I recently learned that I am no longer allergic to shellfish. I first received a diagnosis of a shellfish allergy back in 2004 after undergoing the standard allergy test, but since then had never experienced an adverse reaction despite several incidents of involuntary exposure. Curious as to how this could be possible, I visited a different allergist in summer 2016, who conducted the same allergy test that was conducted twelve years earlier, and gave me the opposite diagnosis. It’s not clear if I somehow grew out of my allergy, or if the first diagnosis was in error.
One consequence of my diagnosis in 2004 is that I have never before tried some of the most classic dishes of Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine. Never before have I eaten chilli crab, or most versions of curry laksa, or char kway teow, or any number of other signature dishes featuring prawns or squid.* As I find myself in Kuala Lumpur for the next week, I now have an opportunity to try all of these things that I’ve never tried before.
For my inaugural Indolaysian shellfish meal, I chose Hokkien mee, a dish that I’ve always lusted after. I chose “KL-style” over “Singapore-style” as it’s the version I first came to know, and because I tend to enjoy the dark sweet soy sauce noodle flavor. I visited a place called Mun Wah Hokkien Mee on the recommendation of several internet sources that claimed it was among the best places in central KL for Hokkien mee. Here is what we have.
Visible here: those fat Hokkien-style noodles, little pork cracklings, sliced pork, squid, veg. Not visible here: wok hei, shrimp, and the pig liver that is the Mun Wah signature touch and which creates an ultra-rich sauce. The verdict: those cracklings are oh so fun, and the mouthfeel of the slippery mee is just as good as I had hoped, but this dish was not as good as I expected! I suspect that I would have preferred a liver-free version. I found the occasional ocean-y bite to be not unpleasant, but not particularly delicious either.
Mun Wah the restaurant was quite the experience. I infer that despite serving Hokkien mee, the restaurant is run by Cantonese speakers, as they kept referring to me as the gwai lo rather than the ang mo. The proprietor (and also the chef) spent quite a bit of time explaining all of the other dishes that I should also order to try, despite the fact that he speaks no English and I speak no Cantonese. I tried to speak Malay to him, but no dice.
* It’s actually worse than it sounds. One of the consequences of my (alleged) allergy was that I had to be extra careful about ordering even those dishes that don’t normally have shellfish in them, like many versions of nasi goreng and otak-otak. I learned this the hard way in Sydney on our honeymoon, when I ordered hot and sour soup and it came with prawns floating in it. Incidentally, I have also never eaten a Moreton Bay bug.