Pontian Wonton Mee: The Unique Tomato Noodle Dish from Johor
Pontian Wonton Mee 笨珍云吞面 (also called Pontian Wanton/Wantan Mee) is a unique tomato-based noodle dish hailing from Pontian, Johor. This delectable noodle dish has gained recognition not just locally but also among international food enthusiasts. The locals call it “Red Noodles (红面)” or “Tomato Wonton Mee (茄汁云吞面)”. It is even dubbed as the “Eastern Spaghetti” by tourists from Hong Kong. While it may have to fight for the spotlight with other local specialties like Laksa Johor, Mee Bandung Muar, and Otak-Otak, Pontian Wonton Mee has carved out its own niche within Johor.
What truly made Pontian Wonton Mee stand out is its tangy and flavourful red sauce. Unlike its wonton noodle counterparts from other places, which often rely on soy or oyster sauce, Pontian Wonton Mee’s sauce is made from a mixture of tomato ketchup, chilli sauce, lard, shallot oil, soy sauce and oyster sauce. The result is a savoury, sweet, and slightly spicy concoction with a hint of tanginess that adds a more complex dimension to the dish. This sauce mix is a creation commonly attributed to the ingenious Mr. Loh, who hails from Guangzhou China, and settled in Pontian back in the early 20th century. He started making and selling wonton noodles for a living. His unique culinary sense brought forth a style of wonton noodles that was so delightful that it became synonymous with the town of Pontian itself and is now celebrated generally as Pontian Wonton Mee.
Another main component of Pontian Wonton Mee is undoubtedly its Jook-Sing noodles 竹升面, a type of Guangdong-style egg noodles used in wonton mee. The name Jook-Sing noodles literally translates to “bamboo-rise noodles.” Crafting Jook-Sing Noodles is a time-consuming and labour-intensive process that requires skill and dedication. A skilled noodle maker would sits at one end of a large bamboo pole, with the other end placed firmly on the ground. Using their body weight, they repeatedly press down on the dough at the other end, compressing it to increase its density. This meticulous process not only results in noodles with a delightfully chewy texture but also enhances their overall mouthfeel. After achieving the desired thickness, the dough is cut into individual noodles. The final step in preparing Jook-Sing Noodles involves boiling them vigorously in water. This high-heat cooking method ensures that the noodles maintain their unique texture and do not become overly soft. There are still some Pontian Wonton Mee sellers hold onto its heritage by continuing to make the noodles in this authentic way, while many other eateries have switched to machine-made noodles.
Pontian Wonton Mee wouldn’t be complete without its mouthwatering wontons. These delicate dumplings are filled with tender minced pork and enveloped in a smooth, thin skin. By the way, you will notice that in Pontian, you won’t find any deep-fried wontons, because Pontian Wonton Mee sellers take pride in their art of boiling. Through careful boiling of the wontons, you can truly discern the unique characteristics of each establishment’s wonton fillings. If the wontons are made and cooked well, biting into them will release bursts of umami-filled and fresh flavours. These little packages of goodness is served alongside to complement the eggy noodles perfectly.
Lastly, let’s talk about the garnishes. Pontian Wonton Mee are often accompanied by slices of char siu (roast pork). The char siu is sometimes sliced so incredibly thin to cut cost, almost as if it could take flight with a gentle breeze, therefore regularly mocked as “char siu that can fly”. What about some greens to accompany the red noodles? The only greens you will find are sprinkles of cut spring onion/scallion, serving primarily as aromatic embellishments. Pontian Wonton Mee is very committed to its tradition over balanced diets and nutrition. In essence, the emphasis on tangy tomato sauce mix, springy egg noodles, boiled wontons, thinly sliced char siu, and the minimalist approach to vegetables all combine and somehow contribute to the making of a perfect bowl of Pontian Wonton Mee.
Pontian Wonton Mee can be found easily in Pontian obviously, but it has spread to other parts of Malaysia and even to Singapore. Whether you’re a local or a traveler exploring the vibrant food scene of Malaysia, don’t miss the opportunity to seek out and savour this special Pontian dish.