With this being one of the many local favorites in Malaysia, soon I learned that they are plenty other types of pan mee around. Often involving the use of a pasta maker machine these days, there are the thin and round noodles 幼面 and also the wide flattened long strips noodles 粗面. Instead of the basic dough made of plain flour, water and sometimes the egg, some have even evolved to incorporate the use of some natural colorings from natural ingredients creating a multicolor pan mee. Thinking back, I remember how a shop selling the 3-color pan mee 三色板面 was such a hit back in my hometown when it first made its appearance years ago. They have the red from dragon fruits (pitaya), orange from the carrots, and green from the spinach.
While the soup version remains the most basic one that I am most familiar with, the dry tossed pan mee is yet another common way of having the pan mee served. A lot similar to the dry version of wonton noodle, they are tossed in a specially mixed dark soy sauce. Either way, they are both served with the usual topping most commonly seen - minced meat, some sliced mushroom, fish balls or pork meat balls, deep fried anchovies and not forgetting some greens on the side. Fast forward a few years later during my uni years was when a close friend, Simon introduced me to the world of chili pan mee. A subgroup of the dry tossed pan mee, the chili pan mee is mixed and tossed in fiery dry chili flakes fried to perfection instead of having it tossed in a special concoction of dark soy sauce.
|a bowl of homemade chili pan mee commonly served with a poached egg|
Moving here, a pasta maker machine is one of the first few items in the kitchen that we invested in. And that began the series to many trials and errors experimenting with the noodle making in our very own kitchen. Right until I stumbled into this pack of noodle in the Chinese grocer that I frequent weekly and decided to give it a try. Plain flour, water and salt are all that listed under the ingredients on the package and just like pan mee, it comes in all three different types - big cut pieces, the thick noodle as well as the thin one. I must say that I have been very happy indeed using this for all those bowls of pan mee so far. With all the time and effort saved minus the hassle dealing with flour, it is a shame on me to admit that the machine has since been kept away for a while now. A failed investment? Maybe lol.
As far as making a bowl of pan mee soup goes, balancing the noodle and the toppings with some good quality of soup base is crucial in defining its final quality. Living by mom's pan mee-making principle, the anchovy stock is what I will always make to go with the pan mee. While I am not particularly choosy when it comes to the type of greens used, the sweet leaves, better known as the "mani cai" 马尼菜 is probably the most common vegetable typically seen served in a bowl of pan mee. To spot or secure this here in the States was what I used to think as something totally out of the question. Moving in to a new town and exploring the different Asian stores around soon after, one of the Vietnamese grocer's place here was where I surprisingly spotted this for the first time ever here. Excited I sure was and there a day or two later, we finally had a taste of what seemed like the most classic version of pan mee soup, feeling all so satisfied.
Flour Noodle Soup (Pan Mee Soup) 清汤板面
3 bundles of flour noodles (~5oz) thick or thin, or any other kinds, bought from store or homemade
1/2lb ground pork
1 big bundle of "manicai"
4 shiitake mushrooms, soaked to soften
6 fish balls or pork meat balls
1oz anchovies, heads and intestines removed preferably
7 cloves garlic, minced
3½ tbsps cooking oil plus enough oil for deep frying the anchovies
6-8 cups of anchovy stock, made ahead of time
1½ tsp salt for boiling water
birds eye chilies in soy sauce as dipping sauce
few dashes of white pepper powder
1½ tsps light soy sauce
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp corn starch
1. Begin with marinating the meat in advance and leave to refrigerate until cooking time.
2. Trim the vegetables keeping just the leaves while discarding the stems. Rinse thoroughly and set aside.
3. Heat up about 2 tbsps of cooking oil in a sauce pan. Once well heated, turn the heat to medium-low and add in 1/3 of the minced garlic. Stir regularly and keep a close eye on it as soon as it shows a tinge of browning. Once they start turning golden in color evenly, remove from heat and transfer to a heat-proof bowl and set aside for later use.
4. Heat up a frying pan with the remaining oil. Add in the remaining minced garlic and stir fry until fragrant. Bring in the marinated meat next. Stir until the meat color changes, breaking into smaller pieces in the process. When thoroughly cooked, dish up and set aside in a bowl.
5. Meanwhile, start heating up the anchovy stock in a pot. Add in the soaked shiitake mushrooms and the fish balls or pork meat balls. Let boil to cook thoroughly white letting the aroma of the mushrooms infuse into the soup. While the mushrooms need not much time to cook through, the fish or pork meat balls are ready when they appear floating on the top.
6. Remove the mushrooms from the stock. Once cooled down enough, slice them up thinly and set in a small bowl. Spoon in about 1 tsp of the fried garlic oil and toss to mix evenly.
7. In a pan, heat up enough oil to deep fry the anchovies. Once well heated, turn down the heat to medium-high and add in the anchovies. Turn every now and then for even browning. Once they appear crispy, strain through a sieve to drain the oil and let cool on a plate lined with paper towels before storing in a container with a tight-fitting lid.
8. Bring a pot of water to boil and add in salt.
9. Blanch the vegetables in batches, each round for around 3 to 5 minutes until wilted and well cooked. Drain the water well and set aside.
10. Using the same pot of salted water, add in the noodles next. Be sure not to overcrowd the pot. Do it in batched if needed. Cook according to the instructions on package and transfer to individual bowls when done.
11. Ladle in the soup with half of the fish balls, just a little more than enough to cover the noodles. Top with a generous amount of minced meat, some sliced mushroom, the vegetables and lastly the deep fried anchovies.
12. Finish by drizzling in about 1 to 2 tsps of the fried garlic oil over each bowl of pan mee soup and serve hot with the chili in soy sauce dipping sauce on the side.