Food stall: Wan Than Mee
Wan than Mee. It’s been my go-to Penang Hawker stall lunch for the last few months. Wan Than mee and an iced coffee for RM5 can’t be beat. So what is it?
Wantan Mee – Wan than mee
How is it spelled? That’s the thing about Hokkien spelling in Penang. It isn’t standardized. So people spell it however they see fit. They won’t be wrong as long as they communicate what they’re selling, right? And when it tastes good, you don’t care how it’s spelled.
The word “mee” means it is a noodle dish. The kind of noodles that they use in the wan than mee have become synonymous with the dish. You can go to the wet market noodle stall and ask for wantan mee noodles, and they will now what you mean. The fresh noodles are sold in portion sized bunches that are ready for you to cook in boiling broth. It’s cooked to al dente in a matter of minutes. The noodles are placed in a wire mesh strainer and dipped in the boiling broth. Every so often the cook will pull it out and give it a toss to make sure the noodles aren’t sticking to each other.
“Wan than” is the dumpling. Each order comes with two or three boiled dumplings and two or three deep fried dumplings. The boiled dumplings are cooked in the broth with the noodles. The fried are usually already pre-fried ready to be assembled into the dish.
Penang wan than mee and Malaysian wan than mee differs from other versions in that it includes slices of char siu, the red bbq/roast pork. You’ll see this in the Singaporean version as well, but not in Hong kong.
Soup style or dry
I prefer my wan than mee soup style. The noodles, dumplings, greens and green onions are served in a bowl of hot soup. The soup is often the broth that they boil the noodles in. The real piece de resistance for me is the sliced picked jalapeno chili peppers that are served on the side. These are absolutely essential for rounding out the dish. It brings some heat to a dish that is essentially only salty (and brothy umami).
The dry style wan than mee comes with the noodles tossed in a soy sauce or oyster sauce based concoction. That’s served on a plate with the same other elements around it, dumplings, greens, pork and peppers. Green onions are tossed over the top.
How to tell the better versions
The recent debate about the ban of foreign cooks in hawker stalls will affect wan than mee, as I understand it. Wan than mee is on the list of dishes that they plan on regulating starting in 2016. That means that somewhere someone thinks that there’s a perfect version of this dish that they remember from years ago (and can no longer find in Penang). What makes a good wan than mee dish and what makes a bad one?
I hear stinginess is a factor for most diners. They complain that the dumplings are “empty”, that is to say, there isn’t enough meaty filling in them. They complain that the broth is MSG based as opposed to “real” broth. The fans of dry style wan than mee will complain about the sauce being too thin or too thick. And finally, the roast pork can be a bit bland.
I’ve experienced some sub-par dishes and can see the validity of some of the points. I think the “hits” far outshine the “misses” and I will continue to get this at least once a week, as long as I’m living in Penang.
Where’s the best?
I’m going to leave the answer to the community. Please leave a comment below or visit the Facebook page to let us know where you found the best wan than mee.