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Send Noods: Love Letters to Three Dishes

Updated: Mar 12

To: Char Kway Teow

My Love,

Every day apart from you has been unbearable, the heat that simmers within me has never been satisfied the way your warmth has. It has been too long, far too long since I last embraced such indulgent desires as I used to every morning with you for those six weeks.

My chest was clamped in a tight vice the moment I had to board the plane and wave goodbye to you. A hot burn crawled down my throat as I held back my tears; I didn’t want my father to catch me in such a vulnerable state. I shoved the pain down into the pit of my empty stomach and waited to leave you — something I never experienced to be so bittersweet when I arrived in Ipoh.

I am consumed by you in such an artery-clogging way, I want to go back for more… and perhaps more after that. Letting go of you was a permanent end to our temporary affair but I will never forget you.

I miss you. I want you.

I want to relive my first time — our first time. The way every tile in the market was stained with an off-white colour. The way every colour, movement and smell mingled in the thick humidity, every culinary layer became indistinguishable. The way my senses were seasoned with a sprinkle of salt and sliced ginger.

It was only until my eyes fell on you —

everything stopped.

Everything felt like I was on a movie set for a romance. A rosy spotlight focused only on us. Frolicking prawn fairies scattered the floor with flower petals. The string quartet swelled. My pupils enlarged. I had my first taste of you. Hugged by a lavish coating of soy sauce, the flat white strips of rice noodle curled with the fresh pieces of chilli that prickled my tongue. The bean sprouts burst with crisp juiciness. The prawns stole my heart and my arteries with their gentle texture and tenderness.

My second bite and a mariachi band appeared. My third bite and a Bollywood performance overtook my mind with a chorus of sitars and high-pitched hums. My Facebook status changed from ‘single’ to ‘it’s complicated’.

If anyone told you that finding your favourite meal wasn’t like falling in love in a film, they would be lying. They haven’t yet found someone like you. I found my love with plastic cutlery, and a fish in a nearby tank glaring at me whilst we had our moment. I think they were jealous of our intimacy.

My first time with you, my darling char kway teow, played out like a romance novel with poor relationship morals. I tried to fulfil the gaping need I had when we parted ways. I do not wish to lie to you, I attempted my best to forget you. To cheat on our time with any alternative I could encounter in Plymouth. They were casual and loveless; they all provided some sort of needed release, but it was never the same. Indeed, I am a noodle slut. But, none of them can compare to you, my love.

I’m sorry for my unfaithfulness. I know what we had together can never be replaced. I can only hope that in time, our paths shall cross again.

We’ll always have Ipoh.

Forever Yours,

Hannah xoxo

Pronounced char k-way tee-ow, this dish is essentially stir-fried noodles with a mix of soy sauces, shrimp paste, chilli, prawns, bean sprouts, amongst other ingredients depending on availability and your choice of the wet (in a soup) or dry version. The kway teow soup version is the wholesome angel to the hearty devil that is dry char kway teow. But I don’t mind going to the dark (soy) side and diving into indulgence. Despite its popularity as accessible street food in Malaysia, it was my equivalent of a tall dark European taking a sudden interest in my plump dumpling figure.

This noodle seduction all began when my Dad and I went to Ipoh for six weeks in 2016. After hours of travelling by bus, plane, and taxi, we arrived in Ipoh absolutely drained. Tired, sweltering and feeble, Dad and I craved food — any food. One of my Dad’s younger brothers, Veramani, kindly picked us up from the YoYo bus station and drove us to an indoor food market. This was my second time experiencing where Dad was born and raised, and my first time with char kway teow.

Ipoh’s status as a food capital derives from the range of ethnicities and cultures that permeate Malaysia’s food history. According to, Malaysia’s 31.2 million population (approx.) consists of Malay (50.1%), Chinese (22.6%), Indigenous (11.8%), Indian (6.7%), non-citizen and other (0.7%). These ethnicities and cultures create a prismatic abundance of family recipes and a marriage of interracial flavours. Food writer Susan Smillie claims this derives from the fact that Malaysia’s spice run attracted Chinese traders, labourers and Indians.

The Portuguese rule in Malaysia during the 1500s inspired a lifetime of cooking techniques and ingredients, such as sweet tamarind and spicy chilli (Smillie). Without the chilli, the sambal may not have existed. Sambal is the hotter cousin of ketchup, a sauce/paste that gently warms the throat or punches you in the pipes depending on your chilli tolerance. If Malaysia were a dish, it would be crammed with an indescribable blend of ingredients. And without this, I would have never found love as rich and handsome as char kway teow.

