Rather than working through my mountainous to-do list, I decided to spend the day cooking one of my all-time favorite dishes, mee rebus. A classic Malaysian dish displaying Malay, Indian and Chinese influences, the soup is a sweet and savory gravy made by combining beef broth, prawn broth and creamed sweet potatoes and is best served atop fresh egg noodles, preferably thick (although thin works, too). Not only is it wonderfully delicious, it is also a dish that I’ve come to associate with my grandmother whom I never had the chance to meet because she passed away before my parents married. Mee rebus and a couple of black and white photos are all the things I have left to get to know my father’s mother with. She passed on this recipe to her daughters, all five of them, and then my late aunt passed the recipe on to my mother. Every time I’m home, I make a special request for this dish.
Mee rebus also reminds me of our family holidays spent in the Northern Malaysian state of Kedah. When I was younger, we would make the five hour drive up North to the house my father grew up in, to join the rest of his family for Eid celebrations. During Eid, we’d eat continuously until we could barely move, but amidst the spread, this one dish would always stand out because everyone around the table would be an expert, remarking on whether this vintage was just as good as past years’ or not quite up to snuff. Frankly, I could never taste the difference – they all tasted pretty good to me. So good, I’d eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Since the recipe has never been written down in my family, every time I try to make it I often end up with varying results. I think today’s attempt was a success. I had to dedicate most of the day to it as it does require quite a number of steps so I’ve decided to document the recipe here. I figure the recipe will probably be revised over time as I fine tune the various quantities. After eating a heaping bowl full of the stuff, I can barely move and I am content. Just like those days in Kedah. Sated.
- 3 lbs short ribs (bones attached)
- 1 lb prawns (heads and shells intact)
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- A pinch of salt
- 3 stalks of lemongrass
- 3 inches of fresh ginger
- 1 inch of galangal
- 10 dried chillies (soak for 10 minutes in hot water and remove seeds)
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 5 – 7 shallots
- 4 cloves garlic
- 4 hard boiled eggs, peeled
- Spring onions, sliced
- Red chilli peppers, sliced
- Lime, cut into wedges with seeds removed
- A bag of deep fried tofu (available at any Chinese grocer)
- Bean sprouts, blanched
- Spice Paste: Grind all of the Spice Paste ingredients into a paste, preferably with a mortar and pestle, but a blender is also acceptable. If using a blender, you may want to add some oil or water to facilitate the blending. Put aside.
- Beef Broth: Place the short ribs and enough water to cover the short ribs into a pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Skim the brown scum that floats to the top as they appear. Simmer for approximately 1.5 – 2 hours. Remove the ribs from the broth and set aside.
- Prawn Broth: Heat some oil in a pan and saute the whole prawns until the shell turns red. Add water until the prawns are covered and simmer gently for 30 – 45 minutes. Remove the prawns from the broth and set aside.
- In a large pot, heat the cooking oil (do not allow to smoke). Saute the Spice Paste until fragrant and the oil begins to separate from the mixture.
- Add the beef and prawn broths to the pot. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Leave to simmer for 1 hour.
- Prepare the garnish. Shell the poached prawns and slice / shred the short ribs. Place into individual garnish bowls for service.
- Prepare the egg noodles.