Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Spice Up Your Life (and Noodle)!

Much as chicken soup is viewed as something of a home cold remedy in the West, rice noodle soups in Thailand are often earn to ward off colds, hangovers or general malaise. When you face a bowl of noodle and the array of condiments available to season them, you may be prepared to become your own pharmacist, mixing the ingredients to create the right flavour balance and, by implication, to set body and soul right.
If your table has a steel rack containing four lidded glass bowls or jars, the restaurant you’re in served kuaytiaw (rice noodles). Typically these containers offer four choices:
  • Naam som phrik – sliced green chillies, usually phrik chii faa (sky pointing chilli) or sometimes phrik yuak (banaa-stalk chilli), in white vinegar.
  • Phrik naam plaa – phrik khii nuu (mouse-dropping chilli) in fish sauce
  • Phrik pon – dried red chilli (usually phrik chii faa), flaked or ground to a near powder.
  • Naamtaan – plain white sugar.
In typically Thai fashion, these condiments offer three ways to make the soup hotter – hot and sour, hot and salty and just plain hot – and one to make it sweet. Some kuaytiaw vendors, particularly in Central Thailand, substitute thua pon (ground peanuts) for phrik naam plaa, which is provided in a separate bowl or saucer instead.
The typical Thai noodle-eater will add a teaspoonful of each one of these condiments to the noodle soup, except for the sugar, which usually rates a full tablespoon. Until you’re used to these strong seasonings, we recommend adding them a small bit at a time, tasting the soup along the way to make sure you don’t go overboard. Adding sugar to soup may appear strange to some foreign palates but it does considerably enhance the flavour of kuaytiaw naam. In addition to the condiments rack, a conscientious kuaytiaw vendor will place a bottle of naam plaa (fish sauce), for those who want to make the soup saltier without adding the spice.
In North-Eastern Thailand, kuaytiaw shops have a more elaborate set-up. Some follow the Lao and Vietnamese custom of serving a platter of fresh greens such as phak kaat hawm (lettuce), phak kaat naam (watercress), phak phai (Vietnamese mint), bai hohraphaa (Sweet basil), saranae (mint) or phak chii (coriander) with an order of noodle soup. These are meant to be eaten raw along with the noodle soup, or they can be added directly to the bowl. Halved limes, a small bowl of ka-pi (shrimp paste) and a saucer of fresh whole phrik khii nuu completes the Isaan (North-Easter) kuaytiaw condiment array. In Isaan dialect, kuaytiaw is often referred to as for (from the Vietnamese, pho).

No comments:

Post a Comment