I love the puzzled look on my city friends' faces whenever I offer to treat them to a bowl of Haw Hee when they visit my hometown. Donkey is the first thing that comes to their minds!
Nope, no donkey is involved! Haw Hee is merely the name of a noodle dish though I am not certain why it was so named — probably a translation fail from Chinese to English. But it does have a nice ring to it, don't you agree?
I think it is uniquely Malaysian.
So far, save for one coffee shop in my neck of the woods, I have never seen any Haw Hee vendors in other parts of Malaysia besides my hometown.
Haw Hee always brings back fond memories of a certain noodle dish from my childhood in the 60s where I grew up. I can't really recall what exactly it was but it tasted very HawHee-ish!
Folks back then called it the "tok-tok" noodle because the hawker would announce his presence by knocking on a bamboo slab with a stick. Tok, tok, tok...
Interestingly, you could tell the different types of noodles sold by the hawkers by their distinct tok-tok rhythms — wanton noodle, fishball noodle, prawn noodle, fried noodle, etc.
Back in those days, people rarely ate out and itinerant hawkers pedaled tricycle food carts and roved in neighborhoods, usually around dinner time.
I still recall the sense of anticipation while my sisters and I waited impatiently at dusk for the hawker to make his rounds. We would strain our ears to listen for the tok-tok sound. And as soon as he approached our street, we would dash out of the house with our empty bowls, lying in wait for him!
And yes, you were required to bring your own bowl!
To order, you would hand your bowl over to the tok-tok man and state your choice of noodle (glass vermicelli, rice vermicelli, egg noodle, flat-rice noodle, etc)
He would then drop the noodle in a wire-mesh basket and blanch it in a pot of boiling water.
Next, the cooked noodle would be placed into your bowl and topped with a fish dumpling, slices of fishcake and several types of fishballs. The tok-tok man would snip the larger fishballs into bite-size pieces with a pair of scissors.
Lastly, he would fill up the bowl with steaming fish broth, a sprinkling of scallion slices and a dash of pepper.
And we would gingerly carry our piping hot bowls of tok-tok noodle back into the house!
Not an easy feat for a child, mind you!
And usually, by the time we reached the dining table, much of the broth would have been spilled!
I was ecstatic when I stumbled upon the following video on YouTube!