"Wok kiss", a word I was unaware of before my safari into the wilderness of Kuey Tiao begun some years back. Having been a fan of the simple dish, and it's distant cousins (Pad See Ew in Thailand), I had a rather triumphant plate of it at the Lot 10 Hutong in KL, ironically called Penang Famous. Subsequently spending over 6 weeks in Georgetown, and suffering through a couple mediocre versions, I attempted to try the O.G. to see what all the fuss was about.
I headed there from Chulia Street, faced with the monumental task of not fainting from the Georgetown sun, a feat I barely managed, hustled my way into the restaurant only to see a line worthy of a sporting event snaking it's way deep into the back. I timidly joined the queue, deciding to wait 15 minutes and see how far the line had moved. It barely moved an inch. With the fans doing little to move this heavy air, and the humidity soaring to unprecedented levels, I threw in the towel and left. Disjointed in thought, and overcome with a sense of mortal danger.
Two weeks later, I tried again. Approaching at a slightly later junction of the day, to find the line far more agreeable. I counted 11 people ahead of me. I timed the average amount each person took, and stood there confident in the knowledge that I would have to wait 21 minutes to place my order. In accordance with mirroring weather conditions, I had slurped a 100 plus beforehand to assuage the deafening need to collapse in this furnace. 18 minutes passed, and in accordance with calculations there now stood 2 people ahead of me. My stomach turned in excitement at the clear visual field I had of the cook breaking eggs and throwing cockles into the fiery wok. The term Wok Kiss came about from the extreme heat and manner of which the cook would leave the noodles in contact with it enough time to blister before stirring or shaking. This almost caramelisation effect brought out a divine smokey flavour that inferior heat just couldn't replicate.
Three more minutes, three more minutes. The lady moved to within 1 of me, taking orders from the remaining two in line. A combination of no breakfast, the 35 degree heat, intense humidity and the spit from the charcoal oven afterburn heading directly into my face had caused me to lose most of my composure. For a habitual visitor to Asia, my heat tolerance is shameful.
And then the gods struck down on me in pitying terror. The lady in the white and blue dress, ordered ten portions for take-away. TEN... I repeat... TEN. My calculations were thrown into disarray, my fever returned with stark stabbings, my dizziness collapsed about me, sweat ran in escape patterns across my neck... I flailed about in a ocean of doubt.. should i leave AGAIN?!
After a brief moment of imaginary slaps, I returned to the realities of my situation, stirred deep within my soul, and borrowed a few aching moments of sanity for the duration of my ordeal. Everything suddenly became a calm oasis around me, I had fallen into the trap of denial, and I floated willingly.
It almost passed my attention when I was finally asked my order, the blue and white lady had drifted off to her office to please her nine friends, and I had finally been asked what I wanted, and an egg was broken, cockles and plump shrimps were thrown in, noodles, sprouts, greens, oil, and the hands that moved the mastery of wok-magic, conjured up a plate for me to carry to the back, and sit on plastic stools, pressing the cold vacant love of a can of 100 plus against my throbbing veins to try cool down enough to eat hot food in this furnace.
I looked down at the small, innocent white plate, with its specks of chinese sausage, stray greens and noodles tucked in hasty formations. I collected my chopsticks, and dug in.
Sometimes hell can be all you long for. This was one of those times. Of all the hindrances and obstacles to arrive at the position of sitting down in relative comfort, drained and dehydrated, annoyed and exasperated, and yet all those feelings disappeared in one single mouthful. It blew every other Kuey Tiao I had ever eaten out of the water. A rich dance of perfectly balanced flavours, the burn of the wok, the freshest prawns, all coming together with that slight heat from the chilli.
I sat back and realised that there are people who make food, and then there are people who perfect it. The details may be lost on many, but this man was a true artist, and I'll gladly dive into any devilish torment to taste that wok-kiss again.
Moonshine & Lemongrass paid it a visit lately:
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.
"Sadness is tempered by umami, grief by the motion of slurping, hope restored by the ladling of glistening, fatty broth"