There are many fabulous noodle dishes in Thailand that, in my opinion, put Pad Thai to shame. In this blog I mention just five of the fabulous variety of noodles found in the Kingdom (of Thailand). I’m picking five that I quite enjoy.
(Click images to see larger version.)
Hot and Spicy Drunkard’s Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Ground Pork, Thai Chillies and Holy Basil – Kuay Tiow Pad Kee Mao
I think this is probably my very favorite noodle dish. I talked about it in an earlier blog – Current Top Ten Thai Dishes. Of all the versions I’ve had, I prefer Kasma’s (pictured to the left). She makes it with delicious fresh chow fun noodles (kuay tiow sen yai, in Thai), lots of Thai chillis, holy basil, garlic and pastured pork from Riverdog Farms. The result is a very spicy, tasty dish. It has to be spicy to live up to its name: the dish is called “drunkard’s noodles” (and not “drunken noodles”) because it is so spicy-hot that you need to keep drinking to cool the mouth.
Kasma used to teach this recipe in Advanced Set I-4. She taught a similar dish – Drunkard’s Stir-Fried Mung Bean Sheet Noodles with Shrimp and Cuttlefish (Kuay Tiow Sianghai Pad Kee Mao) – in Advanced Set G-3.
This is just a marvelous noodle dish – hot, sour and sweet. It’s full of various textures (pork cracklings, peanuts, egg, more) and flavors. It’s the only noodle dish I know that is served with a dollop of palm sugar that you mix up with the noodles. Before eating, everything is mixed together to make a tasty treat.
The picture above left is from Kasma’s class where it was a real favorite. She taught this recipe in Advanced Set F-4 and the above right picture is from a noodle shop in Sukhothai.
Roast Duck Noodles – Ba Mee Haeng Ped
This may be the noodle dish that I order the most in Thailand. The picture to the right shows a bowl from what was my favorite duck noodle shop in Thong Lo, now, unfortunately, no longer in business. (See my blog Thong Lo Duck Noodles). It’s a simple dish: basically, roast duck, egg-noodles (ba mee) and some greens. What makes it so delicious is the simplicity, the succulent roast duck (somehow so much better in Thailand), the egg noodles and the way that you spice the dish yourself. In Thailand, noodles typically are served with a Thai Condiment Set consisting of various ingredients so that you can add salty, sweet, sour and spicy, essentially creating your own favorite flavor grouping. I like these duck noodles with a sour chilli sauce for the sour, a bit of fish sauce, a generous serving of dried, roasted chilli powder and a bit of sugar to bring it all together. Delicious!
No blog on delicious Thai noodle dishes would be complete without including a soup noodle, such as this one. The version pictured is from one of Kasma’s Thai cooking classes; she taught this recipe in Advanced Set C-1. I do love a good bowl of beef noodle soup with many kinds of beef: stewed beef, beef tendon, raw beef quickly cooked before serving and (often) beef dumplings or tripe. It’s stewed for many hours to make a nourishing bone broth. I prefer it with the same chow fun (kuay tiow sen yai) noodles used in the Drunkard’s Noodles above, though you can often order it with other kinds of noodles, such as thin rice noodles. It’s often served as Kasma serves it, with a hot chilli sauce made from various red peppers, garlic, lime, vinegar, fish sauce and sugar.
Fermented Rice Vermicelli – Khanom Jeen
I wanted to include khanom jeen because this possibly is the only noodle common in Thailand that does not originate with the Chinese and is indigenous to SE Asia. According to an article in the Thai magazine Krua (meaning “kitchen”) khanom jeen originated among the Mon ethnic group, who introduced them to different SE Asian cultures. The Mon called them kanawm jin. They’re known to be made and eaten in the Ayuthaya era (15th to 18th century) and it’s possible Thais have been eating them since the 8th to 11th centuries (when the Mon empire ruled much of present-day SE Asia).
These noodles have a delicious, chewy texture made from older rice (rather than “new crop”). It’s a fermented noodle: the rice is soaked for many days, then kneaded by hand, pounded and then left to sit for 3 days. It’s eventually extruded into boiling water (see above right) and afterwards placed in cold water and rolled into skeins (as in the picture below right).
The picture above right shows the extrusion process at a noodle shop called Ko Joi in Krabi; we’re lucky enough to eat there every time we visit Krabi. Be sure to see my blog on Ko Joi.
