Mee Ho Seng Kee and my book

“Wantan mee!” declared my aunties, a unanimous decision on their first choice for lunch upon arrival to Johor Baru for a staycation with food trail with me.

At Mee Ho Seng Kee on Level 6, Johor Baru City Square,
[L to R] Auntie Polly, mum, yours truly and Auntie Sylvia
Since they relocated to Kuala Lumpur with their families, my aunties often longed for the familiar taste of their favourite food in JB. As often as they lamented about it, I would reply, “Come to Johor Baru and I will take you there!”

When they finally took up my offer in early September, it was a week-long stay where we revisited some of their favourite food haunts in JB, that started with Mee Ho Seng Kee.

It’s not that my aunties have not tasted these noodles for such a long time because they often had a stock of these classic handmade noodles, sent to them in KL in takeaway packages. The main difference is, they were here now for a dine-in experience.

The air-conditioned modern café on Level 6 of Johor Baru City Square clearly had no resemblance to their original stall set up at that corner coffeeshop at Jalan Meldrum.

The shop's brand name was inscribed on the wooden chairs
At the entrance, I read signs with instructions on where to queue for dine-in and takeaways. This gave us an idea of how well they were organized in an attempt to provide more efficient service.

So we joined the queue for dine-in and I said, “Four,” to the staff who was helping to seat diners at the first available tables.

It was then a little after the peak lunch hour so there was not such a crowd of diners and we were soon shown to a table.

As we walked pass the kitchen, I peeked through the window in the wall and spied the young proprietor, Elton Ho, working alongside his kitchen team.

While menus were on the table for our viewing and selection, my attention was riveted to the wooden chairs – more specifically, the top of the chairs – where the shop’s brand name was beautifully inscribed. To me, this was something new.

Original dry-tossed wantan noodles with a side of soup
and an additional order of dry-tossed wantan
Armed with a forward-thinking enterprising spirit, Ho had done well to keep their noodles shop’s brand in the forefront!

As my aunties studied the menu and placed our orders for servings of the original dry-tossed noodles, they requested for their signature chillie sauce to be served on the side. 

In this way, they could add the chillie to their own desired level of spiciness and enjoy the full flavour of these familiar handmade noodles.

While the menu offered a choice of deep-fried wantan and wantan in soup, my aunties preferred the taste of its dry version, served with wantan dry-tossed in chillie sauce.

Autographing his book in the noodle shop!
Seated in air-conditioned comfort to wait for our order to be served, we commented on how different it was from the old days when diners would be waiting in abject discomfort…

On the wall, a flat-screen television had coloured photos and short videos playing on a loop for diners to see some of the items on the menu and witness how the wantan noodles continue to be traditionally handmade – using duck’s eggs – in the family’s noodle recipe.

Just as our order was served and before the serving staff could leave our table, I asked him to please say “Hello” to Ho, and let him know my name was Peggy. I repeated my name to the staff – just to be sure that he got it right.

And I guess he did.

We had almost finished our meal when a smiling Ho came out of the kitchen, wet with perspiration and dusted with a coat of fine flour, even though he was wearing an apron.

With Elton Ho and my book!
He was not only familiar with me but his family was also acquainted with my mum and aunties, especially Auntie Sylvia, whose husband’s family used to live next door to the Ho family, back then in Jalan Meldrum.

It was good to see Ho again and after chatting a while, he apologized to me because he failed to go to the MPH Bookstore on Aug 26 while I was there to meet my readers.

He deeply regretted not being able to leave his workstation that afternoon – in spite of the fact that MPH Bookstore was in the same building – and assured me that he did buy a copy of my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

My aunties chatted with Ho at the counter and just as we were about to leave, I was pleasantly surprised when he suddenly whipped out my book and asked me to autograph it!

Of course, I happily obliged.

My aunties were happy to snap photos of us from different angles!

I'm deeply grateful that readers like Ho have helped to keep my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage on the MPH Non-Fiction [Local] Bestsellers list for nine consecutive weeks since it was launched in mid-July. Thank you, everyone!