SEREMBAN, Jan 14 — Growing up I did not eat much beef. Partly because of the cost, I am sure, but also due to an indeterminate avoidance of any meat that was not chicken breast. Children are funny creatures this way.
Fortunately children grow up and so do their palates. Or at least it did, in my case. Which is not to say that we become more sophisticated eaters as we age but we are likelier to try new things.
My father always told me, try it twice and if you still dislike it, you never have to eat it again. This, I reckon, is as fair a philosophy for life as anything I have come across.
This openness to trying new things means that I am not excluded from the crowds who make a beeline to Pasar Besar Seremban, not to get their fresh produce (though I am certain some of them do get their weekly market haul there too), but for the famous Seremban beef noodles.
Make that Seremban Beef Noodle, the first letter of every word capitalised (and the last word in the singular), since the dish happens to be the name of the shop too.
To be clear, there are more than one stall in Pasar Besar Seremban offering beef noodles and I am sure everyone has their own favourite. But my workout buddy Chai’s mother — who is originally from Seremban and therefore our guide and trusted source for everything in her hometown — swears by this shop.
Look for stall no. 241A at the Pasar Besar Seremban food court.
Which is unit 241A on the first level of the market. The signage clearly announces that you have found the inimitable Seremban beef noodles or niú nǎn fěn (beef brisket noodles).
The sight of the stall owner ladling up the dark, unctuous gravy is enough to whet one’s appetite. This is why the more artisanal of Japan’s ramen shops gain such a cult following: the thick soup that you can alternatively sip and chew.
Texture draws us in.
Do not forget to order a side of beef balls in soup to go with your noodles. These will help bulk up your meal a little for the portions are on the more conservative side, designed for those with smaller appetites or who prefer to order consecutive bowls.
The beef noodles can come with all manner of ingredients, from collagen-rich tendons to an assortment of offal. But the meat of the dish is, well, the meat (if you would forgive the pun).
The cut of beef that works best for such a dish is brisket as the meat has to go through hours of slow cooking, the better to extract the flavours and to tenderise. Some marbling means that there is more depth to its taste too.
All that comes with time. Not just cooking time but waiting time; if you come during lunch hours or on the weekends, expect a decent 15-20 minutes before your order is ready.
Order a side of beef balls in soup to go with your noodles.
When your food finally arrives, however, you will be rewarded with a bowl of sticky and starchy beefy goodness.
Firstly, the noodles themselves are worth a mention: known as lai fun locally, these are made from rice flour and resembles the more common lou shu fun (rat’s tails) in KL.
Then there is the gravy itself, full of beefy flavour and oh so gooey, a formidable presence on its own.
The chilli sauce, served in a tiny plastic saucer, is tangy from the inclusion of vinegar and helps cut any greasiness from the meat and gravy.
Crunchy peanuts, pickled cabbage and a sprinkling of sesame seeds and sliced green onions complete the picture.
But it is the beef itself that is the star: tender sliced beef brisket, bouncy beef tendon, chewy homemade beef jerky, glorious beef innards for those who love their offal.
Ladling up the dark, unctuous gravy to pack for a takeaway order.
It is luxuriously meaty.
You cannot leave without grabbing more noodles as takeaway. A little something to remember the brief trip by. The shop proprietors pack the meat, gravy and noodles separately so there is no danger of the food getting soggy by the time you get home.
Now, not every hawker staple survives a waiting period of several hours before digging in; fried foods in particular, such as that piece of fried chicken that sat atop your nasi lemak or a once-crunchy stick of you tiao (fried cruller), do poorly in the journey from kopitiam back to one’s home.
Which is why I am surprised by how well the Seremban beef noodles reheats in my kitchen, many hours later. Perhaps part of the magic comes from using a well-seasoned wok or perhaps cheating a little by drizzling a few drops of sesame oil (an addition that would improve nearly any savoury dish, I find).
What matters is that, thanks to the components of the dish being kept separate, there is no horror of mushy noodles to endure (though never quite "QQ” or bouncy as freshly cooked fare).
If anything, the time spent away from each other appears to have helped the noodles and the gravy marry and meld more intimately once they are reunited. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, after all; who knew it would apply to what we eat too?
The beef noodles reheats surprisingly well at home.
This sense of missing something might be why Seremban-born customers (and other travellers passing by) return again and again for the beef noodles. They miss the taste, yes, but also what it represents: a piece of their childhood, a nostalgia for years long past.
Seremban Beef Noodle 新儒记 牛腩粉
241A, Level 1, Pasar Besar Seremban, Jalan Tuanku Munawir, Seremban
Open Thu-Mon 8am-2pm; Tue & Wed closed
* Follow us on Instagram @eatdrinkmm for more food gems