Thai street food : Khao soi (Chiang Mai curry noodles)

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Chiang mai is a great city, full of life and good food at every turn.  There is real food heritage, and dishes you wouldn’t find in western style Thai restaurants. Northern food contains influence from many of the surrounding countries – Loatian, Burmese and Chinese food.

Khao soi (sometimes soy) is a coconut based curry historically originating from Burma, served with noodles instead of rice.

The flavours are big hitting, with different ingredients to other, more familiar Thai curry pastes – turmeric, coriander root and curry powder, as well as ground red chillies, galangal, lemongrass, shrimp paste and garlic to create an orangey, brown curry sauce. The curry powder adds a whole new dimension compared to other popular Thai curries. It’s deeper, with a more earthy, spicy flavour.

Khao soi pickled mustard & onions

Khao soi pickled mustard & onions

Two more additions make Khao soi such a welcome variation to other Thai curries – Crispy fried noodles and pickled mustard with slivers of raw red onion.

Khao soi is served with egg noodles swimming in the coconut gravy. On top of that is a nest of deep fried egg noodles adding an extra textural dimension and a lot of crunch.  A side plate of pickled mustard also comes with the curry bowl. Watching locals eat khao soi it’s apparent that there’s no right or wrong way to eat it – some mix everything together and coat the crispy noodles in gravy. Some add the pickled mustard and onions into the gravy, others leave them out completely.

Khao soi crispy noodles

Khao soi crispy noodles

A slice of lime is served on the side to add extra tartness and cut through the fat of the meat and coconut cream.

It’s thought the dish is historically Muslim, as such chicken and beef are commonplace, but pork is also available – The chicken is often served as drumsticks and the meat falls away off the bone.

Khao soi is served all over Chiang Mai and is the local signature meal, a must eat when visiting. There are lots of specialty restaurants that only sell khao soi – After doing some internet research, we visited Khao Soi Samer Jai (twice) which also has stalls selling another local dish, gaeng heng lay as well as lots of other northern dishes. We also ate khao soi from a street cart on Moon Muang soi six near to the wet market which is popular with cookery school tours. It was also quite good, perhaps the broth was slightly thinner.

There is also a Laos khao soi, which apparently is quite different however we’re yet to try it.

expect to pay between 30-50Baht for a bowl.

Some useful words

Neung – one
Sawng – two
Muu/moo – pork
Gai – chicken
Noo-ah – Beef
Tow rai? – how much? 

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Thai street food : kuai tiao, or guai tiao (spicy pork rib & peanut noodle soup) Chiang Mai

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Chiang mai is a great city, full of life and good food at every turn.  There is real food heritage, and dishes you wouldn’t find in western style Thai restaurants. Northern food contains influence from many of the surrounding countries – Loatian, Burmese and Chinese food.

We eat a lot of noodle soup, almost always for breakfast and this particular one in Chiang Mai is one of my favourite simple noodle soups. Rich and full of flavour.

A spicy, meaty broth made from pork rib, dark in colour and sweet in flavour from aromats and meat juice with beansprouts, chunks of slowly cooked pork that has fallen off the bones, meatballs, and peanuts. I love the texture and crunch of peanuts in noodle soup, and it worked beautifully with the soft set egg, perfectly cooked with a slightly gooey yolk and set albumen.

Who needs cornflakes?

Who needs cornflakes?

The broth was garnished with small chunks of diced crackling and fried garlic which soaked up all the sweet meaty flavours of the stock.

Guai tiao is the general term for noodle soup. It’s not specific to this pork rib soup, There’s lots of variations. Presumably, the name – and the dish – comes from Chinese migration similarily to koay teow, popular in Malaysia and  and the stir fried noodle dish, char kway teow in Singapore and Malaysia.  You can choose a variety of noodles and choose between soup (num) and dry (Haeng ) style.  You will often find noodle soups available from street carts too, look for bundles of noodles and pre-cooked pork or chicken on the shelf.

Expect to pay around 45B for a big bowl. We ate several times (and will again, when we next head back) at a small restaurant between soi’s 8 & 9 on Moon Muang with Thai signage and tables made from old singer sewing machines. Arroy mak!   

Useful words

Nueng – one
Sawng – two
Tow rai? – How much?
Mai Phet – not spicy (phet is pronounced ‘pet’ not ‘fet’)
Phet nit nawy – a little bit spicy
Sai tung – takeaway (literally, put in bag)
Arroy– delicious     

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Thai street food : Ho mok pla (fish curry mousse)

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Thailand, as a country is a place we’re both pretty familiar with. We know the food relatively well.

