JOHOR BARU, Sept 16 — “Raise the red lanterns!”
That’s the first thought that came to mind when we arrived at the shop. There are splashes of red everywhere — from the walls to the large woodcut style posters. No, we aren’t at an art gallery or a courtesan’s boudoir.
We are here for the wantan mee.
To be fair, there are some red lanterns albeit made from paper, the sort you’d see during Lunar New Year celebrations. Not the loud, garish sort but more akin to good fortune origami. It’s more tasteful than it sounds.
Not that it matters; all the other customers seem to be face deep in their menus or bowls of wantan mee. There are other items on the menu, such as dumpling soup and kopitiam style toast.
We aren’t exactly sure because, like everyone else, we made a beeline for the wantan mee. Not exactly unusual. A decent shop or restaurant may offer a diverse menu, full of choices to please just about everyone.
A truly stellar eatery, however, knows what draws the customers to return again and again. It’s about doing one thing and one thing well. Touting one’s signature dish is either a sign of confidence or an acknowledgement of what pays the bills.
Even with the clear call on what to order for lunch, we are still faced with options. Fortune Pot offers four variations on the same theme: JB Signature, Hokkien, Tomato (the famed Pontian style) and Thai Tom Yam. If you’re a quartet, the choice is easy: get one of each.
We’re a table of two so we stick to what is tried and true: the lighter-hued JB Signature (and perhaps no better taste test than by a bona fide JB-born patron) and the dark, soy sauce slicked Hokkien style.
This takes care of the basic bowl but what sides would we like to go with those? (Rather sweetly, we feel the eager supersize offer at a franchise fast food restaurant instead of an impatient kopitiam server waiting for us to make up our minds already.)
There are braised chicken feet and crispy siu yoke (roast pork belly), wobbly lava eggs and fragrant fried onions.
Do we want single or double portions of cha siu? Our helpful server suggests making ours a set, a popular choice of adding fried shrimp cake, fried wantans, pickled choy sum and a halved lava egg.
Too much? Not when you consider what Japanese salarymen order at some ramen shops: titanic bowls of noodles strewn with blanched bean sprouts, a mound of thinly-sliced grilled pork and topped with a freshly-cracked raw egg yolk.
We’re here for exactly that. Not ramen, but JB style wantan mee — levelled up.
There’s no need to be shy. No need to be discreet with your desires. Order all you want. If it’s a monster bowl of wantan mee with all the fixin’s, then indulge yourself. Give in to your wanton cravings (pun absolutely intended, alas).
When our bowls arrive, we are glad we did. In JB, wantan mee is prized for its noodles rather than its toppings such as the indispensable wantan or cha siu. Our egg noodles are thin, springy and “QQ” to use Taiwanese parlance.
Every slurp is its own form of bliss.
No less rapturous is Fortune Pot’s cha siu. My JB friends have long warned me that JB style cha siu tends to be leaner and drier than its KL counterpart, which prizes a fattier cut. More caramelisation, that’s for sure.
Which is what we find here, so it’s a happy pairing of the best of both worlds for us: noodles that can rival the best ramen in Tokyo and luscious, fatty cha siu that would make any true-blue Cantonese cry with joy.
I certainly wept with pleasure.
Beyond the essentials, all the other little extras (or not so little, depending on your appetite) serve to gild the lily so to speak. You can’t really go wrong with crispy fried dumplings, every crunch whetting your appetite for another bite.
The basic bowl comes with shards of fried wantan skin and if that’s not enough, the savoury fried shrimp cake (more like crackers) provides all the snap!crackle!pop! you require. It’s a cacophony of the bounty from a well-used deep fryer.
Far subtler is the delicate taste of the pickled choy sum, dusted with aromatic white sesame seeds. The luscious, gooey yolk from the lava egg simply begs to be mixed with the noodles, making each strand richer and more decadent.
It’s a hot day so we quench our thirst with kopitiam style teh ais and refreshing bitter gourd green tea. Truth be told, the clear soup that came with the wantan mee, though served hot, has a calming effect if sipped slowly and carefully. There is no rush.
Unless it’s midday and it’s the lunch rush, that is. We finish and pay for our meal, freeing our table for the next group of hungry customers. Let’s hope they brought a large appetite with them.
2, Jalan Austin Heights 8/4, Johor Baru, Johor
Open daily 7am–5pm
Tel: 011-3511 4919