Above left is another version of Khanom Jeen Namya, the Southern-Style Rice Vermicelli with Spicy Fish Curry Sauce. This version is from Ko Joi in Krabi, where they make their own noodles. It’s been mixed together with some of the pickled cucumbers that are served with the noodles.
Above Right is a typical khanom jeen stall at Korat Market in Northeastern Thailand. Click on the picture to enlarge it and see the skeins of khanom jeen noodles. Here you choose one of the curries or sauces in the containers in front to be served over the noodles and then add in some of the vegetables in the very front row.
Many people who have not been to Thailand or who did not take Kasma Loha-unchit’s cooking classes think that Pad Thai is the best of a small number of Thai noodle dishes. However, just as restaurants here in the U.S. serve a very small percentage of the Thai dishes available in Thailand, so do they short-change the incredible number of noodle dishes found in Thailand. Here we highlight 26, just a fraction of the plethora of Thai noodle dishes available.
Many dishes shown here are nearly impossible to find in U.S. restaurants; the only way to taste them all is to find them in Thailand. Before Kasma retired in 2020 you could learn many of them in her Thai cooking classes. She had many people who went on her small-group trips to Thailand come to take the classes so that they could make the unforgettable foods they ate during the trip. If you can find some of these dishes outside of Thailand, you may find that the same dishes may taste a bit different. For instance, the noodles in the picture to the left are traditionally made from a fermented rice noodle that is difficult to find in western countries so the unfermented variety is substituted.
Just as with any Thai dish, any particular noodle dish varies with the cook so you’ll come across different versions as you travel in Thailand.
Look at the pictures – click on any picture to see a larger version – and be prepared to get hungry!
Note: All pictures are Copyright by Kasma Loha-unchit & Michael Babcock.
To the left we see Roast Duck Noodles from what was my favorite duck noodle shop in Thong Lo (pronounced “tawng law” – Sukhumvit Soi 55). This dish uses what the Thais call บะหมี่ (ba mee) – egg noodles made with wheat. As with virtually all noodle dishes, they are assembled to order and then served. You’ll need to use the condiment set noodle shops have at the table to add sour, salty, sweet and (for me, at least) ground dried red chillies to add some heat.
The bowl on the right is known in short as “Boat Noodles” – so-called because of the origin, being sold by vendor boats on the canals. When you get ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเรือ (Kway Teow Reua), expect beef noodles in a rich beef broth, usually strengthened with beef blood and organ meats. This version here, which Kasma used to teach in Advanced Class C-1 , includes tripe and tendons. Sometimes in the cities you’ll find a storefront noodle shop with a wooden boat outside to advertise that they make boat noodles. There are even shops where noodles are made to order with the cook sitting in a wooden boat just like he or she used to do on the canals before moving the operation onto dry land. This noodle dish usually uses wide, fresh rice noodles – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเส้นใหญ่ (kway teow sen yai).
These two pictures of Stewed Beef Noodles show you how a noodle dish with the same name can vary from place to place. The bowl on the left is Stewed Beef Noodles from a small roadside stall in rural Kalasin in northeastern Thailand (Isan). It includes beef balls (dumplings) and tendons (in the very center). The bowl on the right has the same name – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเนื้อ (Kway Teow Neua) – and is from a Muslim noodle shop in Krabi in southern Thailand. Every place makes noodles just a little bit differently. Check out Kasma’s blog Beef Noodle Soup.
To the left is Kasma’s version of what she calls “Drunkard’s Noodles” – Spicy Stir-fried Rice Noodles with Chillies and Holy Basil – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวผัดขี้เมา (Kway Teow Pad Kee Mao). It is sometimes inaccurately called by some as “Drunken Noodles,” which implies the noodles are cooked with alcohol, when they are not; but the words ขี้เมา – kee mao – actually refer to a person who likes to drink or get drunk. It is so called because the noodles are made so spicy-hot that it makes you want to drink lots of beer (or rice whiskey/rum mixed with soda water over ice – popular among Thai men) to quench the heat. It’s a stir-fried dish with the wide, fresh rice noodles (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเส้นใหญ่ – kway teow sen yai). When we cook it at home (I’ll cook it myself when Kasma’s away) we use ground pastured pork from Riverdog Farm at Berkeley Farmer’s Market laden with a good amount of tasty fat. I’ve never found a good enough version of this noodle dish in Thai restaurants in the U.S.: I’m always disappointed because invariably the restaurants here use Thai basil – ใบโหระพา (bai horapa) – instead of holy basil – ใบกะเพรา (bai kaprao) and it just doesn’t taste the same. They also never put enough Thai chillies to give the noodles the incendiary heat implied in its name. Kasma taught her version of this dish in her Advanced Class I-4.
