Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Foochow Thread Noodles or Mien Sien

This is not a microscopic view of virus like EV71. These are the broken pieces from the long mien sien which is very brittle. More then 90 years ago when my grandmother was just a 5 year old child bride she would dry mien sien for her sister in law the wife of Mr. Lau Kah Tii the second Kang Chu of the Foochow settlement. She would collect all of the broken pieces and keep them in a tin until she had enough for a small bowl of mien sien. To her such a bowl of mien sien would be a great meal. She would have the mien sien Kang Lo or kang puang ie just mix with some lard and salt. I would dearly remember this little snippet from her.

Therefore today I would like to dedicate this posting to her memory.

So you would like to eat some mien sien? If you follow the photos in this posting you will get an idea how to get your bowl of Foochow thread noodles and how much work has been accomplished to put that bowl of mien sien in front of you.

There are many packets of mien sien here still fresh after a week even. Note the red strings used to tie the noodles. Red is an auspicious and lucky colour.

One view of the well wrapped bundles of mien sien in the shop. They are usually wrapped in twos for an auspicious symbolic packaging. Pairs means unity or harmony.

This "drug" store belongs to my cousin ( Tiong) and he is the most friendly and humble shopkeeper you can find in Miri. Foochow mien sien is found in his shop and in many other Foochow drug stores. All the noodles are guarranteed made in Sibu. And it has that special unmistakeable good taste.

This shows the unwound bundles of mien sien ready for me to portion into shorter lengths and curling them into little circles to be dried in the sun. I measured the dry noodles and they are actually about 9 feet long fully stretched!!

This is how we Foochows dry our mien sien - in little clumps or suoh jie suoh jie - getting them crispy dried to be stored in air tight containers ready for cooking any time. I happen to catch this scenario in town today at about 1 p.m. and the sun was really scorching hot. It just shows how popular mien sien is in Miri. You can find it drying even in a small lane!!

This is a small "circle" or suoh jie of dried crispy mien sien ready for the pot of boiling water. It is just enough for a small eater. Suoh Jie is Foochow for one small clump of mien sien. (ooops the colour of the photo is a little off. The noodles should be white and not yellow.)

This photo shows my Tupperware container for my noodles which at times is not enough especially when I buy too many bundles of fresh mien sien from Sibu.

This shows my mien sien tin a recycled biscuit tin from Sibu. It can last many many years of good use as long as it does not get rusty.

So how is mien sien actually made?

Read on.....

The hand made thread noodles (mien siang) are made by the Foochows in Sibu and Sarikei where the moisture in the air is just right according to the experts for the semi dried noodles. Since the beginning of the Foochow settlement these thread noodles have been made by only a handful of very trustworthy makers. Hence the history of some of the families which make this important noodles could be as long as 100 years. If they had learned the trade from their parents and grandparents in China then their history would be definitely longer.

The skill of thread noodle is usually handed from father to son and hopefully it does not stop there. Very few of these master noodle makers took in apprentices if they have sons to pass on their skills to. One master took in an apprentice and soon he became the son-in-law which was a real win-win situation.

One of the best thread noodle makers in Sibu must be Uncle Ah Chuo who operated at Brooke Drive from the 1950's until he passed away in the 1990's.

The family would get up as early as 2 a.m. to start the dough from scratch. After letting the dough rest for as long as one hour they would start kneading the dough into smaller portions and then cut into lengths good enough to string between two long bamboo sticks. These two sticks are stuck to a stand so that the noodle maker could loop the string of noodloe from one stick to another thus making a figure of eight.

When the whole length of the two sticks is complete with the string noodle the maker would hang one of the sticks onto a ledge of a wooden box and thus letting the other stick pull the string noodle downwards. the noodle maker and his wife could make up to two hundred pairs of sticks .

By eight when the sun is just warm enough the noodle maker would bring five pairs of the sticks out to the yard and stick them into five holes on the top frame of one stand (see the picture below). He would then pull the noodles slowly to as long as 10 feet and then stick the other sticks into the holes (arranged one on top of the other in the upright pole.

He has to do this very carefully so as not to break the threads. This is indeed a great skill.

He would then leave the noodles to dry in the sun. Every now and then he would use two pairs of sticks to separate the threads so that they do not stick together. This monitoring stage is usually done very tenderly and carefully.

Much has been written about mien sien . The traditional Foochow longevity wheat or thread noodles are a must for all the important Foochow occasions be it a birthday, a memorial day, a new year or a festival day. Mee sua (Hokkien) or soh mien as it is called in Foochow is one of the favourite dishes in coffee shops too throughout Sarawak and is catching up in popularity in West Malaysia.

The noodle maker in the photos is Mr. Chieng who operates a mien sien outlet in Oya Road,Sibu. He can be contacted via email : or by phone : 084-312473. Do make a call first before driving all the way to Oya Road. Business is brisk so you might be disappointed and come home empty handed.

The noodles drying in the sun are very dramatic and they look as if Zhang Yie Mou has been doing the choreography. And any moment a flying swordman and swordwoman could tumble into the noodle yard for a good sword fight!!

I can even smell the saltish floury fragrance of the mien sien drying in the sun. I only wish I am right there at this moment with my favourite neighbour Ah Chuo Moo and Ah Chuo Pah and their affectionate family.

Don't you feel that there is a lot of culture in this traditional skilled craft?

Finally after all this long day of writing here is my wish for you. May you have many years of mien sien eating. Cheers or kampei with Foochow Red Wine!! And triple dose of it in your mien sien.

Thanks to a friend Steve Ling (Going Places) who allows me to use his "NOODLE MAKING" photos.

9 memories:

James TC Wong said...

Wah sister...excellent write-up on mien sien. Hope there will be "new blood" taking over the trade otherwise ...

Hey I didn't know the Ing Kong shop owner is your relative. We usually buy the mien sien there if we run out of the stock from Sibu.


I Am Sarawakiana said...

Hi. Nice to hear from an early bird! Some lucky people can sleep up to 10 in the morning.

Tiong is actually from Bintangor. Nice family.

Lots of good stuff from him and he won't mind telling you and giving you a good Foochow price!!

Thanks for visiting.

Daniel Yiek said...

Cool post and great pics. I never managed to snap these pics in sarikei when I went back during the rainy CNY period. There are 2 houses near Sarikei town that makes mien sien. When I do get the pics, your post will be a good reference for me. :)

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Hello. Yes let's do as much for mien sien as possible. It is unthinkable to allow this wonderful cottage industry to become extinct.

I understand from my friend that Koreans living in Sarawak love mien sien. And now most of the Dayak friends I know enjoy it too.

One Japanese lady I know loves it. She says that it is so good that she only order this noodle wherever she goes in Malaysia.

Victor Kiu said...

Aww... My fav noodles~

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Thanks for visiting.

I notice that you are good photographer. Carry on and believe in yourself.

Seek Find and Serve.

Kai Grey said...

longevity noodles! very good when fried with cangkuk manis!

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Hi Nice of you to visit. Yes the recipe for mee sua and changkok manis is very simple. Boil the meesua. Prepare the aromatics : finely chopped garlic and a bit of chilies. Crispy lard - chopped fine and crispy fried pounded dried prawns. Fry the changkok manis with these and then add in the meesua. Stir fry for a few minutes and then serve hot! Bon appetit!

Kale or kai lan would be good substitute but the taste is best with changkok manis. I heard this is a Cantonese recipe.

Philip said...

Does anyone knows where to get this mien sien (and cook by Sarawakian Foochow) in Ipoh? I manged to get a bite from Sitiwan Foochow. Totally different!


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