She said her people were the best cooks, and I had to make a case for mi gente. I wanted to make something Thai…. Granted, Thais and Chinese are different people with different culinary traditions, but it’s all one wok of life. There are also certain flavors and smells that are similar including fermented pastes, dried shrimp, and certain herbs. In Thailand I got my first taste of local, traditional food, which was quite different than stuff you’d find at Amazing Thailand. The flavors of the North (Esan) are highly spicy and tangy and the smell of fish sauce and grilled meat linger in the air. In villages, fresh herbs gathered from the local environment and sticky rice were served with most meals. Bangkok is known as the street food capital of the world, though it’s up for debate.
For me, the whole experience: the smells, the heat, and the sweat made for one slippery situation, and that’s when I wasn’t being covered with baby powder and sprayed down with water (see Songkran). Changing living environments- college campus to the landfill to the mountains to the hospital- being sick and overheated like an Acura running on old vegetable oil, was both enlivening and overwhelming. And because I was going through so much, I didn’t have the head (or belly) space to fully appreciate the food. Though, I did enjoy playing the fool. Thankfully, 7 years down the road, my friend and colleague in creativity, Eyenga Bokamba, dropped a copy of Bangkok Street Food in my hands, and I took it to the Y-dub hot tub, where I read it with a mimosa.
As soon as Isela said that she loved Seafood, I knew it was on. Tom Yum is a highly aromatic soup, brought to life by notes of lemongrass, galangal, chili paste, and lime leaves; most of these ingredients can be found at your local Asian market. The flavors are diverse and pack a punch. Start chopping and drop it like it’s hot pot, and your kitchen will go from from earthly ordinary to a paalace for the devattas. There is also the mundane, yet satisfying work. Isela deveined the shrimp with a steady hand- make sure you save those shells- we’re gonna need em’ for the broth! Man, I just remembered going around to local food stands to collect shells for our school garden in Khon Kaen; it smelled fishier than the Boston Harbor at night with Whitey Bulger escaping on a kayak under the moonlight. We didn’t have quite the right chili paste, but mashed up chiles with garlic (Isela’s idea), and some leftover red curry paste did the trick! I also recommend smashing the lemongrass before adding, which will bring out its essence.
Back to the loo loos, as my gramma called em… Singapore noodles reminded me a lot of fried rice with a few differences: obviously noodles are used rather than rice and the seasonings are a bit different- curry powder – is rarely found, if at all, in Chinese cuisine.
To begin on this dish, we have to start with the noodles; you don’t want vermicelli common in Vietnamese dishes (glass noodles) but something with more texture and flavor and/ or the capacity to absorb flavor. The recipe I used calls for Jiangmen noodles, which is an administrative prefecture in southern China in the province of Guangdong- where my family is originally from. Guangdong is a huge area, and I’ve noticed that many Chinese restaurants and retailers share this root of Cantonese cuisine. Recently, I realized that a local food distributer called Kwung Tong foods, is a romanization of Guang Dong (广东).
Over at United Noodles, there is a woman I always bump into. She has a huge smile and wears those sleeve stockings that protect your shirt from soot. She reminds me of one of my aunts who has since passed on (Big Yi). I always wish I could speak to her
more in my Grandma’s tongue of Toisan, but I have to mainly get by on my Mandarin. I asked her, where are the noodles from Guangzhou? Shi cong Guangzhou lai de!? I asked her. These ones are from Guangzhou?? Shi a, she replied- sure are! I was thrilled to see the red package with shrimp on it. IThe noodles cook quick! Only 3-5 minutes in boiling water will do. They’re also versatile and can be covered with a bunch of sauces- chili, hoisin, curry, all yummy! To the noodles you can add shrimp, tofu, or bbq pork (char siu). I would definitely recommend using whole shrimps, at least medium in size. You can also choose to fry the egg separately or do it like my gramma did- get the wok nice and hot, make a well in the middle, drop the eggs in, then quickly mix with the rice.
The first bite of this dish blew my mind. The second bite of egg which was soft, warm and the most absorbant took me to heavenly cloud surrounded by fragrant steam where I kissed my grandma on the cheek, and she smelled of Jasmine rice. It was, shemazing! The curry powder absorbed into the noodles and danced with the tang of xioashing cooking wine (only $2.50), and was further enhanced by the salt from the soy sauce, mmm, mmm, mmm, can you say hoo sek! And then there was, Isela’s Tom Yum. Honestly, I didn’t love this dish in Thailand, but making it in the home, wow. The confluence of lime, spice, and fresh seafood, with the refreshing elements of pea pods and tomatoes took me back to my home waters- “You cahn’t beat that!” as my uncle Nundoi would say. I know Isela, the comal and molcajete are fundamental, but so are the wok and cleaver!
Below, you can find the recipes for the dishes we prepared.
Tom Yum Recipe: https://www.eatingthaifood.com/tom-yum-soup-recipe/
I would suggest 2-3 cloves of garlic and also using red chili curry paste in addition to the chili peppers *Make sure to add this last, so that the spice and punch is adjustable!* Sweetened condensed milk or coconut milk is optional; I prefer it without.
For more on chili oil as a condement, see: http://thewoksoflife.com/2015/08/how-to-make-chili-oil/