For the A TO Z CHALLENGE, I’m blogging for 26 days in April (except Sundays) based on the alphabet, and my theme is #foodiefiction, inspired mostly by the foods of Singapore.
W is for wanton mee
Once there was a young man who set out on a mission to create the best wanton mee in the land. He was a scientist and as a toddler looked up to Dr Honeydew from the Muppet Show (and secretly wished he had his own Beaker as a lab assistant). When he became a young adult, and an actual scientist with a lab, PhD and all, he loved nothing more than to experiment, observe, study and investigate. But when it came to his free time, he couldn’t quite do the same out in the world. His parents, while they always encouraged his love for science, could never cope with his proclivity towards experimentation. Until one day, when they were out eating his favourite wanton mee, his dad wondered out loud, what is in this sauce? It always tastes so good, no other wanton mee tastes like this.
This got the young scientist’s mind churning and whirling and chugging away.
And as sauces and chilis and other condiments were easier to procure and more affordable than hazardous chemicals, his parents were more than happy to assist. His mother gladly handed over her kitchen, on the condition that he clear up any mess. His father drove him down to the wet market – he was too distracted a driver and a menace on the road – to check out all the different chilis, meats, wanton wrappers and noodles on offer.
He spent nights working on his noodles. Then more nights on his char siew. And even more on the wantons.
Finally one night, the clattering in the kitchen stopped and there was an awkward “woohoo!” muttered. His long-suffering parents looked up from their Chinese soap opera and at their son, who emerged from the kitchen with a small plate and two pairs of chopsticks.
After nights of smelling his cooking, trying to peek into the kitchen-lab, being yelled at and shooed away, they were finally presented with a plate of their son’s homemade wanton mee. They marveled at how professional it looked. They waited for his nod before they picked up the chopsticks and had a bite.
His parents chewed and savoured the noodles and the char siew. His mother started to speak but he shushed her into silence. Then it was on to the wantons. They chewed in silence, not daring to look their son in the eye.
He stared at his parents eating his picture perfect wanton mee. He had dedicated so many hours to it, not just in the kitchen, at the supermarket and wet market, but also hours just thinking of, puzzling out, wanton mee. His numbers all added up, so did his formulas. He had done his sums, he had worked it all out in his head, on paper, and worked on his experiments. So he had to manipulate and tweak things a little bit in the lab. But finally, he had a finished product, a plate of wanton mee to be proud of. But was it right? Was it there? Was it perfect? He felt that he was now too involved in it to be impartial. It was too late to call anyone else now so his pathetic parents would have to judge. Had he done it?
“It is very good,” his mother enthused. She glanced at her husband, then raised her eyebrows at him. His father drank some water, then set his glass down and told his son, “it is very good, boy. Very good.”
He wasn’t sure whether to be insulted by the “very good” or the “boy”. He reached out to take the plate from his parents. His father held the plate out to him, looked him in the eyes and said gently, as if talking to a very young child, a child who once loved the Muppet Show, “boy, this is good, but this is not wanton mee. You have used numbers and science, things I do not understand, to create this dish. It tastes good, it tastes like wanton mee, but it does not have heart, it does not have soul. And that is what makes an excellent wanton mee.”
Wanton mee is popular not just in Singapore and Malaysia but also in Hong Kong. However there are significant differences in these wanton mees. In Hong Kong, the dumplings are large, about the size of ping pong balls, and often come in a soup form. In Malaysia, the wanton mee tends to be dark and salty. In Singapore, ketchup is sometimes used for a sweeter version than the Malaysian one. The wanton in Singapore and Malaysia-style wanton mee are also a lot smaller, bite-sized. And some stalls offer fried wantons as well. Vegetables and sliced char siew are also part of wanton mee.