It’s perhaps here that I found some really inspiring moments during the trip. From the photo above, I guess some of us must have thought that I’m going to tell a story in relation to strength in unity. It’s more intricate than that, of course.
Inspiring moment number one came when Boolicious brought to our table THE last bowl of the infamous Hokkien Mee (prawn mee) from a stall in Swee Kong. At the point of our arrival (I believe it was only around 9 am), the lady boss had already started informing customers that they had run out of prawn stock for the day. Needless to say, we were disappointed. Judging from the size of the cleared aluminium pots (I think they can easily fit 3/4 of my body) that were, in a few hours earlier, filled with boiling, delicious prawn stock, it doesn’t take a statistician to figure out how good the business must have been. Or how delicious it is. To be honest, I’ve never heard of this coffee shop nor this prawn mee stall. And that made it even more disappointing to not be able to have a taste of it. But Boo changed all that. She managed to persuade the lady boss to give us the last, less than a full portion of the prawn mee. The whole conversation took a good few minutes. And mind you, none of us could speak proper Hokkien (or Mandarin). It must be her sincerity that touched the boss. We, the lucky ones, watched Boo worked her magic while slurping wanton mee from another stall. She even stayed on to take some shots of the stall. Perseverance, my friends, is one virtue to be practised for life. Rewards include a bowl of Hokkien mee bursting with savouriness of prawns. In fact, I would prefer to call them shrimps instead. Not that it’s a bad thing. The key here is freshness, not the size of the prawns. The plush stock convinced us that they don’t dilute, even to the last bowl. Pair that with aromatic fried shallots, crunchy beansprouts and mildly hot chilli paste - a winner.
The wanton mee is worth a mention too, as it was very different from what we have back in KL. Instead of sweet dark soy sauce, it was poured with gravy of smooth, light starch and eggs. If it was stir-fried with the noodles, I would have mistaken that for our usual Cantonese noodles. The springy texture of the wanton mee plus a good amount of pickled green chillies made it even more enjoyable.
Joining the Hokkien mee folks, the famous sweet apom stall was also enjoying an early closing and had started clearing up when we finally found a table in the crowded coffee shop. We returned the next morning, not much earlier than the day before, to take away some before heading to another breakfast hotspot. We were grateful that they still had some to offer and more so for being ahead of the next customer who ordered 50 pieces of apom! What’s so great about 50 pieces? The waiting time can get really long because cooking involves a few steps. Preparation of a single piece takes up a few minutes – the charcoal-fueled claypots are firstly poured with a thin layer of batter, swirled, let sit to cook, the solidified batter flipped and covered for a good minute or so to complete the process. And there were only 2 guys manning the pots. In this age, the amount of labour and time put in to the make that tiny piece of apom have surely opposed all the modern principles of entrepreneurship. In other words, not cost effective. That brings me to inspiring moment number two. To operate around those hot stoves, refilling the charcoal to maintain a constant supply of heat and maneuvering those heavy pots must have meant more than dollars and cents to these friendly guys. I believe it's pride and passion that keep every piece of apom identically golden brown and none burnt. Respect.
The car was parked near the police station on the opposite side of the road while a few of us went to buy the apoms. As we were getting back to the car, I hurriedly sampled one because I was told that apoms are best eaten while they are still hot. And that I was mostly hungry. I found an unexplained sense of joy as I took a bite of the light, crispy skin and rich coconut taste of the soft inner. This is how enlightening must be like, I kid you not. Growing up in a multi-ethnic village, I'm used to having apom, be it sweet or salty, for breakfast. But none could match the perfect texture and taste of the apom here. The generous amount of coconut milk and eggs used brought about sublimity while sugar was wisely minimized as to not empower the overall taste. In the 50 over steps leading to the car, I believe I had at least 3 pieces.
So, perseverance and passion make life tastier. Some snacks for thought there.
Kedai Kopi Swee Kong
Junction where Moulmein Close meets Burma Road
Pulau Tikus, Penang