William R. Blackford, 128 YinD
Bored? Tired of eating rice? Feeling an existential crisis trying to force its way into your present thoughts as you attempt to teach Thai children? Struggling to connect with people in your community and realizing that the littlest things sometimes have the biggest impact when it comes to your relationships?
We know how you feel. Fortunately, there is another option for those whose taste buds, intestines, and hearts need a break from the starchy staple that seems to run our lives. Here are a few different dishes you can try if you’re feeling bored or adventurous;
Y’all know this noodle. These instant noodles and their like can be found anywhere that sells any kind of “food” product. It can be eaten anytime, anywhere — even straight out of the bag, uncooked. There are a dozen different brands of it — most Americans I know call it Top Ramen, and most Thais I know call it Mama.
These noodles, usually made from wheat flour, palm oil, and salt can be prepared in a variety of ways. It can be stir fried with veggies (pad maa maa), made into yam, and even put into your ก๋วยเตี๋ยว (guai dtiao) at any noodle cart.
Best eaten… as a sad, lonely meal late one evening after four straight days of rain when there is nothing else to eat in your house and you’re in the fifth straight hour of binge-watching Breaking Bad.
Pairs well with Oishi Green Tea Kyoho + Jelly Coco.
ก๋วยเตี๋ยวคั่วไก่ (guai dtiao kua gai)
Guai-dtiao doesn’t just mean soup — it is a catch-all word for rice noodles (though not all noodle soup noodles are rice noodles). This dish is prepared in a wok, usually with wide rice noodles (เส้นใหญ่ – sen yai), garlic, onions, egg, and chicken. I have also seen it with squid.
Best eaten… for the first time on an outing with someone who you think might be becoming your friend but you’re not actually sure how friends work around these parts, so you’re cautiously optimistic but also realizing that your Thai is woefully inadequate and spend a lot of time chewing and smiling when momentarily making awkward eye contact.
Liberal use of the chili sauce is encouraged.
สุกี้แห้ง (su gii haeng)
You may have already experienced the suki buffet, but suki doesn’t have to be the gut-busting, eat-so-much-it-hurts meal. Many places have the suki dish all on its own, and you can even get it without the broth, which can be a refreshing change.
I’m sure people use other noodles, but I have never seen a suki dish with a noodle other than วุ่นเส้น (wun sen). Wun sen, also known as cellophane noodles or glass noodles, are a Chinese noodle made from starch. They are incredibly easy to cook and quite cheap. This dish mixes the wun sen with all the usual things you find at the buffet — morning glory, mushrooms, cabbage, and your choice of meat if you do indeed choose meat. I find that pork goes better with the soup, whereas chicken better complements the dry dish.
Best eaten… ordered by your friend who is six months pregnant and not full yet. She takes a couple bites, says it’s too spicy, and asks you to eat the rest of it despite that fact that you just finished an entire plate of fried rice to yourself. You eat what you can and realize how much easier it is for you to communicate with each other than it was a year ago and think about how far your friendship has come as a result.
Ask for the sauce on the side so you can add to taste.
ผัดไทยห่อไข่ (pad thai hor kai)
We all know about pad thai — it’s the dish that every Thai restaurant in the U.S. serves, and that most people associate with Thai cuisine. A wonderful combination of spicy and sweet, this staple Thai dish is as standard as it comes.
But if you didn’t know that you can order it wrapped in a fried egg, now you do and you are very welcome. This extra little oomph can be just the shot of something different you need to activate your bored taste buds.
Best eaten… sitting in the huge, air-conditioned cafeteria at the Big C Supercenter in the city that you biked to because being at home all day was driving you absolutely insane as the hours crawled by on a blazing Sunday afternoon and you needed something, anything to do that wasn’t being at home by yourself, and yet you try as hard as you can to avoid speaking to or making eye contact with anyone.
Unimpressed? Still finding yourself wondering what the f— you’re doing here? Still feeling incapable of articulating the deep reservoir of emotions swirling around inside of you on a daily basis? Here are a couple varieties of guai-dtiao you can use to spice up the usual fare and fend off the impending existential crisis;
ก๋วยเตี๋ยวน้ำตก (guai dtiao nam dtok)
This spicy dish goes best with เส้นหมี่ (sen mii). The thin rice noodle is the perfectly unassuming complement to the thick, spicy broth made with dark soy sauce, pickled bean curd, and pig’s blood, into which pork liver is often added. If you love strong flavors and spicy soup, this is the guai-dtiao for you.
Best eaten… under the scorching tin roof of a random restaurant tucked away somewhere in your village, the soup burning your tongue with every slurp while a fine sheen of sweat glistens on your forehead and upper lip, and then you look around and realize that you’re surrounded by people who you consider your friends and suddenly the heat, the sweat, and the pain give way to a surge of gratitude.
Follow up with ขนมถ้วย (kanom tuai) for best results.
ก๋วยเตี๋ยวต้มยํา (guai dtiao dtom yam)
“Tom yum” ain’t just for soups, my friends. If you like spicy and sweet together, order guai dtiao dtom yam and your taste buds will thank you. Common ingredients in this variety of noodle soup are red pork and egg noodles, or บะหมี่เหลือง (ba mii leuang). The egg noodles have a thicker, heavier, stickier consistency than the rice noodles and a little more of an oily flavor. The best places put a lot of lime and peanuts in the soup as well to really accent the flavors.
Best eaten… at your favorite noodle stand in the village where you just say you want “the usual” and the owner knows exactly what you mean, and you eat with your friends and coworkers, clustered around the small table, listening to the conversation as sugar cane trucks scream by on the road mere meters away, and you feel like you’re finally home.
Did you know that any guai dtiao dish can be ordered แห้ง (haeng), which just means dry without the soup?
Enjoy your food journeys out there, my friends, and if any of these dishes fail to save you from the sense of impending doom, well that’s okay, too. Falling and failing are all part of the journey.
Best of luck to you out there.