On the left is Pad Thai noodles, probably the single “Thai” noodle dish that everyone is familiar with. The name, meaning “stir-fried (pad) in the Thai style (Thai)” indicates that it is not really Thai in origin – see Kasma’s blog on The Origin and Making of Pad Thai. Kasma taught this dish in Beginning Class #4
The dish on the right, ก๋วยเตี๋ยวราดหน้า (Kway Teow Rad Nah) could simply be called “Rice Noodles Topped with a Sauce.” It uses wide, fresh rice noodles – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเส้นใหญ่ (kway teow sen yai) – and in this version, from Kasma’s Beginning Class #4, the sauce includes chicken and Asian broccoli. It is best served piping hot and to taste really good, you’ll need to add some chillies soaked in vinegar (both chillies and vinegar, or at least some of the vinegar) to enhance the delicate flavors in the sauce. All noodle dishes in Thailand are served with a condiment set so that you can balance the flavors to your liking. See my blog on Thai Condiment Sets.
There are certain noodle dishes that are particular to a region or place. Kasma taught the Spicy Ayuthaya-style Chicken Rice Noodles – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวไก่อยุธยา (Kway Teow Gai Ayuthaya) – in an Advanced Class G-3 – it is a hot-and-sour dish, made here with a pastured, free-range chicken, and uses daikon radish to add sweetness to the broth, garlic oil to add fragrance and pickled Thai chillies in vinegar to add the hot-and-sour flavors. It can be made either as soup or dry-style.
The Thai Muslim Curry Beef Noodles – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวแขก (Kway Teow Kaek) to the right is Kasma’s version of a dish from southern Thailand, where there is a large Muslim population. Rice noodles (in this version) or egg noodles are served in a rich, red curry sauce sprinkled with green onions, fried shallots, cilantro and coarsely ground dried shrimp and peanuts. Yum! She taught this dish in Advanced Series D-3.
Here are two versions of Khao Soi (ข้าวซอย), a northern Thailand curried noodle dish, rich and delicious. To the left we see Chiang Mai-Style Curry Noodles with Chicken and Condiments – ข้าวซอยไก่ (Khao Soi Gai) – from Kasma’s Advanced Class B-1. To the right we see the same dish made with beef – ข้าวซอยเนื้อ (Khao Soi Neua) – from a noodle shop in Lampang. Soft, boiled egg noodles are topped with contrasting crispy fried noodles, which add an interesting crunch and texture. It is served with a plate of shallots and pickled vegetables, to be stirred into the noodles as desired, and lime wedges, to be squeezed in to add a sour flavor. It is also accompanied by fried chilli oil (visible in Kasma’s version to the left); the roasted, fried chillies add both heat and an interesting roasted flavor. Just be sure to taste the dish first! In Lampang I invariably forget that the dish is already fairly spicy/hot and after stirring in the chilli oil, it gets very hot indeed! See Kasma’s article on Northern Style Thai Noodles.
To the left we see Stewed Duck Soup Noodles – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเป็ดน้ำ (Kway Teow Bed Nam), a common soup noodle made in small noodle shops run by ethnic Chinese throughout the country. To the right is Kway Chap (or Kway Jap) – ก๋วยจั๊บ – this particular bowl from a Mae Hong Son noodle shop near the morning market that’s run by ethnic Vietnamese Chinese who’ve settled in the area; it is made from flat rectangular or triangular rice noodles that curl into a tube when they are boiled. It is served in a rich pork broth that usually includes innards and congealed pork blood, which you can see in this bowl right in front of the spoon. Both these noodle dishes are Chinese-influenced and are flavored with either star anise or five-spice and often also with Asian cinnamon.
