Meet the Mee Goreng Family!

loading Mee Goreng Kuah.

A humble stall in Bayan Baru has been serving this eclectic dish for three generations, and counting.

Mee Goreng.

Certain skills are innate, others developed over the years, and sometimes it’s a perfect combination of both – this might not be truer than working behind a wok. And as someone with over 50 years of experience dishing out mee goreng, Mohamed Shah Jahan has got all it takes to keep customers coming back.

His stall, located at Bayan Baru’s Kompleks Sri Selera, is called Mee C.R.C. (Manja) – a rather peculiar notion since C.R.C., which refers to the Chinese Recreation Club, is located on Jalan Macalister in George Town. Shah Jahan is the third generation of the family to run the business. His grandfather, Mohd Musa, came to Penang from India at the turn of the twentieth century and worked as a canteen operator at SK Pykett Methodist, selling plates of mee goreng to students and teachers. Shah Jahan’s father, Nagoor Meerah, continued the business and moved to the C.R.C., and later to Larut Cafe along Jalan Larut, where Shah Jahan and his brothers learned the recipe. Shah Jahan himself operated at the C.R.C. for a number of years before moving to Bayan Baru in 2007, and since he already had an established customer base, decided to keep the name Mee C.R.C. with the added moniker “Manja”.

Shah Jahan has been learning the trade since he was seven years old. Now 59, he recalls, “When we were growing up, my father made it clear that he didn’t want his sons mixing with bad company. So during the weekends, he’d bring us to his workplace instead. I used to joke that in one hand I was carrying my schoolbag, and in the other a wok. When my brothers and I grew up, we decided to operate our own mee goreng stalls; one of my brothers still mans the stall at Larut Cafe.”

Soupy Mee Goreng?

What makes his noodles special, apart from him adding chicken, beef and mustard leaves to his dishes (“The idea was actually my grandfather’s – he wanted the children to eat a well-balanced meal during recess and that was why the ingredients were added to the dish”) is the basah or soupy version.

Mee goreng is typically served in two forms: goreng (fried) and kuah, or rebus (with gravy).

At Mee C.R.C. (Manja), apart from these two conventional versions and a selection of noodles to choose from (mee, bee hoon and koay teow), mee goreng basah offers a soupy and rather different concoction of Malaysia’s favourite teatime tummy filler.

Shah Jahan’s skill with the wok is legendary. He counts the Raja of Perlis as his regular patron and claims that every reigning Malaysian monarch has sampled his mee goreng, fittingly dubbed “mee agong”. All have given their stamp of approval.

The Wok Master

Mohamed Shah Jahan.

The ingredients are almost standard items: noodles, a dash of greens, cuttlefish, potatoes, taukua (beancurd) and taugeh (beansprouts), topped with cut lime for those who have a zesty palate. So what makes the humble mee goreng different from cook to cook?

“It’s all in the hands,” explains Shah Jahan. “The movement of the hands, the way you stir the ingredients – that makes all the difference.” He begins with a tiny splash of oil. An egg is cracked in, followed by strips of char-grilled chicken, then the cuttlefish, taukua, taugeh, boiled potato cubes and mustard leaves.

After the noodles are added, chilli paste, a pinch of salt and a ladle of chicken broth go into the wok. The mee goreng is then plated, topped with crunchy prawn fritters and a wedge of lime. A small dish of green kampung chilli infused with soy sauce and lime juice is served on the side.

Unlike most of his peers, Shah Jahan cooks with gas. “The economy has not been very kind to us hawkers, so we try to reduce cost wherever we can without compromising on the quality of the dish.”

The Wok Master at work.

A Truly Malaysian Dish

Shah Jahan’s regulars have faithfully been returning over the years for their mee goreng fix. “When my father goes to the mosque for prayers, his customers wait until he comes back,” says Rehana, his daughter. His customer base is so wide he is even able to speak smidgens of Hokkien, Hakka, Teochew and Hainan.

The mee goreng is one of the best examples of Malaysian fusion cooking. “The use of the wok, the big fire and the yellow noodles are all characteristic of Chinese-style cooking, but the ingredients and sauces are essentially Indian-Muslim,” explains Shah Jahan. But he goes a little further: “A typical mee goreng hawker would fry the egg together with the noodles. I do the opposite: I fry the egg first before adding the noodles. This is so the dish won’t look all clumped together and customers are able to tell apart one ingredient from another. I was told that this is also common in Chinese cooking.

“My lifestyle and diet have been shaped by this business for so long that to retire and to break old habits would be quite difficult. Plus, I’m still grooming my sons to take over the business so that could take a while.”

Since his sons are now learning the family trade, Penangites are assured of a hearty helping of Shah Jahan’s mee goreng in the future as well.

Mee C.R.C. (Manja) is located at Kompleks Sri Selera, Bayan Baru Market and opens from Fridays to Wednesdays, 11am-6pm.

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