No, it’s really not quite the same anymore.
In the old days when I was young, whenever we dropped by a coffee shop in the afternoon, we might get to see the kampua noodle seller melting the pork fat in a giant wok to get the lard to toss his noodles. The fat would melt, leaving behind the phok (crusts) swimming in the oil.
In West Malaysia, at some char kway teow (fried flat rice noodles) stalls, I had seen them melting the fat in the wok and then frying the kway teow in the oil together with the crusts. Here, however, the kampua seller would drain the oil to remove the crusts and I don’t know what he did with them.
After that, he would heat up the oil in the same giant wok again and fry a whole lot of thinly manually-sliced shallots in it…and the wonderful fragrance would fill the whole coffee shop and drift all over the vicinity. This was the oil that he would use eventually to toss the noodles along with the chio cheng (light soy sauce) that came in stone jars, the msg…and some chopped spring onions and the aforementioned fried shallots. Chili sauce was optional and dark soy sauce was quite unheard of at the time. That sounds really simple, doesn’t it? But all these would contribute in their own little ways to make a dish so delicious that many just can’t go without it.
I did ask a lady at one of my favourite kampua noodle stalls and she told me that she used lard mixed with cooking oil. One minus point already there! Then, I saw her using a blender to slice the shallots and in the end they looked like a really miserable mess. Two minus points. They used to bury the noodles with the fried shallots at this particular coffee shop but not anymore. According to the guy, shallots are way too expensive these days for them to be so generous with them. Three minus points.
The bottom line, therefore, is that as time passes, things change. People try to scrimp on the ingredients and they turn to modern technology to make their lives simpler…as the expense of the authentic quality of the delicacy.
I don’t recall much else other than kampua noodles at those stalls in the past but these days, you can have kway teow…
…or mihun (rice vermicilli) or even what we call ngiau chu boi (mouse’s tail) instead…tossed the same way as they would do when cooking kampua noodles.
As you can see, our kway teow is not the same as those in West Malaysia…
They’re white and thick – I prefer those in the peninsula that are thin, translucent and smooth but I’ve heard people saying that they like ours more. I guess as with everything else, it is a matter of to each his own.
Whatever it is, for better or for worse, one thing’s for sure, kampua is here to stay…