French poet-cum-novelist Anatole France once said, “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy.” Considering its tragic context, it never occurred to me that such a poignant line would ever befit a restaurant review – until I went to Kwetiau Kerang in Medan, that is.
Three years I spent in the capital city of North Sumatra as a child, and during that short period of time, I would often follow my parents as we dined out. Coincidentally, one of our favourite haunts was Kwetiau Kerang on Jalan S. Parman – a joint that takes its moniker from its signature dish Kwetiau Kerang (stir-fried flat rice noodles with clams). I can still picture the ambience at the place vividly in my mind: smoke from the wok wafting through the air, as the owner – an old Chinese woman – cooks up a storm in front of the restaurant.
At the start of the year, I finally got the chance to visit Medan for the first time after a couple of decades. Things have changed. The single-lane Jalan S. Parman has been made wider, while the old shops that line the street have transformed into modern shoplots. Most importantly, my beloved Kwetiau Kerang joint has become a small restaurant offering a range of dishes. As I stepped foot inside, a surge of nostalgic melancholy ran through my body – everything was different, from the plastic chairs right up to the air-conditioned dining area. The old Chinese lady whom I can still remember her face clearly – and who I later found out established the eatery in 1973 – had passed down the business to her children. They no longer specialise in making its trademark delicacy, but some of the staff members have been trained to do so. I ordered a portion in the hope that it would at least taste the same as it was back then.
As soon as my Kwetiau Kerang arrived on my table, my sombre mood took a turn for the better. A distinctive aroma of fresh clams emanated from the dish, which instantly brought back priceless memories of my childhood years. Its texture was still the same – not too thick nor too thin – blending well with the seasonings, while the chewy clams lent a savoury zest.
Although Kwetiau Kerang has taken on a different form as a restaurant, I’m glad that they are still able to keep their long-time loyal patrons happy and satisfied.
Jl. S. Parman No. 22,
Medan, North Sumatra
T: 061 414 3767
Open daily from 7am-12am
Rp.30,000/US$2.30 per person