Here we have a plate of Char Beehoon (Chow Mai Fun in Cantonese, Cao Mi Fen in Mandarin). It is one of my favourite dishes, this, together with fried rice, was the dish I requested without fail every time I came home for term breaks and holidays. Yet I hardly ever make it myself because I always make a mess of it, ending up with a sorry pile of broken rice noodles each time.
Knowing how much I like this dish, Chan-Che - who is now cooking for our family again- made it for me a few days before I left KL. Watching her cook was as ever, a pleasure and a learning experience at the same time. She does things the old fashioned way, methodically, patiently taking the time to do each step properly.
When I entered the kitchen, she was already frying up lard in some cooking oil. The lard renders more fat into the oil and turns into little nuggets of crispy porky bits.
Meanwhile, on the chopping board, she got ready to slice carrots and mince some garlic. There were also some shallots nearby, to be peeled and sliced in 2-3 mm semi-circles. I looked around and noticed the other ingredients.
Chinese cabbage, rinsed and sliced.
A stack of of omelettes cooked earlier. It would be sliced into thin strips.
A colander of beehoon, soaked in hot water and then rinsed and drained, ready for cooking.
The crispy lard pieces are set aside.
She stir-fried the shallots first, qickly cooking them until they lose their bite and yet were still sweet and crispy.
The shallots set aside, the wok was readied for sauteing some minced garlic. Garlic sticks easily, it's important to have a low fire and enough oil in the wok.
When the garlic released its aroma and turns to a shade of pale gold, the carrots were stirred in and tossed.
Followed by the cabbage.
The cabbage and carrot are cooked till soft but not mushy.
In the now-empty wok, she heated some oil to saute some more garlic.
From the refridgerator, she took out a bowl of sliced pork which she had marinated with some soy sauce and pepper and cooked that with the garlic.
Water was added to deglaze the wok and make a simple meat gravy that will give tonnes of flavour to the noodles.
The noodles went in. This is a crucial step. She handled the noodles real gently, hardly stirring them, instead, she used a pair of chopsticks to loosen the strands so they can absorb the gravy
More chopstick action when the cooked cabbage and carrots were returned to the wok.
Shallots went in right at the end.
My plate of noodles, topped with omelet strips and crispy lard bits, with some fresh cut chillies on the side. Bliss.
She sometimes add dark soy sauce which would turn the noodles a beautiful brown colour and add a tinge of caramel saltiness to the dish, but not that day because my nephew was on a restricted diet. My mother favours a more adult version which I love too, where the noodles are cooked till very dry, almost the texture of the original uncooked state. I like very much also the street version, usually nothing more than noodles, dark soy sauce, MSG and beansprouts. I like my Char Beehoon with fried shallots toppings, or with a fiery sambal belacan accompaniment. I like them fried with sardines, with tinned pork trotters, with seafood, with pickled vegetables, heck I've never not like any that came my way.
This version though, is the one I come back to often. It's homely and familiar, and delicious too.