IF ever there were a search for a signature dish for Kuching, it would be a one-horse race.
There can be only one logical choice – kolo mee, the ubiquitous tossed noodle that has become so much part of the city folks’ life.
Laksa might stake a claim, but at best it can only claim to be Sarawak’s variety of this dish as several other states can also lay claim to this dish.
Kolo mee is a different kettle of fish altogether. It is ‘endemic’ to Kuching, and only in recent years has it spread to other towns in Sarawak. In fact, its popularity has spread to a few eateries in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur!
However, kolo mee is still hard to come by in these cities, and Kuching natives working there often crave for its simple but unique taste.
Somehow, kolo mee does not taste like the kolo mee they used to eat, unless it is eaten in Kuching.
I remembered an Italian friend during my university days who insisted that there was no substitute for the authentic spaghetti made in Italy, cooked in Italy, and eaten in Italy. He proudly claimed that anything spaghetti outside Italy were poor imitations
The same applies for kolo mee – it has to be made, cooked and eaten in Kuching to be the real deal.
If Kuching natives cannot come back, then the next best thing is to get someone coming their way from the city to buy packets of the noodles for them.
It is inconvenient, no doubt, but it is worth all the trouble for these kolo mee addicts.
Recently, my friend ‘tapao’ (packed) 20 packets of kolo mee before she flew back to Kuala Lumpur.
One of her reasons for coming back to Kuching for the weekend, apart from having a short break, was to satisfy her cravings for kolo mee.
“Really, you come back because of the kolo mee?” asked another friend when we met for breakfast before she left later that day.
So, what is so special about our Kolo Mee that my friend is willing to pay for a flight to come over for a weekend just to eat it?
Indeed, what it so special about this ‘poor man’s food’? ‘Not so young’ citizens still reminiscence the good old days when a bowl of kolo mee ‘kosong’ (served without any garnishing) cost 30 cents and a standard serving with slivers of meat cost an extra 20 cents.
Kolo mee ‘special’ with extra garnishing like boiled prawns costing at least a few ringgit more were unheard of in those days … life was simple then.
In recent years, kolo mee earned another reason to be the signature dish of Kuching when it transcended the racial barrier and made it into the menu of Malay coffee shops through its halal version.
Although it has not make it to the ranks of `nasi lemak’ or `mee jawa’ in halal eateries, mee kolok has gained a large following among those who eat only halal food.
Back to my friend, I believe her longing for kolo mee was not only gastronomical in nature. Perhaps, it has something to do with homesickness – whenever she thought of home she remembered kolo mee or vice versa.
There is no secret in the success of kolo mee – it is basically boiled noodles tossed with cooking oil, fired shallots or garlic, seasoning (usually an unhealthy dose of sodium glucomate) and light soya sauce.
With such a simple recipe it is a wonder why an ‘instant’ version of the noodle has not made it big in the supermarket shelves.
Some companies did try marketing the ‘instant’ version of kolo mee, but with limited success. It seems only the ‘Real McCoy’ is acceptable to kolo mee connoisseurs.
If someone can come up with the right formula to produce and market instant kolo mee with the authentic Kuching taste, he could possibly make it to the Forbes Top 100 list.
Imagine the kolo mee addiction going global. Wow! The sky is the limit.
Or perhaps start a fast food chain of kolo-mee? Since it is so easy to prepare it can be marketed through franchise chains the way hamburgers and spaghetti are done through McDonald and Pizza Hut.
Ah Yew Kolo Mee or Pak Amin Mee Kolok fastfood outlets may be just food for thoughts now, but who knows in the future they could become worldwide chains you. Imagine eating kolo mee in downtown New York, the way we eat big Macs in Kuching.