July 20, 2009

Mee Hailam: Is it as Hainanese as Chicken Rice?

I was chatting with my Hailam/Hainanese friend about the lack of a proper Hailam restaurant in Miri and how popular Hailam Noodles are especially amongst the Malay customers. In fact almost all Muslim stalls offer hailam noodles as part of their menu in both East and West Malaysia. My friend humourously told me that personally she would not even think that her own people know much about Hailam noodles. The only Hainese food she can think of is Hainam Chicken Rice. Well that is what we all have to find out. Is Hailam noodle from the Hainanese?

The Hainanese have spread throughout South East Asia. At the beginning of the 20th century they were mainly employed as cooks and men servants of the Colonialists in Singapore Hong Kong and Malaya. Thus they have cultivated a very strong menu of delightful food like buns and pork chops etc. Hailam Kopitiams spread far and wide and are the best in terms of coffee shops because Hainanese coffee has a strong history and reputation.

The best Hailam Coffee in Miri is found in WTZ Cafe near the Imperial Mall. You can check this out. For three generations now the Wees have been known for their coffee.

No one can challenge the fame of Hainanese Chicken Rice. The rest would just be at best - good imitations and that is a great compliment to the Hainanese I must say.

Any way whenever I eat with my friends in a Muslim food outlet I would often order Hailam Noodles or Bee Hoon (back to my topic of the day) as I like the tender meats which can be found in the noodles and the gentle and sweet sauce which is not spicy. Then I like the colours of spring in the noodles too.

Hailam noodles are not hard to prepare at home.

Buy a packet of yellow noodles (which is about 1/2 kg) and also some mustard greens and spring onions. Buy some chicken breast meat and fish cakes would be nice if fresh snapper meat is not available. Some people use squid for good seafood taste. Get some pretty medium sized fresh prawns to make the noodles look nice and colourful.

For the sauce blend together some ginger and garlic.

You need two large onions - sliced thinly and finely sliced lettuce.

When you are to ready to serve your family or guests - blanch the noodles and place them in deep plates for individual servings. If you don't like blanched noodles you can stir fry the noodles instead for a few minutes.

Fry the blended paste in hot oil till fragrant.
Mix in the chicken, prawns, squids, and fish. Cook till the chicken is tender.
Add in the mustard greens, spring onions, pepper and mix thoroughly.

The final touch in Chinese cooking is the penultimate step of adding in some sweet soya source, oyster sauce and cornflour with just enough water. Too much water would turn the sauce into a soup. Stir again.

Finally, season with salt, sugar and ground black pepper. Stir until well -mixed and thick.

When sauce thickens slightly, season to taste. Ladle on the top of each plate of noodles and mix well. Garnish with fried bean curd slices and pickled chilies.

Sometimes I add crunchy strips of very fresh cucumber and some blanched bean sprouts.

I like to add some nice wine vinegar to my own plate of noodles to give them a more tangy taste.

This is an easy one meal dish to make and you can add other vegetables too if you like e.g. carrots and cauliflower.

In my opinion the more fresh fish slices I use the better the noodles will the taste. The Hainanese must have discovered the beautiful blend when they put chicken and fish and seafood together a long time ago when their fishermen brought sea creatures from the sea to the kitchen. And of course the South East Asian spice - Pepper - does make a real difference.


Anonymous said...

Yes I agree with you that Hailam Noodles are very nice and light. I like the simple sauce too. And the seafood (sometimes too little) gives it a special oomph...
I also wonder if it is truly Hailam in origin.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

It is nice of you to visit. I have asked around about Mee Hailam and its origin. Yes it is hard to tell.
But the Singapore Sling (cocktail) has its great history from Hainan roots. Wonderful story.

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