Long and thin yellow noodles coiled into palm-sized flat discs on a bamboo sieve, is an authentic Hokkien dish——Khún Mī, also known as “Khún Miên” or coiled noodles. It has a springy but not sticky texture, usually best consumed alongside dishes with rich sauces, such as braised pork knuckle, sea cucumber pork stew, or bak kut teh. The way of eating may vary, some like to twist pieces off similar to eating bread, whereas others would cut into small pieces and pick up with chopsticks. Khún Mī is not greasy due to no oil used during its production, pure original noodle flavours can be savoured upon each bite.
Consuming noodles on birthdays imply longevity, therefore in Hokkien food culture, noodles are of great consequence. Noodles are also a must-have in worshipping deities and ancestors. Khún Mī stands out from the rest due to its circular shape symbolizing completeness, as well as its excellent shelf life, since it does not turn sour or spoil easily after being laid out for a few hours in the warm and humid climate of Malaysia. Moreover, dishes paired with Khún Mī bear good significance, for instance pork knuckle means improvement, sea cucumber means endless opportunities, indirectly establishing Khún Mī’s sublimity in the Hokkien society.
Elders who moved abroad in the early days are more familiar with this native dish, popular with homesick migrants. As they settled down in Malaysia, Khún Mī evolved into a common economical food. Eventually the older generation passed away, the younger generations who did not have fond attachments stopped producing the time-consuming and laborious Khún Mī, as they regarded efficiency to keep up with modern lifestyles. Khún Mī became increasingly rare, mostly sought after by Hokkiens for the Jade Emperor’s birthday celebration and Hungry Ghosts festival. Youngsters nowadays may not have heard about Khún Mī, but only yellow noodles which are almost identical.
In Kuala Pilah located in the mid-section of Negeri Sembilan, the sole remaining family-run noodles workshop lies behind the slope of the hawker centre, specializing in producing and supplying traditional Hokkien noodles including yellow noodles and Khún Mī. The both are basically the same, the only difference being Khún Mī is oil-free and has a pleasing visual. Khún Mī is toilsome to make, requiring delicate handiwork and involves more manpower. Firstly, cut out noodle strips two feet in length, then hang onto a rattan hoop and spread out gently. During the blanching process, it is important to note the temperature, as overcooking may cause breakage. The cooked noodles are submerged in cold water for al dente consistency, then one person sorts them into clusters of 4-5 strips, and another coil them up on a bamboo sieve.
With almost 40 years experience in manufacturing noodles, Uncle Lim Sze Hock, nicknamed “Noodle-seller Hock”, is the third generation successor of this family-run workshop. His grandfather set up the workshop and engaged chefs from EngChoon, China to teach the skills. Uncle Lim’s mother, octogenarian Madam Khoo Yeoh, has been involved in making noodles since she married into the family at 23 years old. Before there was pipe water supply, she had to draw water from a nearby well. During their childhood, Uncle Lim and his siblings used to sell noodles after school. He had a job in Kuala Lumpur before returning to take over the workshop in the event of his father’s sudden death.
The procedures of noodle manufacturing are not too complicated, compared to the earlier days when kneading is done by hand, the mixture rolled by a wooden pole, and the noodles shredded using knives. Now there is a semi-automatic production line, a diesel stove replaced the woodfire stove for blanching. Even so, the job is deemed less profitable, Madam Khoo discouraged her grandchildren to inherit. In the past there were four such workshops in Kuala Pilah, however they all closed down due to lack of heir. Luckily when Uncle Lim decided to retire, his youngest brother Lim Sze Hian would like to carry on the family business, Khún Mī is still available locally.
Traditional heritage food depends on geographical area and lifestyle practices. Due to globalization and the increasing pace of life, traditional food culture is phasing out. There might still be Khún Mī in Klang, Melaka, or Penang with a majority Hokkien population, however not many people understood its implication.
Text: Daniel Lim & Pua Hui Wen
有你 UNI Production
Producer : Mok Yii Chek
Coordinator : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang
Video Editor : Michael Lerk
Production Assistant : Michael Lerk
Music : Ukulele In Town
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