It’s a country where we especially like to visit night markets because the variation of food is usually focused on what local people in that area are eating. It’s often the case that we’re sat at a foldaway table, eating something simple, packed full of flavour –unfortunately, almost exclusively out of Styrofoam – and watching the world go by, locals whizzing up to stalls on motorbikes and adding another carrier bag to their collection of treats to take home for the family dinner.

Hor mok is a Thai fish curry which has been enriched with egg to make it custardy when it’s steamed.

Baskets are made from banana leaves and the ingredients are layered. Shredded cabbage and basil sit at the bottom followed by chunks of fresh fish, the curry sauce is added on top of that. According to one recipe I have read, the base of a red curry paste is called kaeng kua which, includes all the usual roots and spices expected of a Thai curry paste – Chillies, galangal, lemongrass, garlic, lime leaves, shrimp paste and coriander. Additional ingredients can be added to transform it into other, more specific curry pastes, a mussaman; for example.  If you want to have your mind blown by all the differences and intricacies of red curry you can read the post here, it’s long but well worth it.

Egg, kaeng kua and some fish are blended together to create the sauce which will create the mousse like texture. – Historically, before technology brought us food processors and blenders this was done by hand, in a clay pot and tradition dictates that you only stir the mixture clockwise. The mixture is steamed and becomes firmer, with a more custardy texture and is topped with coconut cream, julienned red bell pepper and finely chopped kaffir lime leaves.

You should be able to find this at most decent sized food markets throughout the country, expect to pay around 20Baht.  We found this particular one at Ayutthaya night market, which was stocked full of tasty options.

 

some useful phrases

Tow rai? – How much? 

Neung / sawng ho mok pla khrap (male) kha (female)   – One/ two ho mok pla. 

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Malay street food : Putu piring (coconut cakes)

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Sometimes you really luck out. Like on the occasion we sat in a Melaka restaurant with a chef friend whom we had met a few days earlier, and he say’s “You haven’t had putu piring!?” He then jumped into his car and took us to his favourite stall, for indulgent, gooey coconut and palm sugar kuih.

Kuih, – can also be spelled kueh – is a broader term to describe sweets and small treats in Malay, however it is not exclusive to sweets as some savoury kuih exist too, such as one of my favourite snacks – curry puffs.

Melaka, being the Malaysia home of Nyonya cookery is well known for sweet kuih, with many varieties which are mostly steamed.

These pictures were sourced from Flickr, under the Creative Commons Licensing, thanks to Choo Yut Shing & Kyle Lam

Putu piring, are steamed coconut and palm sugar patties. Palm sugar is made by extracting the sap from palm trees and boiling it until it turns to syrup. Melaka is famous (especially in Malaysia) for its gula melaka, the local and exceptionally tasty palm sugar. Palm sugar is also used in savoury dishes and curries to balance fishy flavours.

Rice flour, shredded coconut and pieces of gula melaka are cupped into a fine mesh, which is put onto a conical head attached to a large steamer. They are rapidly steamed so that the rice flour and coconut bind slightly and the sugar lumps melt. They are served up on a square of banana leaf, with a little more shredded coconut and a sprinkling of salt.

The result is biscuit sized warm coconut spongey kuih, with gooey sugary nectar oozing out of the sides. The palm sugar in itself has an incredibly rich taste, like a maple syrup – it’s not a synthetic or artificial sugar taste at all!

They take seconds to make and cost only around one ringgit each. Deliciously moreish – Click here for more sweets and deserts.

Phrases worth knowing 

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you
berapa harga – how much?
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Malay street food : Rojak (sweet and sour fruit & vegetable salad)

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Rojak is a curious snack. It’s considered a salad, by definition but that could be a misnomer – At least from a western perspective.

Fresh tropical fruit and root vegetables are mixed with a dressing. The word ‘rojak’ means mixture in Malay, and variations can be found in a standard fruit rojak and also a Penang rojak. Indonesia also has several rojak variations.
Fruit rojak will  normally include pineapple, cucumber, beansprouts, taupok – the Malay name for deep fried tofu puffs – and  jicama, a turnip-like root vegetable. Known in Malaysia as sengkuang. The concoction is coated with a deliciously moreish mixture of sugar, shrimp paste, tamarind sauce, chilli, lime and water giving it an incredibly layered flavour – sweet, tart and spicy. Peanuts are also added – Peanuts make everything better.

 

Penang rojak is pretty similar but includes squid fritters and tart fruits such as jambu air, also known as rose apple; a red or green bell shaped fruit, easily spotted at most Asian markets, but very regularily in Malay & Thai towns.

