Music of morning in Thailand
February 28, 2013
In Thailand, as in much of Asia, breakfast is a bowl of steaming hot noodle soup. It often contains strips of beef or pork, sometimes chicken or tofu. It might also contain chopped chives, mung sprouts, cilantro or parsley and a host of things I don’t recognize. It’s a warming and nurturing feeling first thing in the morning. Ubiquitous fish sauce smells nauseating but adds saltiness to the flavor, balanced by limes and hot little peppers
We, here in the states, have something similar in the form of packaged Top Ramen Noodles but, more likely, would eat this as an afternoon snack or lunch.
It’s so easy to make a much more nutritious version of “Top Ramen.” It only takes a few minutes, and you’d be surprised to find that all the ingredients needed to prepare this soup are in the Asian foods section of your supermarket. I added chopped chard from my garden to make it more nutritious and chopped leftover chicken from the night before.
In Thailand this soup is offered with several condiments on the table that can be added however one wants — usually soy or fish sauce, small dried chilies, quartered limes, and chopped peanuts. It’s a great way to start the day or take a break in the afternoon.
In the distance, the town dogs begin their day barking and doves coo nearby.
I am wide awake enjoying the dawn light streaming through the open window of our guest house in the “untouristy” town of Nan in northeast Thailand.
The neighbor’s back yard is close and full of vegetation. He (my neighbor for a week) stands just below our window, about 8 feet from where I am, observing his little plot of garden. There are four green papayas on a tree and several bananas on another one, their pointed green tips upside down growing toward the sky.
I’m half a world away from home, starting my day with a stranger who doesn’t see me. We stand together doing what I do every morning — watching our gardens grow.
Someone, I assume his wife, enters their kitchen, which is also less than 8 feet from my window.
Chop! Chop! Chop! Chop! Chop! Sharp staccato sounds on a wooden cutting board, then the rhythm crescendos to tiny quick movements of mincing — onions? garlic?
The wok comes clanging out of a cupboard and clatters onto a burner. Ssssssss! The sizzle of hot oil.
Liquids sear as they’re poured into the wok — the sound of a wooden spoon on metal.
Still sleeping, my husband’s light snuffle/snore provides the background beat of this breakfast melody.
The old teakwood deck creaks and crackles as my neighbor meanders back into his kitchen. Dishes clink as they are taken down from the cupboard. I can hear snippets of conversation (in Thai) and the tinkle of teacups onto saucers.
I imagine soup spoons scraping delicate porcelain bowls and a slight slurping sound (to get those noodles in one’s mouth). The smell comes drifting through the window to confirm my nose’s suspicions — taking a deep breath is such pleasure. The scent of chicken broth, garlic, lime, fish sauce and onion float throughout our room.
Though I haven’t actually eaten, and I don’t speak their language, I feel my neighbors and I have shared a meal together. I like this intimacy of living so close; the music of their lives drifting through our window.
Their dishes are stacked together. The kitchen is quiet except for the ubiquitous sound of chatty Thai TV. My husband is finally awake.
It’s time to walk up to the main street noodle shop for a good Asian breakfast and another day of eating adventures.
Thai Noodle Soup
Half package of Annie Chun’s Rice Noodles
2 cloves garlic
4 finely chopped green onions
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups water
About 3/4 cup chicken, pork, or cubed tofu
About 2 cups chopped chard or kale
4 mushrooms, sliced (optional)
Salt and pepper
Pinch of hot chili peppers
1 to 2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce or soy sauce
Juice of half a lime
Mung bean sprouts
Cut up limes, cilantro, peanuts, and additional hot chilies.
Add rice noodles to a pan of boiling water. Boil four to five minutes stirring occasionally. Drain.
Chop the green onion, garlic, pre-cooked chicken or tofu, chard, and mushrooms. Add all these ingredients to a soup pot or small wok. Add the fish sauce, chilies and lime juice; add the noodles and stir into the mixture. Before turning off the heat, add a generous handful of mung sprouts.
Small bowls of extra lime, more chilies, cilantro and peanuts ground in the food processor allows each person to flavor to their own intensity. Serves two to three.
Patti Bess is a local freelance writer and regular columnist at the Union. You can follow her on further eating adventures in Asia and India at besspattia.wordpress.com and click Follow.