PETALING JAYA: The fried Hokkien prawn mee was scooped up from the wok and transferred onto a plate, white wisps of steam unfurling from the mixture of yellow noodles and rice vermicelli.
But it was not ready to be served yet.
Two big prawns were tossed into the wok. The oil sizzled, filling the air with the fragrant aroma of fried prawns. Once cooked, they were placed on top of the noodles, and this deluxe version of fried Hokkien prawn mee was finally given the greenlight to leave the kitchen.
At Lucky Seventeen Cafe in Petaling Jaya in Selangor, the humble noodles are presented in rooster porcelain soup plates.
Owned by Singaporean businessman Edmund Cheong, it is one of the few places in the Klang Valley that offer this dish. The Singaporean version of Hokkien prawn mee is different from the Hokkien mee and prawn mee Malaysians are used to.
“Growing up, the Singapore Hokkien mee has always been one of my go-to comfort foods. But this dish is extremely uncommon in Malaysia and even if you find it, it doesn’t usually taste authentic,” Edmund Cheong told CNA in a text message.
“Hence we decided to bring this taste of home to Malaysia,” he said.
Occupying half a shoplot in the old neighbourhood of Section 17 - hence the eatery name - the business was opened on Aug 14, right in the middle of a pandemic that has halted and disrupted plans.
In fact, it was their second venture. The first, a food stall in a coffee shop in a commercial area nearby, had to close just after a week when Malaysians were ordered to stay home to stop COVID-19 from spreading in mid-March. The coffee shop eventually decided to cease operations a month later.
“When that happened, we already confirmed this shop lot,” Edmund Cheong’s daughter Junias Cheong said. “We had to wait for the MCO (movement control order) to be over to start renovations.”
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And in a short span of just three months, Lucky Seventeen has garnered repeated customers and wooed foodies who yearn for a taste of the Singaporean version of Hokkien mee.
“We wanted a place where fellow Singaporeans could go when they miss home, and at the same time, introduce this delicious dish to our friends in Malaysia,” Edmund Cheong said.
The mention of Hokkien mee in central Malaysia will naturally conjure up images of thick yellow noodles drenched in dark sauce, savoury with a hint of sweetness.
Therefore, it takes an extra effort for Lucky Seventeen to convince curious diners of its version.
“We have to explain, this is Singaporean, prawn-based and has gravy. And most of them like it after they try,” Alan Cheong, the 17-year-old son of Edmund Cheong, said.
In the kitchen, a big pot of the prawn broth - the essence of the dish - sits between the two black woks for easy reach. Lucky Seventeen’s head chef, a Malaysian who only wished to be known as Sam, shared that the flavourful broth is the result of choice ingredients and long stewing.
Shallots and prawns are fried until fragrant, and then boiled together with pork bones, old chicken and his concoction of seasoning for a couple of hours, he said.
Priced between RM9.90 (US$2.40) and RM19.90, the fried Hokkien prawn mee here comes in several seafood choices. In addition to pork belly slices, diners can opt for prawns, squid or clams - or all of them - in their noodles. There is also the premium version with big prawns.
This is Lucky Seventeen’s spin on the fried Hokkien prawn mee, as how hawkers in Singapore have their own take on the quintessential dish.
“(In Singapore) certain stalls don’t put pork belly and there are stalls that don’t put squid. They definitely don’t put lala in the noodles.
“We want to make it very seafoody and offer more varieties for the people. People here are not familiar with this dish yet, so we want to give more variations and lala is one,” Junias Cheong said.
And of course, each serving comes with a trio of must-haves - crispy pork lard, lime and sambal belacan - which when combined with the gravy, yield appetite-whetting flavours.
UNLIKELY PAIRING OF KAMPUNG CHICKEN
As its logo suggests, Lucky Seventeen specialises in one main dish, which is the Hokkien fried prawn noodles.
Rather uniquely, it also offers boneless poached kampung chicken on the side.
“Our chef has a good recipe. This is very tender, and a lot of people are impressed by the chicken,” Junias Cheong said.
The Cheongs are already looking at expanding, hopefully with another outlet before the end of the year. Menu expansion is also being considered.
Some customers have also been asking for bak chor mee (noodles with minced meat), Junias Cheong said, but for now, her father hopes the eatery would establish itself as a fried Hokkien prawn mee specialty shop.
In the meantime, customers can find comfort in another common taste of Singapore in its drinks menu - iced sugarcane with lemon, refreshing with a welcome citrusy zing.