray of sunshine, every unexpected delight, is worth rejoicing, surely?)
Still, it’s nice to find a place where we don’t have to do this. Where we can come with people like us — See Hum Separatists? Cockle Deniers? — and not have to say, “No see hum for me, please.”
A tiny detail but what a huge relief.
So much so, my friends and I have promised the shop owner and her two sons we’d try the other noodle dishes — their signature dishes! — some day. The next time we come. Promise.
We haven’t accomplished this yet, though this past weekend we did order a few other items — half boiled kampung eggs (which came in very clean bowls, free of excess water; a small matter but we are grateful for their attentiveness), butter kaya toast (deceptively pale in colour but the bread is crispy and the butter generously applied) and hot cham (a very kaw blend of local coffee and tea, not diluted like some other kopitiams).
The quality of this standard coffee shop fare assures us when we do order their other noodle dishes — their fried loh mee or their braised pan mee with capsicum and chillies — that we will be more than satisfied. We just have to get out of the habit of ordering their curry mee the moment we enter.
Can you blame us? No see hum, by default. Who can refuse a privilege such as that? Not us.
Noodle Time 三椒面馆
540, Jalan Riang 11, Happy Garden (Taman Gembira), KL
Open daily (except Tue closed) 7:30am-5:30pm
Tel: 03-7972 9511