Never Trust a Baby When Noodles Are on the Line
Chilli pan mee in Kuala Lumpur
Somewhat selfishly, I decided my last meal in Malaysia would be chilli pan mee, a dish that did not sound suitable for a toddler’s palate.
After a week of sharing some quite bland meals with my 18-month-old reluctant eater, I wanted to end our mother-son backpacking trip on a food high.
On our last morning in Kuala Lumpur, we hit the streets of Chow Kit armed with bananas and crackers as a backup baby meal and a mental map of how to get to Restoran Kin Kin Chilli Pan Mee. Ten minutes after leaving our hotel, I pushed the pram down a rundown street lined with mechanic shops and found the bright yellow sign I was looking for.
Restoran Kin Kin claims to have invented chilli pan mee 30 years ago. Its walls carry entertaining handwritten statements such as “welcome to the superb taste of the original” and “bring your friends along for a big delicious surprise!!!”
Although we seemed to be the only non-locals in the place, I wasn’t the only parent. The place was packed with families, couples, and groups of friends. The staff quickly brought us a high chair, and the baby began fluttering his eyelashes and smirking coyly at everyone who looked his way.
The staff were powerless to resist his charms and, although I’d read service could be slow, the staff were very attentive and super-smiley.
Surprised to find the menu included more than their one famous dish, I ordered the chill pan mee and fishball noodle soup.
The fishballs arrived first, and they didn’t impress the baby a bit. Only a quarter of a springy fishball was accepted.
Within moments, the headline dish arrived: a vibrant red plastic bowl topped with an assortment of brown things: ikan bilis (fried anchovies), seasoned pork mince, and crispy fried shallots. There was also a bright white poached egg and a sprinkle of green in the form of fresh chopped shallots. Hiding underneath was a tangle of egg noodles.
The baby vigorously assisted with stirring the components together, bursting the poached egg so the yolk coated the noodles. After a forceful and extended mixing session, he helped himself to a slippery wet handful. Then another. And another. Meanwhile, I wrestled with the bowl, trying to keep his enthusiasm from flipping it onto the floor.
I finally managed to transfer a chopstick load of noodles into my mouth. Divine! The noodles were chewy, the egg yolk gave it a strangely un-Asian carbonara flavor and feel, and the various brown bits were umami with surprising fishy crunches.
We fell into a two-for-you-one-for-me eating rhythm. I was waiting for him to stop so I could add the key ingredient: dried chilli flakes, a plastic jar of which was sitting on our table, tantalizingly close. I was reluctant to draw attention to it, in case my little engineer succumbed to the toddler siren song of a tiny spoon and a lid with a spoon-hole.
Suddenly our bowl contained only eggy oily smears. The chilli didn’t happen, so I guess we just had pan mee for breakfast.
Ironically, our cheap hotel had gotten some poor reviews between when I booked and when we checked in. The problem: no decent food in the vicinity. Remembering this complaint, I chuckled into the empty chilli pan mee bowl, then dutifully polished off the now-cold and slightly rubbery fishballs, which were supposed to be the baby’s breakfast.
I should have just left the cold soup and ordered another bowl of chilli pan mee. Less than half a bowl just wasn’t enough.