MCDANG: Hungry for Thai noodles

McDang explains why noodles are still an ideal option when its time to 'gin khao', but you don't really feel like eating rice. Today I am writing about one of the foods most adored by Thais - guey tiew, or noodles. Originally introduced by the ancestors of today's Chinese-Thai populations who came to this country to settle and trade, we Thais have taken pleasure in innovating guey tiew dishes into various forms, shapes, and combinations. And we've been eagerly slurping away ever since. Many Westerners familiar with Thai food think that simple rice is invariably our main grain, and that we only eat noodles as snacks to tide us over until the next real meal. While this belief was true about 40 or 50 years ago, the way we live and eat has changed a great deal. In the past, we typically ate khao gaeng (rice topped with curry) for lunch. You could choose from various simple, spicy curries and accompanying garnishes such as crispy salted fish. Nowadays these khao gaeng places are harder and harder to find in Bangkok because the new generation of Thais finds them not too fashionable, opting instead for Western burger and pizza joints. At the same time, as roads become congested and the air more polluted, chefs at khao gaeng eateries, which were usually situated by the main road, found their food became soiled with dust and dirt. Office workers, now having less time for lunch and less inclined toward traditional family-style sharing of khao gaeng, are opting for easier, one-plate meals like pork, beef, or chicken stir-fried with garlic, chilli and Thai basil (khao PAD bai gaprao). Others prefer noodles, which are usually served piping hot from the stand. There are many kinds of guey tiew, which is best translated into English as pasta. In European culture, pasta is usually made with wheat flour, where guey tiew is made with either rice flour or wheat flour. As with Western pasta, Thai noodles have many varieties, such as spaghetti, cappellini, ravioli, etc. We have sen lek, (rice flour linguini), sen yai (large flat rice noodles), sen mee, (rice stick noodles), and buh mee, (egg noodles made with wheat flour), to name the most popular varieties. The pre-cooked noodles are usually heated up or blanched in boiling water in a wire-mesh basket attached to a long bamboo handle. Various meats and fish balls, garlic, scallions, and herbs are added to flavour the noodles as well as the water. You can then have the ingredients served in a bowl along with ladled soup, or on their own as hang (dry). Finally, don't forget to season your guey tiew with a mix of the traditional four condiments: sugar; ground, dry chilli peppers; fish sauce; and fresh chilli peppers in vinegar. Thais like to season their food to their liking, and it is not considered an affront to the noodle chef. Hiding off Sukhumvit Road is a fine example of a neighbourhood guey tiew shop. The easiest way to get there is to turn on a narrow unmarked soi, about 10 metres from the mouth of Sukhumvit Soi 20. A few metres into the soi, on the right, you will find a shophouse selling noodles in chicken broth with braised chicken wings. They have been selling the same varieties of noodles for the longest time. Having stuck with a few true, tried favourites has worked, as the owners have made enough money to put their kids through college and buy the building. The food is very clean indeed. The restaurant itself is also immaculate, in a cluttered and unpretentious way. Regulars know this shop selling braised chicken wings and noodle soup as Sai Nam Pueng. The noodle counter in front of the shop is filled with different types of noodles, ready to be cooked in a steaming pot of water. A large Chinese copper pot nearby is filled with braised chicken wings, simmering slowly, and ready to be added to the noodle soup. You can choose the kind of noodle and condiments, but the ingredients used in the broth are what really make the dish come alive. Here, the special ingredient in the broth is chicken stock made from braising the wings. It is rich yet not too salty. A good balance of herbs, spices, and pepper. And any noodle dish with this wonderful broth is especially tasty with any of various meats, including slices of fried fish cakes or perfectly blanched pork liver. Just be careful to watch out for a little bit of chicken wing bone that may find its way into your bowl. If you are adventurous, they have some deep fried, crispy fish skin for you to munch on as you eat your noodles. I usually crumble them and put into my soup. It's great! And it does not add any fishy taste, but just a unique crunchiness, to the joyful harmonisation of flavours in your mouth. Sai Nam Pueng noodle shop is located at 392/20 Sukhumvit Soi 20, and is open daily from 8.30am to 3pm. For details, call 02-258-1958.


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