Saturday, June 23, 2007
The Control Group
I always liked the mee goreng at Singapore's Banana Leaf in the old Farmers' Market, but I never realized how much I liked it until I tried some other guy's mee goreng.
See, I'm uninitiated to the culinary world that gave birth to mee goreng. I vaguely recall eating at some Malaysian restaurant in Berkeley years ago (coincidentally, it too had 'banana' in the name. I guess Southeast Asia is really into bananas. I wonder how they feel about this), but aside from that, and some mention here and there of how nothing in this country compares to what you get at a 'hawker stall' back home (is it just me, or does 'hawker stall' sound somehow shady?), I know nothing. I have no frame of mee goreng reference. All I have is Singapore's Banana Leaf.
But then one day at work, I decided to check out Singapore Express, a Singaporean fast food joint in Marina Del Rey. Oh boy was I disappointed. The slouchy pile of Singapore Express noodles were apathetic underachievers who didn't even care enough to feel shame for their sorry state anymore, rooting around in a sauce like so much thinned out ketchup. Never again would I take for granted the noodles almost literally in my own backyard.
Everything about the mee goreng at Singapore's Banana Leaf screams fresh. Feisty rebellion: despite the necessity to be cooked (pan-fried in this case), these noodles are going to do everything in their power to convince you that they're radically, youthfully fresh. The noodles themselves are incorrigibly ratty -- so curly that you'd find spots that were pleasantly browned while the surrounding stretch showed no trace of contact with the pan. Potatoes, in small dice, are just off alive: perfectly cooked, not mushy in any way. The light sauce, slightly sweet from fried onions and caramelization in the pan, makes a delicious foundation for the dish, but our Farmers' Market friends keep it vital, waking up the dish with crunchy raw bean sprouts, scallions, and wedges of fresh lemon to squeeze on. Even the presentation -- with the noodles piled atop a shiny banana leaf -- reminds you that this mee goreng has less to do with stews, curries, long braised meats -- or ketchuppy underachievers for that matter -- and much more with a ripe fruit picked right off the tree.