Growing up, Megan Wong has vivid memories of her parents’ wantan mee shop, strategically located near the Pudu market. Opened in 1955 by her migrant father Wong Poon and his wife Lee Yit Yee, the shop was the family’s stomping ground during their formative years.
“There are seven of us siblings and I am the youngest. At that time, all of us had to be in the shop, helping my parents – even over the weekends, because the weekends were the busiest period. “When I was younger, I didn’t cook, but I was responsible for wrapping hundreds of dumplings a day. As I grew up, I learnt how to cook all the food my parents sold,” she says.
Wong’s father came here from China and learnt the art of making wantan mee from a local sifu, who taught him how to make the springy, bouncy noodles from scratch, kneading and rolling the flour with the aid of heavy bamboo poles.
It was tough, strenuous work but after he met and married fruit-seller Lee, the two made a go of the business and orders kept coming in, especially from the vegetable and meat sellers in the market, who hankered after their noodles and hand-made sui kow (meat dumplings).
Wong’s parents did well enough off their wantan mee business to put all seven of their children through university (two of them were even sent abroad).
Eventually, all the children had their own careers – Wong became an accountant, while some of her brothers became engineers and businessmen. Her two sisters eventually settled in Australia.
In 1996, her parents – by then already in their 60s, called it quits for their Pudu outlet.
Their retirement was short-lived; they didn’t enjoy sitting around doing nothing, so they decided to open a small stall selling the same fare in Taman Segar, Cheras. This lasted two years, before they finally pulled the plug on the business and settled into their retirement.
Wong’s father passed away seven years ago, when he was in his 90s, but her mother (who is now 90 herself) continued to cajole her children to revive the family legacy. When Wong retired last year, her mother brought up the family business again.
“My mum said ‘Eh, since you’re retired already, why don’t you start your own business, since you have all the family recipes?’ I came up with all sorts of excuses like ‘Quite tiring, very competitive and people’s tastes have changed’. But my mum said, ‘Never mind lah, try!’ So I said ‘Okay lah, I’ll try’. That’s how I started,” says Wong.
Last month, Wong launched Pudu Chan Fatt Wanton Mee (named after her parents’ original shop) in the popular, highly-trafficked area of Damansara Uptown. Although it is miles away, both geographically and aesthetically, from the original outlet, Wong has retained and learnt all the family recipes, ensuring that the heritage fare that her parents prepared continues to live on in the present.
To get the most crucial ingredient in her restaurant – the wantan noodles – Wong shopped around until she found a supplier whose noodles most closely matched the taste and texture of her parents’ famed handmade noodles, as she couldn’t find enough skilled staff to make the noodles according to her specifications.
After opening the restaurant, she was also forced to make some revisions to the heirloom recipe for the wantan mee sauce; she says that modern tastes have evolved and many customers told her they found the sauce too bland.
“I followed my mum’s recipe closely and people said they prefer it to be sweeter. So I changed the sauce a bit,” she says.
Wong makes her sauce with a cornucopia of spices and soy sauce and leaves it to mature over two to three days, to let the flavours fully come together.
The accompanying char siew is cooked fresh in batches every day over a charcoal fire.
A bowl of char siew wantan (RM7.30) features the noodles, char siew and sauce in a bowl also filled with vegetables and fried pork lard. The noodles are bouncy, coated in a sauce which is neither too sweet nor too salty. The char siew has a well-rounded balance of sweetness and char. It is a simple, unpretentious dish.
The sui kow (RM8.50) is in a flavour-rich clear broth; the fat, fluffy steamed dumplings are filled with lots of meat, in another labour of love that is uncomplicatedly good.
Wong worked to get the broth just right, but had to make do without certain ingredients after she realised they were now no longer on the market. Still, she says the broth is as good as – if not better than – her mother’s version.
The lion head meatballs (RM8.50) would be one of the few menu items that does not date back to the original shop. Instead, this is Wong’s contribution to the restaurant. “I used to cook it for my children, and everyone liked it, so I thought why not put it on the menu? And it’s quite popular – people like it,” she says.
Another staple from the family vault is the curry laksa with chicken (RM7.50). Filled with beancurd puffs, dried beancurd sheets and chicken, the dish is rich, aromatic and spicy (but not too spicy), with addictive undertones.
Wong’s ultimate dream is to turn the family legacy into a chain of restaurants. She is already looking at expanding to another location in Jalan Tun Razak, and hopes to branch out after that.
“I have the recipes already, so we just have to follow them closely,” she says.
Although she doesn’t really get a break now, as her hours are long – reminiscent of the tiring work she used to do when she was helping her parents out as a kid – she finds the work immensely rewarding.
“There’s no off day in this business, but I enjoy it – I find it quite fun because I always liked cooking, which is why my mother encouraged me to do this,” she says.
Pudu Chan Fatt Wanton Mee is at 52G, Jalan SS21/58, Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya (Tel: 03-7733 9100).