Penang's famous Kim Leng Loh Mee – a magical, gloopy bowl of wonder
The constant stream of customers to Kim Leng Loh Mee in Perak Road indicates its popularity among locals. Located at Joo Huat Restaurant, this famous lor mee stall is only a stone's throw away from the bustling Perak Road morning market.
Lor (or loh) mee in Hokkien, literally means "thick gravy noodles" (lor – thick gravy and mee – noodles). Blanched yellow noodles, bee hoon (rice vermicelli) and taugeh (bean sprouts) is ladled over with a thick, almost gloopy dark brown gravy. The lor, which has streaks of fine egg ribbons, is spiced with aromatic Chinese five-spice powder (locally known as ngoh hiang hoon). You decide on what goes onto your noodles. Your options include lor nui (braised hard-boiled eggs), braised lean pork slices, stewed chicken feet, soft gelatinous pig skin, pig intestine, a raw garlic sauce with vinegar, chilli paste and fried shallots.
There are no two ways about this – either you adore lor mee or you do not! Some find the slimy texture of the gravy a big turn off. Worse, topping it with cuts of pig intestine and skin as well as chicken feet might look like something a witch would dish out from her cauldron in a horror flick. Having said that, it is all these ingredients that truly make Kim Leng Loh Mee an enticing treat.
Although eating pig skin and intestine is an acquired taste, when prepared well, they should melt in the mouth sans any gamey scent. That goes a well for chicken feet. Chicken feet have no meat; they only have connective tissues – skin, cartilage, tendons and bones. They are quite nutritious and deliver a fair amount of vitamins and minerals.
Coming from an Asian family, my Mum cooks nearly everything – pig brain in an omelette, stir-fried pig liver with ginger and sesame oil, chicken liver and gizzards in stuffing for roast chicken, frog porridge, fish roe curry, tu thor th'ng (peppery pig stomach soup), kidney with mee suah and the list goes on and on. She knows how to clean the innards well and cooks them in such delicious ways.
Along with the Chinese five-spice powder, light and dark soy sauce, huge pork bones are used to make the flavourful stock. The rich stock is then thickened to the right consistency using tapioca flour before the addition of beaten eggs to make the fine egg ribbons in the lor.
Mr Lim Kim Leong, the 68-year old owner of the stall, wakes up at 4:00 am to prepare the lor. Being a family business, his wife and children chip in to lighten the workload. Kim Leong has to prepare at least six barrels full on weekdays and eight on weekends. To top it all, the ingredients like pig skin and chicken feet have to be stewed separately for hours to get them really tender. When I spoke to Kim Leong, I could see that he was passionate about his business. He takes great care and puts his heart and soul into preparing every item, right down to the chilli paste to deliver standout bowls of lor mee that tug at the heartstrings.
For the less adventurous diner, opt for the lean pork slices and eggs. However, I would highly recommend adding some garlic sauce and a dollop of chilli paste. The vinegar in the garlic sauce is needed to balance out the salty, sweet and spicy flavours. The vinegar would also titillate the taste buds and bring them a level up. Fried shallots, on the other hand, enhance the smoky aroma of the offering. All these components are necessary for that additional oomph in a good bowl of lor mee.
To illustrate how picky eaters Penangites are, Kim Leong also prepares a version of the garlic sauce sans the vinegar. He also has black vinegar at hand.
Prior to selling lor mee, Kim Leong worked in the carpentry business, shellacking cupboards and doors. In the 1970s, his eldest sister, Kooi Cheng first learned how to make lor mee from Hoe Seng, a popular stall then existing in Ayer Itam. Having acquired the skill, she sold lor mee in Perak Road for almost two decades before she passed away. Her husband then invited Kim Leong then to take over the business which he graciously did. He was then in his 30s.
Through those years, Perak Road has gone massive development – kampung houses making way for high-rise apartments and shop lots. Because of the urban development, Kim Leong had to relocate a few times, often just across the street to avoid losing his valued customers. He has now been at Joo Huat Restaurant for over a decade.
He gave the stall his own auspicious name – "Kim Leng", Hokkien for "golden dragon". Kim Leong has appeared in local newspapers many times, as well as has being featured by countless food bloggers. He has also been interviewed by Malaysian TV host Jason Yeoh aka Axian on a food programme on Astro. In spite of all the publicity, Kim Leong remains humble and continues to work hard, even at 68. His wife, two daughters and son help with the family business and will step up when the need arises.
Kim Leng Loh Mee
Joo Huat Restaurant, 336-G1 Lintang Slim, off Jalan Perak, 11600 Penang
Open daily from 7:00 am – 4:00 pm except Thursdays
T: +6016 477 5152
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
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3 March 2022