Here are two versions of the southern-style ขนมจีนน้ำยา (Kanom Jeen Nam Ya) made with fermented rice noodles. ขนมจีน (kanom jeen), a round noodle a bit smaller than spaghetti, is perhaps the only kind of rice noodle in Thailand that is not Chinese in origin; they most likely originated with the Mon ethnic group, whose forbears ruled a large part of mainland Southeast Asia from the 8th to the 11th centuries before the Khmer empire rose to power. The yellow sauce is a fish-based sauce called น้ำยา (nam ya) and the southern Thai version is shown here. The photo on the left is from Krua Nakhon Krua Nakhon Restaurant in Nakhon Si Thammarat in southern Thailand; it is served with a large platter of fresh and pickled vegetables and herbs (seen behind the plate), something that accompanies nearly all spicy meals in the south. The dish on the right is from a shop in a small town south of the city of Krabi – Ko Joi restaurant – that makes its own fresh noodles from scratch with fermented rice dough as is traditionally done; they also serve a crispy and very delicious fried chicken which goes well with the spicy noodles. Kasma taught this dish in Advanced Class E-2.
ก๋วยเตี๋ยวผัดซีอิ๊ว (Kway Teaow Pad Si-ew) – Stir-fried Rice Noodles with Soy Sauce – is another well-known Chinese-influenced Thai stir-fried noodle dish. It means, literally, “stir-fried with soy sauce.” Here are two versions. The picture on the left is taken at a small noodle shop south of Nakhon Si Thammarat, where we would stop for a quick lunch on the way to Songkla on our southern Thailand trip. The second is taken on Poda Island (เกาะปอดะ – Koh Poda) in Krabi province, where the noodle was one of our breakfasts back when you could stay on the island; the noodle already has ground dried red chillies added from the ubiquitous condiment set at the table so that the diner can balance flavors as desired. This dish uses wide, fresh rice noodles – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเส้นใหญ่ (kway teow sen yai). Kasma taught this dish in Advanced Class H-3.
The Mee Krob (หมี่กรอบ – Glazed Crispy Noodles) to the left is from Kasma’s first Intermediate class. Her version is less sweet than most and has a slight orange flavor from grated orange zest. It uses the thin, dried rice-stick noodles- mei fun in Chinese and sen mee (เส้นหมี่) in Thai. The bowl to the right contains Rice Noodle Soup with Fish Dumplings and Pork – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวน้ำลูกชิ้นปลา (Kway Teow Nam Loogchin Pla) – from Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. These are two very different noodle dishes!
Here are two pictures of the same Hot-and-Sour (Tom Yum) Soup Noodles – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวน้ำต้มยำ (Kway Teow Nam Tom Yum) – made on a boat at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. The noodles are spicy/hot and sour, and include pork and shrimp dumplings. The bowl on the left is the bowl as it is served, fresh from the vendor; the bowl on the right is how it looks ready to eat, after the noodles have been stirred in. Skinny fresh rice noodles – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเส้นเล็ก (kway teow sen lek) are used here.
Like many noodles, tom yum (ต้มยำ – hot-and-sour) noodles can be served either as soup noodles (as with the two from Damnoen Saduak above) or dry. Here are two versions of tom yum haeng (ต้มยำแห้ง) – dry-style tom yum noodles. To the left is the Dry Hot-and-Sour Noodles with Fish and Fish Dumplings – เส้นเล็กต้มยำแห้งปลา (Sen Lek Tom Yum Haeng Pla) from a noodle shop in Hang Dong, Chiang Mai. To the right we see Hot-and-Sour Dry Rice Noodles with Pork – เส้นเล็กต้มยำแห้งหมู (Sen Lek Tom Yum Haeng Moo); it is Kasma’s version from her Advanced Class C-1. Be warned, this noodle is a very spicy/hot dish!
To the left is another bowl of soup noodles: Rice Noodle Soup with Fish Dumplings – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวน้ำลูกชิ้นปลา (Kway Teow Nam Loogchin Pla) – from a popular noodle shop on Sukhumvit Road near Thong Lo (pronounced “Tawng Law” – Sukhumvit Soi 55). Kasma used to take her tour groups there for breakfast.
The picture to the right shows the set-up in Kasma’s Advanced Class F-4 class to assemble Sukhothai-Style Dry Hot-and-Sour Rice Noodles – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวแห้งสุโขทัย (Kway Teow Haeng Sukhothai). All the fixings are laid out and ready to assemble.
Here are two versions of the Sukhothai-Style Dry Hot-and-Sour Rice Noodles – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวแห้งสุโขทัย (Kway Teow Haeng Sukhothai) are shown here from different noodle shops in Sukhothai province; every shop makes it just a little bit different. This is a delicious noodle dish – hot, sour and sweet with various goodies (pork cracklings, peanuts and more) to add texture as well as flavor. It has become a favorite noodle dish among many of Kasma’s trip members, easily surpassing Pad Thai as the best-tasting Thai noodle dish they’ve ever had. It’s very important to get just the right balance of flavors. Notice the lump of palm sugar in each bowl: this is something I’ve seen in no other noodle dish (which doesn’t mean there aren’t other dishes that use it). Before eating, everything is tossed together well, dissolving the palm sugar and mixing it in with the lime juice and other seasonings. Kasma taught this recipe in Advanced Class F-4.
