By Julia Sam, Triny Lum and Wei Choong
Ever since the CMCO was lifted on June 9, with the recovery movement control order (RMCO) in effect beginning June 10, dining out in eateries is currently allowed. Therefore, eateries are now open for dine-in operations, provided that they continue to observe social distancing measures and adhere to relevant SOPs laid out by the government.
Within the 3 months spent under quarantine, our cravings would often slowly creep in and eventually get the best of us. It leaves our imaginations running wild and mouths salivating. While the option to order via food delivery service or take-away exists, the reality of the truth is, it’s undoubtedly less enjoyable. It pales in comparison to the authentic, actual dine-in experience.
Hence, in this article, we explore the different choices of food that got our writers feeling nostalgic, craving for that very same taste of familiarity.
Menya Miyabi Hokkaido Ramen
By Julia Sam
“Two Miyabi Shoyu Ramen and one Japanese green tea.”
“Cold or hot?”
“Oh sorry, cold.”
You fold the menu and hand it over to the waitress, looking up at your surroundings as your eyes wander towards the various Japanese paintings hung up against the wall.
The smell of the ramen doesn’t really hit until it’s right in front of you. It’s not the same as hotpot restaurants or barbecue places. As you sit there absent-minded, you scroll through your phone to pass the time while waiting for your bowl of ramen. There’s nothing much to say as you already know how delectable this bowl of ramen will eventually be. You know that you just need to distract your mind until it arrives and your cravings will subsequently be satisfied.
You sip on the ice-cold green tea the waitress brought you, carefully making sure that you don’t down it too fast because you’re saving some space in your stomach for the smooth, heavy broth so as to not let a single drop of it go to waste.
Even if you didn’t want to, you wonder if it’s going to be the same as you remember it. Your first taste is always the piece of dried seaweed, eating it first for the crunchy laver introduction. The piping hot soup is next, it has burnt your tongue several times because you were just that impatient. Despite one side of it being numb and oblivious to taste, you have the rest of it to savour the rich soy sauce and tonkotsu broth you’ve been drooling over during the past 3 months under home quarantine.
The next bite would be into the flame-grilled chashu. The way it breaks apart between your teeth and releases the sinful fragrance of slightly burnt, juicy meat. The strands of meat tearing between your teeth, grinded and on its way to become fuel for your body. Your mouth waters and you shift impatiently in your chair, looking over to the kitchen area, hoping that the next tray being carried out is yours.
It is sadly not and the visible disappointment on your face may have triggered a smile on the waitress’ face, amused by the unusual expressiveness. Most people hide behind their poker faces to keep a more composed and adult image, but not you, at least not this time. You’ve been waiting long enough.
The bowl of ramen is finally handed to you by the waitress and you attempt to compose yourself and be patient so that you don’t burn your tongue again. When you finally slurp the soup you’ve been craving for 3 months, it is so much better than you remember it.
Soong Kee Beef Noodles & Lao Yu Ji Porridge
By Triny Lum
I know that food means different things to different people. To me, food is like memories. One food that I’ve missed most during this MCO period is dry beef noodles, but not just any beef noodles, the noodles from Soong Kee Beef Ball Noodle really hits differently.
Soong Kee has been around for a pretty long time considering how my dad remembers coming here when he was my age. It’s a restaurant that sits at the corner of Jalan Tun HS Lee, and is famously known for its beef ball noodles. I’ve eaten their noodles my whole life but it still makes my mouth water to this day.
You’ll see their shop shining brightly, the warm yellow glow of the stall lights from the Lao Yu Ji porridge stand right outside. Once I walk in, I’m transported back in time to when I was a kid and the nostalgia hits hard everytime! Immediately, a loud booming voice would welcome us.
“Hey, Uncle! How are you?” the manager would greet my grandfather in Cantonese. He’d immediately make a table available for us. I could already smell the beef tripe soup and marinated mince beef from the open kitchen at the back of the shop. As my grandfather and the manager were busy talking, we’d each order a bowl of their well-known beef ball noodles and mixed pork porridge to share. The manager disappears and after a short while, our food arrives steaming hot. The colourful bowls are filled with pale yellow noodles and a generous scoop of delicious minced beef plopped right in the middle. Each bowl of beef ball noodles comes with hot beef soup, consisting of a few plump beef balls garnished with green spring onions.
I’d grab a plastic orange soup spoon and immediately take a sip of the steaming soup, and I immediately feel all my taste buds come to life. There’s just something about hot soup that — chef’s kiss — really makes all your stress melt away. Everyone would start mixing their noodles with the minced beef, coating the noodles in the sauce. I made sure mine was thoroughly mixed, before I picked some up with my chopsticks and took a bite. Wow, I could honestly write a whole thesis about how that first bite tasted.
Maybe I’m actually a sucker for atmosphere as well, because there’s just something about eating here at night with my family, surrounded by tables of people and sometimes foreigners, enjoying the same food that kind of completes the memory.
You know how some of your childhood snacks just don’t taste the same anymore when you buy them nowadays? Well, these noodles have tasted the same since I was a baby, and that’s because the recipe and store has stayed within the family for generations.
If there is one place I’d bring all my friends to, it’s this restaurant as it’s easily one of my favourite places and foods to eat.
Hmm, I should go there tonight.
By Wei Choong
Holed up at home, deprived of the eat-out experience for months. Till this day, we’ve been advised to adhere to a predetermined list of SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) and embrace the new norm. This lockdown made me realise how much I’ve taken dine-ins for granted. Good food is served all around Malaysia, but the satisfactory service offered by one specific Japanese restaurant kept me coming back. So much so my family and I became weekly patrons at the place… until it closed for good in 2016.
A casual Saturday afternoon went like this:
“Morning boss. Brought your whole family here again? Good. Come, take a seat.”
“Uhh, for the two of us, get the usual please.”
“Yes, yes. Let me confirm again, two hot green teas, combo set C and sashimi set correct?”
The waiter distributes the menu to my siblings and I. My parents would have already completed their order. The opposite table would usually be occupied by another family. As my brothers and I browsed through the menu, there would be a selection of English songs played on repeat by the chef. The tune of Just the Way You Are by Bruno Mars is ever so familiar.
While the chef prepares our meals, there will be a steady stream of customers entering and exiting. Weekend family lunch time. The waiter would be preoccupied with taking orders and serving delicately crafted meals.
At times when he was free, he would hang around our table for a good chat about literally anything. Topics ranging from the political climate and economic environment were the adult stuff I couldn’t care less about back then. My brother would nickname him Uncle Kong (meaning ‘bright’ in Cantonese and has no affiliation with the creature named Kong), after his shiny bald head.
“Your combo set A, boy.”
My personal all-time favourite. I could be gobbling down everything in a matter of seconds. Anything combined with tamago (Japanese rolled omelette) is irresistible, at least for me. Although eggs are my go-to, I like it paired with other fresh ingredients such as sliced cucumbers and pieces of succulent karaage (Japanese fried chicken) wrapped in rice covered with flying fish roe.
The fried squid would always be eaten after the sushi, followed by the salad bowl dressed in mayonnaise. The wasabi paste will always be returned to Uncle Kong. I was never a fan of experiencing the gush of spice up my nose. The fruits of the day vary every week, but it’s generally a serving of sliced watermelon and orange.
The best part of dining-in isn’t just about the great food. It’s about the wholesome moments and relationship developed with the staff. I would definitely consider Koibito my personal hangout place with friends if it still existed today. One thing is for sure, the dining experience won’t be the same in the coming months or perhaps years.