In Thailand, it’s pretty much hot all year round. It seems illogical that the food here is so damn spicy, but I have come to understand that sweating it out is so much fun. Meals here are prepared so that they are a flavoursome punch-in-the-face, and energy efficient to cook. This means that there are lots of finely sliced and diced components that go into a dish, making cooking times kept to the bare minimum. What a logical thing to do: increase surface area. That’s science right?
It’s confusing why they call this dish Guay Tiew Tom Yum (Tom Yum Noodles) because it tastes quite unrelated to the prawn soup we are so used to getting at Thai restaurants world-wide. These noodles are like shopping for a new car with so many options: noodles or no noodles; egg noodles or rice noodles; clear soup or cloudy soup; just meat or just seafood; beansprouts or no beansprouts; extra crispy wonton skins; spicy or not spicy; soup or dry; or what the hey, just give me the lot. Each ingredient is blanched in a constantly boiling vat of water, then drained and hauled into a melamine bowl. Then comes the sweet, sour, and spicy. Lime juice, sugar, and roasted chilli flakes are thrown into the bowl along with chopped coriander, spring onion, and crushed peanuts. Finally, the piping-hot soup stock is ladled over everything and brought to to table.
Before you tuck in to your noodles, mix everything up with your chopsticks and aluminium soup spoon, then taste for seasoning. You will find a condiment cart on your table that houses the elements from sweet to savoury with acid and spice in between. This is where all Thais do what they do best (seasoned cook or not), balancing flavours. A dance between the lime juice, pickled chilli, sugar, and fish sauce takes place, resulting in a dish that is much greater than the sum of its humble parts.
Don’t waste any more time, tuck in, make each mouthful different, and enjoy each bite. Depending on the noodle shop, there may be some homemade treats to enjoy with your noodles. At this stand, steamed Chinese-style chive dumplings and minced pork parcels were on offer with a sweet and tart soy dipping sauce. A roll of toilet paper and Chinese tea over ice is offered at every table. Most people opt for carbonated sodas from glass bottles that are returned to the shop afterwards to be collected and recycled each day.
A seemingly simple dish, yet so complex. Noodle etiquette, Bangkok.