I have one rule that’s never failed to serve me well when travelling in Asia. Always try the noodle soup. Thailand is certainly no exception. Here’s part two of a slightly obsessive series on noodle soups in Asia.
I’ve mentioned this particular bowl of noodles before when I wrote about Damnoen Saduak, home to one of Thailand’s most visited floating markets. It was here that I first realized that I’d never been disappointed by noodle soups.
Perhaps I’m just a sucker for simple, flavourful, slurpy dishes. Maybe I lived for too long on cheap instant noodle packets in university. It’s possible my sense of taste is permanently biased from a steady diet of 99 cent noodle packets. Or perhaps noodle soups in Asia really aren’t that good.
Don’t misunderstand me: these aren’t your cheap packet noodles (though there is a place for those). Many of Asia’s noodle soups are time-honoured traditions, staples of local diets. Try as you might, it’s almost impossible to reproduce some of these recipes that have been honed for decades by grandmothers who either pass their secrets to their children or take them to the grave.
While perusing the floating market, I am drawn to the slurping noises of a handful of people who sit along the edge of the canal. A single lady has, it would seem permanently set up shop. A floating shop, but judging by her signage, (and a quick Google search revealing dozens of photos of her) I’d say she’s probably there to stay.
As the boat sways slightly in the water, she serves up bowls of steaming broth from her vat. With a sense of practiced purpose, she quickly whips together bowl after bowl. Each is eagerly taken and happily consumed along the side of the river.
The broth is simple enough, a simple chicken stock, some chicken pieces, fish balls, fish cakes (chicken and fish can be delightfully good companions), simple vegetables, noodles. There’s nothing secret going on. But the combination of market bustle and noise, the freshness of the ingredients, the light slurping of noodles, the water, the baking sun, the steam rising in defiance of the already sweltering temperatures–it creates a moment.
And when you’re far from home, in unfamiliar surroundings, there’s something nice about a hot bowl of soup from a woman, who for a few short minutes, is your surrogate mother. She’s there to make sure you finish your soup, heat be damned. And with a fleeting, flashing Thai smile from the otherwise surly woman, I am momentarily at home.