I am in Melbourne, Australia visiting with a friend I have not seen for 34 years. She picks me up from the airport and we head straight for a Malaysian style restaurant for lunch. It’s been really difficult finding good Malaysian food in southern California and it is something I miss from my childhood.
Grand Tofu is located in the Glen Waverly suburb of Melbourne. It is a hole-in-the-wall, but obviously extremely popular with the locals, as it is still packed at 3pm.
I am told they serve Yong Tau Fu, which I have not eaten in more than three decades. Yong Tau Fu consists of various types of vegetables and tofu stuffed with fish paste and either steamed or boiled in stock. Here, you’re given a ticket after you order, and you go up to the counter and choose six items from the display case. I choose: bitter melon, chile, lotus root, tofu, eggplant and fish cake dotted with chives. There are noodles on the bottom of the bowl – typically a mix of rice vermicelli and “oil noodles” (what we know as egg noodles) – and finished with crispy fried shallots. I am immediately brought back to my childhood upon first bite.
Then comes Curry Laksa, another dish which seems so difficult for restaurants in southern California to perfect. The minute it arrives at the table, I knew it was going to be stellar. The pungent aroma of the curry leaves hit me almost immediately. I take a spoonful of the broth and it is robust and creamy. A few mouthfuls and I am silent, enjoying my ratatouille moment swept away by nostalgia. The only non-traditional ingredient is the broccoli, added to brighten up the bowl.
My very first experience with Hokkien Mee is at the age of five when we lived in Taiping, Malaysia. My mom sent me to a local elementary school and during recess, there were hawker stalls lined outside the school where we could buy snacks. I had 50 cents in my pocket (my daily allowance) and it was enough to buy a plate of Hokkien Mee and a sugar cane juice in a plastic bag. It was also my first experience with spicy food. The noodles were dotted with fresh chiles and my mouth burned. But it was addicting, intoxicating even! The next day, I went back for more. The plate of Hokkien Mee here is good. Really good!
Another delicious Malaysian snack food is Lobak, a dried bean curd sheet roll stuffed with meat and deep fried. The combination of crispy on the outside with the soft interior truly brings back memories. Dip it into the slightly sweet sauce if you choose.
I hope one day, I’ll be able to eat these items prepared authentically in OC. But for now, reminiscing about my childhood days with an old friend is made even sweeter when good food is involved.
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
Tel: (+61) 3956-01700