The dish shown in these two pictures uses mung bean sheet noodles, which Thais call “Shanghai noodles” – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเซี่ยงไฮ้ (kway teow Sianghai)) – made from mung bean starch (nowadays also mixed with potato starch) and water. The brittle, dry sheet noodles are soaked to soften, then cut into bite-size rectangles for cooking. The pictures show Drunkard’s Stir-Fried Mung Bean Sheet Noodles with Shrimp and Cuttlefish – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเซี่ยงไฮ้ผัดขี้เมา (Kway Teow Sianghai Pad Kee Mao). In the left picture it was being stir-fried in the wok during Kasma’Advanced Class G-3 ; to the right, it is plated and ready to enjoy.
Here are two versions of Stewed Duck Noodle Soup – ก๋วยเตี๋ยวน้ำเป็ดตุ๋น (Kway Teow Nam Bed Doon). The bowl on the left is from Kasma’s Advanced Class B-1. The bowl on the right includes duck blood and is from a noodle shop in the Sukhothai morning market. As before, you can see how dishes with the same name and mostly the same ingredients can vary.
Noodles are also used to make dishes that accompany other dishes in a rice-based meal, in this case a yum (ยำ)-style salad – Thai-Style Bean Thread Salad – ยำวุ้นเส้น (Yum Woon Sen). It uses the bean thread noodles (วุ้นเส้น – woon sen), sometimes also called “cellophane” or “glass” noodles. They are made from mung beans though in this case they are extruded into thin threads rather than made into sheets like those used in the Drunkard’s Stir-Fried Mung Bean Sheet Noodles with Shrimp and Cuttlefish (see above). The first picture shows the salad being tossed in Kasma’s Advanced Class H-3 and the second shows a close-up of the finished dish.
On the left is another example of a salad made with mung bean thread (วุ้นเส้น – woon sen) noodles. It shows Northeastern-Style Spicy Bean Thread Salad with Mint and Toasted Rice – ลาบวุ้นเส้น (Lahb Woon Sen) – from Kasma’s Advanced Class B-1. Like a lot of northeastern Thai salads, it is spicy/hot from lots of ground, roasted dried Thai chillies; ground, toasted rice adds another dimension to this salad.
The picture on the right shows a very different type of kanom jeen (ขนมจีน) noodle dish from the spicy southern Kanom Jeen Nam Ya (ขนมจีนน้ำยา) pictured further above. This dish is Spicy Rice Vermicelli Salad with Pineapple, Ginger and Coconut-Lime Sauce – ขนมจีนซาวน้ำ (Kanom Jeen Sao Nam), which originated in Bangkok to serve at room temperature during the hot months of the year. The version here is from Kasma’s Class C-1.
The dish on the left is another noodle dish using coconut cream; it is Rice Vermicelli Cooked in Spiced Coconut Cream Sauce – หมี่กะทิ (Mee Kati) – from Kasma’s Class C-1. It is served with banana blossom, which, by itself, has a very astringent flavor, but when chewed along with the noodles, the astringency becomes hidden by the richness of the coconut cream. Mee Kati is an excellent complement to the blossom and through some mysterious alchemy the two tastes marvelous together.
And last, but not least, is a dish that Kasma taught in Beginning Class #4. She calls it Garlic Noodles with Barbecued Red Pork (Thai-Style Pasta Salad) – บะหมี่แห้งหมูแดง (Ba Mee Haeng Moo Daeng), and it’s become a favorite among many of her students. It uses บะหมี่ (ba mee) egg noodles made with wheat and has a delightfully mellow garlic flavor. This is a dish that can be served warm, at room temperature, or even cold out of the refrigerator, which make it perfect for potlucks. I made it for a potluck quite soon after I first took Kasma’s beginning series, two decades ago; the people at the party devoured it quickly and it was the first dish to disappear.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief survey of some of the noodle dishes that Thailand has to offer. Hopefully at some point you’ll get a chance to sample some of the dishes that are new to you.
Thai Noodle Slideshow
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Written by Michael Babcock (with help from Kasma), August 2012 & May 2020