Apart from the relentless jostling for real estate on my head by grey hairs amongst the black, little else serves as a tangible marker in my life for the passage of time from day to day, and from year to year. I don't have children whose height charts and increasing capacity for speech and mischief remind me that their progress is diametrically marked by my inexorable decline into old age. So it is to food that I turn as a gauge, for its capacity to mark time, and the passing thereof, through my changes in taste.
Gustatory change isn't something that happens overnight; let's just say it's more a big picture kind of thing.
In the same way that you don't go from dressing like a Goth for years to suddenly preferring bohemian dresses one day, gustatory change isn't something that happens overnight; let's just say it's more a big picture kind of thing. Ergo, just as I used to favour the voluptuous excesses of a fruity cabernet sauvignon in my younger days, now it is the rather more sedate and subtle, but no less complex, pinot noir grape for which I have a pronounced predilection. Perhaps my gastronomic preferences are informed by my beverage inclinations, and there is a pattern here, because even though I still love the punchy flavours of a feisty Hokkien prawn mee, my heart has—for the foreseeable future, at least—been firmly requisitioned by kway teow th'ng (KTT).
I fell in love with this unassuming dish for its ability to quietly creep up and seduce you.
Historically always the understudy to the stars of the hawker stage, KTT has perhaps never made the top of the podium because its most redeeming features—a silken broth, velveteen rice noodles, handmade fish balls—are also its Achilles heel, most notably because they lack the rambunctious TKO punches that rival dishes like the assam laksa unreservedly swing. But that's also the reason I fell in love with this unassuming dish in the first place: for its ability to quietly creep up and seduce you, not on the first bowl, nor even the tenth, but hundreds of bowls later, when a flash of culinary epiphany apprises you that you're truly, madly, deeply, and irreversibly, in love. And so it was with KTT. One minute I was happily tucking into plate number three of char kway teow, and the next minute I was hustling my mother into the heart of the maelstrom that is Chowrasta market, for one reason and one reason only: to get my chops on the supremely irresistible KTT at Soon Yuen (25 Jalan Kuala Kangsar, before 9am).
How hard can it be to recreate a soup, and fish balls, as tantalising as the one that's indelibly etched into the gustatory archive of my memory?
And because very few superlative interpretations of Penang KTT exist outside of, well, Penang, the fires of what could have just remained no more than an infatuation have been fanned into a ferocious flame of obsession that refuses to be quelled, so that when I am anywhere but in Penang, I am forced to seek it out, on a mission as futile as it is heartbreaking. Which is why this year, I have made it my culinary resolution to perfect this dish, even if it breaks me. After all, if mastery of Hokkien prawn me, the crown jewel of Penang hawker food, was within my purview, then how hard can it be to recreate a soup, and fish balls, as tantalising as the one that's indelibly etched into the gustatory archive of my memory? We shall see, shan't we?