If you’ve attended a Malaysian national school, you would have fond memories of mee goreng makcik kantin.
Or as some of us call it, mee kosong. Because this type of fried noodles was really, literally “kosong” (empty): hardly any vegetables, no meat to speak of, not even egg, the cheapest of proteins. But somehow the makcik kantin (the lady who operates the canteen) managed to make magic with limited ingredients.
I remember lining up during recess, salivating at the sight of those dark glossy noodles, so savoury and sweet and delicious. Long after my schooldays are behind me, the mere mention of Mee Goreng Makcik Kantin leaves me feeling nostalgic in the heart and rumbly in the tummy.
So when Salzani Abdullah, my former schoolmate from Tarcisian Convent, posted a picture of it on Facebook, I immediately went, “RECIPE PLEASE!”
Salzani (or Nonie in short) is a cook extraordinaire and for years now, I’ve been drooling at her Instagram feed. All kinds of foods have popped up: nasi kandar, beef steak, chilli crabs, Hainanese chicken chop, sundubu jigae, daging masak hitam mamak, nasi briyani.
I hadn’t seen Nonie since we left school. The chance to reconnect came up when I was assigned to cover Kilang Roti Mokhtar, one of Malaysia’s last standing wood-fired bakeries (p. 72-75) in Slim River, where Nonie and her family now live.
Thanks to great genes, Nonie barely looks a day over 20, despite being a mother to three strapping young boys who are 20, 17 and 9 respectively. The boys have a habit of asking their Mama to recreate whatever they’ve eaten at a shop or restaurant. And because Mama also likes a good challenge, she seldom refuses. Their verdict: “Mak punya lagi sedap dari kedai!” (Mum’s food is nicer than the restaurants!)
For Nonie, cooking is all about fun in the kitchen.
“From my younger days in school till now, I’ve always loved to cook. I learned from my father, then my aunties. They are my sifus and till now, I still seek their opinions on what to put to enhance my cooking. They always tell me, the main ingredient is love and whatever you cook will be good.”
Nonie says, “With experience, I can kind of expect how the dish will turn out just by looking at the ingredients. Nowadays it’s not that hard to find a recipe. Just ask Mr Google any recipe and voila, it’s there!”
I plan to pick Nonie’s brains for other recipes in future but for now, I’ll treat you to her version of makcik kantin noodles (fineeeee, it’s because I’m craving it big time myself).
Nonie says, “I always cook this for my family. Just like the noodles you used to have at the canteen during schooldays, minimal stuff but tastes good. When I make this, I remember our good old days.”
This is a really versatile noodle dish that can be easily upgraded. Add fishballs, chicken, meat, or seafood like cockles for protein. Crack in an egg and scramble it to add some creaminess. Then there is of course the ever popular sunny side up fried egg, Malaysian style.
In fact, Nonie has a really cool tip to convert this into a mee mamak – just add curry powder!
I don’t know about you, but I know what I’m going to have for lunch today ☺
Mee Goreng Makcik Kantin
- 5 servings yellow mee
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 5 tbsp oyster sauce (you can use vegetarian oyster sauce)
- 5 tbsp dark soya sauce
- 1/4 cabbage, chopped
- 2 tbsp chilli boh
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- Dash of sesame oil
- Dash of Lea & Perrins sauce
- Heat up 3 tbsp oil in wok. Add garlic, followed by chilli boh. (If you plan to add seafood, meat, etc add it now because protein takes longer to cook).
- Add cabbage and stir-fry a minute or two. Do not cook too long or the vegetables will be too soft; you still want the greens to retain some bite.
- Add dark soya sauce, oyster sauce, water and white pepper.
- Add noodles and mix thoroughly to coat every strand with the sauces. Finally, put in sesame oil and Lea and Perrins sauce.Taste for seasoning. Add salt if necessary. Serve with chilli pickles.
- To make chilli pickles, put chopped green chillies inside a glass jar. Pour hot water and add vinegar and salt to taste.
- For non-Asian readers, do take note that most Asian cooks just tend to "eyeball it" when it come to quantities, so please feel free to adjust the saltiness and spiciness by reducing or increasing the amount of the seasoning sauces. To get a good balance of flavour, I usually look at the ratio e.g. 1: 1 for soya sauce: oyster sauce.
- Other than cabbage, you can also add other mild-tasting vegetables like bean sprouts and carrots.