A further variation is pasembur – sometimes spelled pasembor, or called Mamak rojak – It’s also a mix fruit and vegetable salad which can include any variations of  potato, boiled egg, fried prawn fritters, cuttlefish, squid, cucumber, jicama, fried bean curd,  served with a spicy peanut sauce.

The main distinctions are – aside from that rojak is inherently Malay, and pasembur is Mamak – that rojak is a standard dish, you order it and it comes, how it comes deemed by its creator. Pasembur stalls, on the other hand have a large number of pots and bowls, there’s a degree of experimentation and it can be up to you to pick and choose what you want to be on your plate.

Rojak is an incredibly tasty dish, sweet, spicy, sour, fruity and importantly, a source of your five a day!

A plate should only cost a handful of ringgits.

Phrases worth knowing 

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you (people will often respond with ‘sama sama’ which means’ you’re welcome)
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Malaysian street food : Mee siam (Siamese style noodle salad)

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During our trip to Melaka we were really keen to try as much as possible of the Nyonya, or Peranakan food we could get our hands on. Melaka is a fantastic city in general for eating, and whiling days away doing little –  we will definitely be going back.

Mee siam, or Siamese noodles is a one dish meal of fried vermicelli noodles, served quite dry and with a spicy but slightly sour sauce that coats the noodles.

The noodles are topped with a variety of additions including any combination of chicken, spring onions (scallions, salad onions) beansprouts, boiled egg shredded cucumber, sliced omelette, fish cake, tofu and fresh sambal.

Mee siam

Mee siam

We really enjoyed the sour spicy kick of the noodles with just enough gravy to lubricate without making it sloppy. It was almost like a fresh, noodle salad. According to some interest research there is also a variation in Singapore where a more wet gravy is preferred.

Mee siam is served with calamansi lime, a small sharp lime around the size of an avocado stone which usually has green unripe skin which develops to an orange colour.

Baba low, outside of the main central area has great mee siam at around five Ringgit. They also serve popiah, laksa lemak and pai tee.

Phrases worth knowing 

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you (people will often respond with ‘sama sama’ which means’ you’re welcome)
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Malay street food : Nyonya Laksa / Laksa Lemak ( spiced Coconut gravy noodle soup)

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The Malaysian noodle soup dish, laksa comes in many tastes and variations. Curry laksa and asam laksa are very different and there’s quite a few kinds of laksa; usually with slight differences in taste or flavour and varying from state to state. Johor & Sarawak have their own signature laksa. Other versions can be found in Indonesia and Singapore, too.

Nyonya (sometimes nonya), or Peranakan refers to the a group of Chinese settlers who created a unique culture within South East Asia and specifically Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. They married into local families, created a new cultural system and had created fusion food long before it was a restaurant phrase.

Melaka (sometimes spelled Melacca) is one of the best place in Malaysia to sample Nyonya flavours and traditions, although there is Peranakan history all over the country. Pinang Peranakan Museum, in Penang for example, has an excellent collection of family heirlooms and historical items, however there is absolutely no information or signs. I would suggest it’s better to go to the Musuem in Penang which is much more informative if you actually want to learn about the history of the culture – There is also a musuem in Melaka.

A Peranakan laksa incorporates similarities to Curry laksa, but without quite such bold hard hitting flavours – Curry laksa flavours are more in line with Indian or Mamak spices, whereas Peranakan laksa favours more subtle Chinese/ South East Asian spices. That’s not to say it cannot be spicy as sambal can be added to taste also.

Nyona Laksa Lemak

Peranakan, or Nyonya laksa features more herbs & root flavours, including turmeric, lemongrass, galangal, shrimp paste, laksa leaf and candlenut to make a flavoursome coconut broth. The broth is also enriched with prawn and chicken stock. It can also be called laksa lemak which refers to the coconut broth.

Just to confuse even more, the end product features ingredients used in asam laksa (julienne cucumber) and also curry laksa (blood cockles). As well as boiled egg, tofu puffs and prawns served with a mix of yellow egg noodles (mee) and thin vermicelli rice noodles (beehoon)

There’s loads of great places to try a laksa in Melaka including Baba Low 486, outside of the city on Jalan Tengera, Po Piah Lwee, near the Jonker walking street on Jalan Kubu and my favourite, Laksa Sayang, which is located at the Irish Harrier Pub, Plaza Mahkota. They’ve left out the blood cockles and replaced it with saltfish. The sambal is insanely addictive.

Other great dishes Nyonya/Peranankan dishes you can eat in Melaka include mee siam, pai tee, putu piring and nonya dumplings and a many dishes we will conquer next time.

Phrases worth knowing 

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you (people will often respond with ‘sama sama’ which means’ you’re welcome)
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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