Slightly Peckish: Bah Mee Nahm (BKK)
Umamimart is celebrating 5 years this month with a celebration of noodles and how delightful that I get to talk to you all about one of my favourites: bah mee nahm (Thai noodle soup).
When I lived in Bangkok, Thailand, from the ages of four to eleven, apparently the only things I liked to eat were khao pad goong (fried rice with prawns) and bah mee nahm. And they still remain two of my favourite dishes.
Fried rice is pretty easy to make at home but I've never attempted bah mee nahm just because the soup is so difficult to get right. And alas, even Thai restaurants in London fail to make bah mee nahm to the standard I expect if they feature on the menu at all. So when I made my annual trip back to see my parents in Sri Lanka, we decided to go for a flying visit to Bangkok JUST TO EAT. That's right, my family are crazy about Thai food and will fly over for the sole purpose of eating. Of course in between meals we do lots of shopping to build up an appetite. It helps that Colombo is only 3½ hours away from Bangkok too.
We were in Bangkok for four days and I had bah mee nahm every day. Some of you might point out that I was squandering my opportunity to eat other dishes. But rest assured, we did eat as much as we could. By the end of the day, my belly was too distended to take any more rich food and we all settled down to a lovely hot bowl of noodle soup. The best.
I had always assumed bah mee nahm to be Thai in provenance since that is where I had my first taste, but in fact, it's the simple, ubiquitous Chinese soup noodle that we all love that has been given the Thai treatment. There is a huge Chinese population in Thailand and naturally their flavours have infiltrated Thai cuisine, most notably in the noodle and steamboat department.
Day 1: I lied, no time for noodles today.
DAY 2: Won ton noodle soup at Coca.
Coca is famous for its Thai suki or steamboat and is originally a Chinese restaurant. After a day of heavy eating and non-stop shopping, all I wanted was a comforting bowl of noodle. And this was fantastic. The soup was a clean, rich broth bursting with flavour, the wantons were puri puri (bouncy) and the noodles al dente. Perfection. You could say I started my noodle quest with the original Chinese version before proceeding on to the Thai version.
Day 3: After a busy morning at Chatuchak Weekend Market, we explored Terminal 21, a gigantic new department store next to Asok Station, and found two floors of restaurants and a Thai food court. YEAH. Food courts are THE places to go and eat cheap and authentic Thai food but, according to my mum, not all food courts are quality so choose carefully. She's not a fan of the food courts at BMK or Central World but this one impressed her. And it was packed with locals working nearby.
I'm a big fan of thin egg noodles but my parents prefer rice noodle soup or sen mee nahm which they had with an assortment of fish balls. You can't have noodles without fish balls, it's sacrilegeous.
I had bah mee nahm with the same toppings. The soup had depth, the balls were springy and the flecks of fried onion and garlic, fresh coriander leaf and a hint of nam plaa (fish sauce) made this a memorable bowl. The locals also like to add vinegar with green chilli and I found some ready for takeaway, although I prefer it without.
Surprisingly the bowls of noodles we had in Bangkok were pretty small so naturally we got other dishes. This is actually the perfect way to eat because you don't gorge yourself on one thing. You can gorge yourself on lots of things because just having one bowl will leave you wanting more. So we supplemented our noodles with the following:
Pad thai, my mother's favourite. This one was good and not too sweet. Notice the tiny orange dried shrimps which adds umami to the dish.
A plate of Thai curry and vegetables. My dad chose liver curry, his favourite, and baby aubergine and fish ball curry. This dish was delicious but pretty hot. We were all gagging for water afterwards.
Oyster omelette. SO GOOD. This is a must have dish if you ever visit Bangkok.
See, lots of plump oysters encased in crispy egg served on crunchy, raw bean sprouts. This was my first taste of Thai oyster omelette since I left Thailand and I almost cried with joy at its deliciousness.
Check out item no. 14 on the menu at the som tum salad station. No wonder there was a stack of instant noodles piled high next to the lady chef. I was very tempted to try this but we were too full up. If only I had two stomachs.
And my tipple of choice was cha yen or Thai iced tea with milk. I had this everywhere. Even though it was the end of January, it's still over 30˚C in Bangkok. I had to cool down, right? I assumed that Thai iced tea was made from black tea with orange blossom water and condensed milk as it has a sweet fragrance that lingers on the tongue. However, my mum, the fount of all knowledge, took a sip and said the tea tasted fermented, like oolong and other similar Chinese tea. As it's one of my favourite drinks, I went looking for Thai tea in supermarkets but came away empty handed. However I did find a pack of Nestea iced milk tea mix so I'll just have to see if it tastes the same.
Day 4: We went back to the food court at Terminal 21 and had noodles again for lunch. We averaged about £8/$12 for a full lunch for three people including drinks and dessert. An astounding price for such quantity and quality. Then we buggered off to the airport to catch our flight. But you didn't think we'd leave Bangkok without having another bowl, did you?
For a restaurant in the airport, Mango Tree actually serves some quality food. This was an excellent bowl of bah mee nahm: warm, filling and tasty.
And to keep it company, we got ourselves some khao pad goong. We had no complaints and flew out of Bangkok full and satisfied.
416/3-8 Siam Square
Henri Dunant Rd.
Tel: (02) 251-6337
Sukhumvit Road (between Soi 19 and 21)
BTS: Asok (direct access via Skywalk)