To: Chow Mein


I know it has been a while since I last wrote to you. A lot has been going on in my life and I couldn’t afford the time or money to go out and see you. But don’t take that silence as an emotional absence on my part. You still matter to me dearly.

I know that I spoke so highly of my summer affair, but you have to understand that it was a once-in-a-lifetime story, and its chapter has closed. Not even the instant gratifications satisfied me the way I thirsted for your sweet and luscious broth. As long as I am here, I am all yours — and always have been since we were young.

My gosh, we have changed so much! You occasionally have oyster mushrooms and honeyed meat mingling with the rest of your flavours — and I grew out my side fringe… Do you remember where we first met? I forget whether it was the place with the fish tank and beaded curtain, or the one with the laminated town map and white tiling that covered every speck of floor, seating and wall. I’d say you have a better memory than I do, but whenever I call for you to come over to my place, you have a different look. Sometimes your sauce was light, loose and juicy. Other times it was dark, syrupy, and intense. Depending on when and where, we shuffled between blushed and flirty glances, or alluring and hypnotic glares.

This may be embarrassing for me to say, but since I have somewhat taken the unnecessary way of communicating to you via a hand-written letter (postage and packaging included), I might as well speak my truth. I set up a dating profile on ‘Just Eat’ to check out- I mean, check-UP on you. I know you often get called to spend the night with someone…or, many someones. Listen, I’m not one to judge where you go or who you speak with, I just wanted to see (not stalk!) how your business has been doing. It simply reminds me that after all these years, you still look divine.

I know both of us often have our dinner times occupied by other people, but it doesn’t hurt to see each other more frequently, does it? I understand that ever since I moved, you’re currently going through a garlic phase. I know that ever since we reunited a few months ago, the feeling in my mouth is grittier. The sauce slips past my tongue, but the occasional tumble of garlic pieces invite a texture I am welcome to familiar myself with.

My favourite thing about our time together is how I gather you in swirling clusters; it is as delicious to watch as it is to taste — to consume. And every morsel of you is a swift way to drift into a trance. Mindlessly slurping on you, sedating my hunger in the messiest, most rewarding way. I still have to be wary of you making a sticky mess on my bed sheets if I was sloppy with my handling (crossing our fingers that my parents wouldn’t have noticed..).

Regardless, every experience with you was music. The spritely crisp of bean sprouts sliding between my teeth. The succulent water chestnuts with a crunch as sharp as freshly picked green apples. The bouncy bite of plump prawns that would burst when I’d sink my teeth into silky skin.

Even the chunks of chicken and honey-roasted pork carried a meaty tenderness to our naughty nights in, the way they softly sweetened the evening and bloomed the pockets of my cheeks every time I impatiently shoved another piece into my fat food hole.

It was engulfing myself in the song you orchestrated. I was privy to your artful seasoning of flavour notes, and your life-long mastering of every instrument in the dish. Each waft of your cologne would sing flirtatiously into my senses, pressing into my chest like malleable dough or honeyed ribs. Expanding my bulging face like a hankered hamster, I’d smile — so happy. So, so happy whenever we had dinner together with my family.

Of course, you’re family too.

No matter how old we are, I am entranced with the need to remember you again. Every time I suck in my breath to inhale the intoxicating scent of oyster — you are home to me. It has been far too long since I have physically felt the love of my family, yet every time I invite you over I am reminded once again that you are home.

Your memory lingers the same way the seething sparks of a steamy wok fizzle down into a content hum of warmth. You cloud over my homesickness like a humid roof above my head, a safe shelter with the same postcode. A regenerating map with a constant landmark.

I hope to see you soon. Even if it is to sneak you into the dark for a few hours without my housemates waking, I want to see you. I want to reacquaint myself, to stir old memories with new ones. I’ll be sure to go online and check availability.

Don’t be a stranger, visit soon!

Much love,

Hannah xx

According to an article from The New Yorker in 1972, “chow mein is a bastardized form of an authentic dish called, in Mandarin, “ch’ao mien”, or “stir-fried noodles”. The authentic dish is prepared by frying boiled noodles with a few bits of meat and vegetables” (Chen). Based on this definition alone, one of the major takeaways is that chow mein does not necessarily follow a strict definition rooted in tradition and authenticity, but can be used in primarily western food establishments to describe how egg noodles are cooked with a variety of meat and vegetable options in a thickened oyster and soy sauce.

Although many people may argue that chop suey is the poster child of Chinese takeaway cuisine in Britain, I have a personal attachment to chow mein and how this dish is representative of the many ways in which the history of British takeaway cuisine has been largely shaped by Asian influence and adaptation.