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Thursday, 22 September 2011

Khanom Jeen noodles – a cracking Bangkok breakfast

Khanom Jeen noodles – a cracking Bangkok breakfast

Another much-loved staple of Thai street food is a very average looking but great tasting noodle dish called "Khanom jin" or Khanom jeen.
You'll find the vendors in business at various times of the day and night, but notably appearing around midnight for 'post entertainment' sustenance, with equal numbers of hawkers springing up early morning around dawn for those at the other end of the tribal spectrum.

Khanom Jeen noodles can be found after that traumatic late night bar crawl, or as you head off in the morning bright eyed and bushy tailed.
Try not to drip nam ya sauce all over that nicely pressed tie or bushy tail though.

It can be an addictive business slurping rhizome-scented coconut gravy and fish bits out of a tasty bowl of noodles.
Your spoon and fork seem to be there to tease you rather than help, and you have to resist the urge to upend the bowl into your mouth and use two hands as a makeshift funnel

This is what you look for.
A business-like woman in an apron surrounded by 4 or more pots and a basket of fresh looking thin white noodles

Khanom Jeen noodles are thin white noodles made from fermented rice.
They come in fresh, slightly sticky bundles and are usually served at room temperature with a hot or warm sauce.

In Thailand the famous green and red curries are eaten with rice.
Most things are eaten with rice.
In fact in Thai language 'eat' is "Gin Khao" which literally translates as 'eat rice' but refers in reality to anything that you can put in your mouth.
Well, ALMOST anything
This goes to show how 'rice-centric' the cuisine is.
Khanom jeen noodles are pretty much the only other accompaniment for curry other than steamed rice.
You'll often see Thais making a curry to eat with rice, then re-heating the curry the next day and splashing it over room temperature khanom jeen noodles bought fresh from the market.

Why do I keep parroting on about room temperature?
Like pasta, these wee bundles of joy are pretty tacky and sticky. They'll latch onto dry fingers like leeches.
This is a very attractive trait when you are ladling a sauce over the top.
The sauce sticks to the noodles and you have a tasty treat to dig into.
Reheating the noodles by blanching makes them watery and they lose their ability for the sauce to cling, just like pasta.
You could microwave them, but then they'd over cook.
In a tropical climate like Thailand it works very well to ladle hot or warm sauce over the ambient temp noodles, so I never question the method.

My favourite topping is 'nam yah' which is a lightly spiced coconut gravy with fish, fish balls and an earthy krachai flavour.
Krachai is a rhizome, also known as 'lesser ginger' or finger-root.
It looks like a skinny dead man's fingers and is a classic ingredient in fish and seafood dishes in Thailand.
In the West you can buy it in jars in a pickle or brine solution in the Asian shops.

There are other sauces – and you will normally find a green curry option at most khanom jeen stands.

I find it hard to sell this dish as it's pretty hard to describe on a menu.
It is minced fish in a thin coconut sauce spiced with freshly pounded curry paste and loads of Krachai.
Sort of like a runny fish & coconut bolognaise on rice noodles.
When you say 'fish' on a menu, people expect to see a hunk of fish or big chunks of it. It's frustrating to walk to a table and explain that it's blended into the sauce.
In Dubai I overcame the problem by making the classic dish then adding some chunks of sea bass and some large prawns, turning it into an upmarket hawker dish – the original but with chunks of premium seafood as well.
Naturally I had to adjust the price tag to cover the premium extra ingredients, but it worked for everybody and we sold a lot of them.
This really is a great dish 'au naturale' however and should be tried in its authentic 'street food' state.

If you trust me enough to try this dish (and you should!), then the vendor will give you a plate that looks something like this.
You'll look at it, possibly recoil in horror, and then wonder how that plain, shabby-looking bowl of slop could possibly assuage your hunger and your wanton lust for porno-food-pleasure.
All will become clear.
Resist the urge to punch the hawker and throw your food to the ground.
Look around for the condiments and side dishes.
These are included in the cost, and are an essential part of the meal.

Ah yes, found them?
They shouldn't be hard to come by. Most khanom jeen places sell only that, and the selection of side dishes is usually pretty extensive. They are a major drawcard of the dish and the locals will not be shy about helping themselves to the sides.

Here you see shredded banana flower, and there's always green beans, cucumber, pickled vegetables and bean sprouts on offer.
You also have condiments to adjust salty, sweet, spicy, so dig in and adjust to your hearts content.
An essential part of the meal to me, is the toasted dry red chilli which will be in a jar or container on the table. These should be dark, crispy and oily, and if it weren't for the following day's 'sizzling sphincter' which tends to catch up with you, I'd eat them like popcorn.
The flavour and texture that these toasted chillies impart is an experience that shouldn't be missed.
They make EVERYTHING taste good

This is what your khanom jeen should look like after you give it a good seeing-to with the side dishes.
A lot better, no?
It isn't a huge dish – but for 20 baht or thereabouts, it isn't a big issue to order another one if you're still hungry.
Many people eat two plates – and you can try another sauce.
I'm trying to promote healthy eating (ie – trying to stop drinking a bottle of wine and eating a block of cheese every night) so I should also mention the herbs, leaves & greens.

Your 20 baht includes unlimited herbage and vegetable, so go wild and dig in.
Lots of fresh mint, basil, dill, baby sator, baby cucumbers, green beans help to keep the tummy gremlins at bay.
You can chomp away like a brontosaurus without attracting a second glance.

After breakfast, it's time to hit the town.
The skytrain makes zipping around Bangkok an absolute breeze.
This particular khanom jeen stand is located on the corner of Sukhumvit and Soi 19 at the base of the stairs of Asoke BTS station.

Want to make your own?
Recipe below.

Khanom Jeen Nam Ya recipe (serves 3)

150g Fish fillet (or 250g 'pla chorn fish on the bone) Catfish is OK
400ml Coconut milk
40g Krachai (100g if using commercial red curry paste)
1g Salt
1g Sugar
30g Fish sauce (or to taste)
1 tbsp Red curry paste (to taste) or 2 tbsp Nam Ya paste (below)
600ml water
Simmer the fish with water and all above ingredients.

If using fish with bones, remove from bone when cooked, and puree fish to a paste in mortar and pestle, or blender.

Return to saucepan and simmer until it smells good – 15-20 minutes. If it becomes too thick or looks like it will split, add some water. The purists would be horrified to find out that most Thais add a little MSG and Knorr stock powder to give a fuller taste. Up to you.

Finish with freshly chopped krachai and chilli ground together in mortar and pestle (to taste).

Give a final season to taste with salt, fish sauce, sugar to adjust the balance of flavours.

I have a recipe here for Nam Ya paste.
Many people use red curry paste. That's fine, especially if Thai curry paste from a market, or one that you make yourslef.
The long life commercial ones tend to be overly spicy and lacking in taste and aromats, so it really is much better to make your own.
If using one from a jar or sachet, reduce the quantity and increase the amount of Krachai, and add some finely chopped lemongrass and shallots

Curry paste for Nam Ya sauce (to make your own)

4-6 each dry red chilli, large
80g Krachai finely chopped
10g peeled & thinly  sliced fresh galangal root
30g Lemongrass, finely chopped white soft part
30g peeled red shallots (hom daeng)
30g Thai garlic (if Western garlic, reduce by 1/3)
salt - 1/2 teaspoon
Remove the seeds from the dry red chillies, then soak in water until soft.
Pound ingredients together in a heavy granite mortar and pestle until thick and combined into a rich paste


From : http://chef-a-gogo.com/?p=883

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