More often than not, my favorite food stalls or restaurants serve one thing and one thing only. A family recipe, guarded carefully and passed through generations, unchanging in taste, scent and presentation. Because, hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Here in KL, the Chinese understand this perfectly. And right in the old heart of KL is a family that understands beef noodles perfectly and has been demonstrating it for the past 80 years.
The Koon family are beef noodles specialists – it even says so on their sign. Get within a block of their hole-in-the-wall restaurant and the air already starts smelling like beef broth steam, courtesy of the giant vat of beef balls on a constant rolling boil at the restaurant’s entrance. Seating was limited until recently, when they knocked down a wall to squeeze in a few more tables. Still, I want to reach there right after the lunch crowd dissipates or at the end of the day (I’ll tell you why in a bit).
The basic setup of a bowl of noodles here is simple: noodles, soup, meat, mince. I then customize my bowl to my own liking; what kind of noodles, whether I want the soup separate or not, which cuts of meat, and the size of the serving itself. Those are the easy decisions. What I can never decide, is which part is my favorite on that day.
Is it the beef balls themselves? Each one is still handmade to this day, so springy you swear it would bounce on the floor. Or the paper thin beef slices, raw right until the moment hot broth hits them and cooks them just right. Maybe it’s the broth, which gets more and more intense throughout the day as Madam Koon dunks meat in the vat to cook.
Most days, however, my favorite bit is the minced beef itself. There’s a hum of garlic and fish sauce running through beef minced so fine, I barely need to chew it. It’s such an itensely beefy-tasting mince, probably cooked for hours to get the flavor just so. I’ve tried valiantly for years to figure out the recipe, almost (jokingly) plotting a marriage to one of their sons to get it, but I still have little clue what actually goes into this magical, magical minced beef.
Once I’m done with the noodles, I douse the leftover soup with a healthy amount of white pepper and drink it all up like it’s the most wonderful elixir in the world. Probably because it is.
One family + one dish = perfection. This is how food should be.
Address: Along Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, opposite Lai Fong Coffee Shop
Telephone: 012 673 7318
Opening hours: 10.30am – 8.30pm, (closed Wednesdays)
by Charlie Teh
photos: Azwan Mahzan