In my short time on earth I have grown to appreciate the umami flavor a lot, as it happens to dominate the majority of my food posts. It’s something akin to an art form, with the chef being the conduit for bringing out the glorious flavor found only in meats such as beef, pork, seafood, etc, and the dish being the manifestation of the art that the chef has cultivated/practiced over his/her career.
Today, it’s noodles.
Lai Foong Beef Noodles (丽丰牛肉面）
Petaling Street is known for the local Chinatown, where you can try out lots of food, most of them being a hybrid of Chinese and local culture, or do some cheap shopping to pass the time. In this area, there are two well-known beef noodle stores, one being Shin Kee, located near the centre of Chinatown, but its competitor, Lai Foong, takes the literal cake (or noodle) on this one.
A little away from Chinatown itself, you’ll find this not-so-humble beef noodle store in a kopitiam (coffee shop cum restaurant) bearing the same name: LAI FOONG. Walking in, the unmistakable umami scent hits me, hard. I see signs, awards, and newspaper cuttings all over the wall, testament to the love that people have for the dish since 1956. I go in with my family, and order.
Cost: RM 10.00 per bowl
What to expect:
Here we go. Two ways to enjoy the dish: go OG and enjoy the beef noodle soup, or be a maverick and go for the dry variant of the dish. The only difference between the two is that one has the noodles in the soup, and the latter has the noodles drenched in soy sauce, separate from the soup that gave the dish its fame. Both are good, but in my book the soup variant takes the cake (or noodle).
Beef tendons, beef chunks, vegetables, beef balls, and a hint of sourness. God, the taste though.
The simplest way to describe it is umami, but not overwhelming. The beef flavor is rich from hours of keeping the broth going over a small flame, accompanied by a hint of sourness, possibly from the (pickled?) vegetables. The sour accent opens up my taste buds*, and allows the patiently boiled (cultivated :P) beef essence to occupy the maximum surface area over my taste buds, and the result is a flavor that sticks in my memory.
God damn, the only other thing that comes close is actual, proper Japanese ramen, and for what it’s worth, it (almost) earns a spot on my guilty pleasures list.
Back on topic, you can order the noodles with any combination of beef parts to go with, not limited to: tendon, tripe, lean meat, intestine, or a mixture of all, which was what we had. Lai Foong isn’t just known for the beef noodles, but also another interesting dish.
Lai Foong Xiong Tong Lala Noodles (丽丰香汤面）
Lala is the name given to a ubiquitous, small, oblong shaped clam abundant, mostly found in South-East Asia. Many dishes use these lala as one of the main ingredients, this noodle dish being no exception.
Cost: RM 10.00 per bowl
What to expect:
Ginger. A good amount of the flavor in the soup is based off wok-fried ginger. Throw in the slightly unique taste that the lala clams have, a dose of rice wine and chicken stock, a small pinch of chives, that constitutes the broth.
The result is a warm (if that’s even a flavor), gentle spice courtesy of the generous amount of ginger present, with an undercurrent of rice wine that puts the richness in this the broth. It’s lovely if you’re the kind that’s open to new flavors (or doesn’t mind lots of ginger for that matter), and I can definitely appreciate it. I know my dad loves it, but then he’s a big fan of ginger in the first place, unlike my brother who just doesn’t like the taste of ginger.
With so many quality dishes under one roof, I’d say that the nostalgic walk down Chinatown was worth it. Don’t take my word as fact, come and find out for yourself.
Tourist tips – RM 10 for a bowl of noodles is a little on the expensive side, but for the experience of tasting these dishes and their reputation, it’s to be expected. Also, do come on weekdays and avoid lunch hours if you’re keen on trying these noodles for yourself.
Fun fact – Funnily enough, sour accents are usually used to open up your taste buds, allowing for them to be doused in other chemicals/ other flavors. This is also why really spicy dishes tend to have a hint of sourness, or why some cuisines (namely South-East Asian or West-European) tend to serve a slice of lemon along with the dish. I’m an advocate for you trying it out and seeing if it works out; I know I do it with ALL my sandwiches when I get the chance.