Pok Pok Noodles: Recipes From Thailand and Beyond
is the final book in a trilogy of works that started off with Pok Pok: Food and Stories From the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand
and followed by Pok Pok: The Drinking Food of Thailand
. Each book was roughly based on a restaurant, Pok Pok, Whiskey Soda Lounge, and Sen Yai, respectively. Sadly, Sen Yai (the restaurant this book was supposed to be based on) no longer exists, but my love for the dishes we chose for the noodle book remains unabated. Noodles have always been a huge part of my diet whether traveling or at home in Thailand or Portland. I can’t get enough!
Quick to dish up, easy to stage from a small cart on the street or simple shophouse, inexpensive for locals, delicious and filling, noodles are part of the fabric of life in Thailand, and all over Southeast Asia for that matter. The proliferation of noodle shops of various cuisines and countries of origin has made them very popular in the West as well; for instance, Vietnamese pho restaurants are ubiquitous in almost every major city in the USA these days. Thai folks are also beginning to focus more on noodles in specialized restaurants in places like New York and Los Angeles, but the prevalence and variety of Thai noodles is still limited in the West. I hope this book will help more people learn about what encompasses the genre.
While this book is by no means an encyclopedia of every recipe or variation of noodles in Thailand, it does cover the majority of the most popular dishes and a few menu items that are sometimes sold at noodle joints even though they do not contain noodles!
Noodles are part of the fabric of life in Thailand.
Noodles in Thailand are typically the domain of noodle vendors rather than home cooks, and as such the recipes here are basically instructions on how to construct a bowl or plate the same way a vendor would, one at a time. Once the mis en place are gathered, making a bowl of noodle soup or fried noodles is the matter of a minute or two, basically the time it takes to boil some strands of baa mii or fry some fresh rice noodles. Some recipes are more involved with the initial preparation of ingredients, but all are achievable in a small home kitchen using just a few specialty cooking implements.
Pok Pok Noodles
was written over a period of two years with the recipe finalization, testing, and photography done in a particularly intense one-week push in the summer of 2017, where we essentially built a noodle cart in our semi-outdoor home kitchen in Chiang Mai and a photo studio in the adjacent bedroom. It was a team effort with me cooking and plating dishes, JJ Goode sitting at the counter and yelling recipes at me while I yelled instructions back at him as he furiously took notes on his laptop, Austin Bush and his assistant Bia changing and relighting a set for each new dish, and Kung (my beautiful, talented, and long-suffering wife) running to the market to get ingredients I had forgotten, washing pots, and wrangling the cats when they tried to interfere. We did about six or seven recipes a day in about a 10-hour push each day. I do not recommend this procedure for the faint of heart or easily discouraged as it can lead to fatigue, hurt feelings, bodily injury, and broken equipment... but it worked for us!
As with all the recipes in this trilogy of books, I have spared no detail or made any substitutions that would alter the dish in a way that would dishonor its origin or compromise its flavor, and I promise that if you follow the instructions to the T, you will get results that are beyond that of an “adapted for Western kitchens and tastes” type of recipe. Having said that, we do have a motto at Pok Pok: “laew tae khun
” which means “up to you” in Thai, so feel free to experiment… but keep in mind that to break the rules, you must first know the rules! And remember to have fun while cooking. Thai people always keep that in mind.
Phrik Pon Khua
TOASTED CHILE POWDER
chiles make a solid stand-in for a type of Thai dried chile that’s toasted slowly, seeds and all, and then ground into a coarse powder. It’s a common seasoning and, in this book, an important member of khruang phrung
(see page 36), the assortment of simple condiments served with noodle dishes so the diner can adjust the flavor to his or her liking. A burr grinder, even an inexpensive hand-crank kind, is ideal for grinding because it ensures an even grind, but a granite mortar and pestle paired with extra attentiveness works too.
Fair warning — depending on your kitchen’s ventilation and your tolerance for discomfort, consider taking steps to protect yourself from the effects of vaporized capsaicin. At the very least, open a window and turn on your stove’s exhaust fan before you begin. But consider wearing a dust mask or taking the whole operation outdoors.
Makes about 30 g /½ cup
2 oz / 30 stemmed dried puya chiles
Put the chiles in a large, dry skillet or flat-bottomed wok, turn the heat to high to get the pan hot, and then turn the heat to low. Toast the chiles, stirring almost constantly and flipping them occasionally so all sides make contact with the hot pan, until they’re very brittle and very dark brown all over, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the chiles from the pan as they are ready. Discard any seeds that escape from the chiles, as they will have burned and taste bitter.
Let the chiles cool, then, working in batches if necessary, grind them in a burr grinder or pound in a mortar, to a coarse powder that is about halfway between cayenne powder and store-bought red pepper flakes. Immediately transfer to an airtight container. The powder will keep in a cool, dry place for several weeks.
Phrik Naam Som
Offered as part of the standard khruang phrung
(see page 36), the condiments diners use to season noodle dishes, this combination of moderately spicy chiles and vinegar barely requires a recipe. Just thinly slice some chiles, put them in a jar or bowl, and pour in enough vinegar to cover them by an inch or so. Due to the quirks of the Thai language, this has a very similar name as the version made with grilled chiles.
Makes about ½ cup
21g/3 fresh serrano chilies stemmed and cut into ?-inch-thick slices
½ cup distilled white vinegar
In a small bowl or container, combine the chiles and vinegar and stir.
The chiles will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Phrik Naam Plaa
FISH SAUCE–SOAKED CHILES
Like Phrik Naam Som (page 235), this common khruang phrung
(see page 36) is just sliced chiles drowned in flavorful liquid — in this case, the chiles are fiery and the liquid is fish sauce, perfect for adding salt, umami, and heat to dishes such as noodles and fried rice. Consider adding some thinly sliced garlic to punch up the flavor.
Makes about ½ cup
21 g / about 14 fresh or frozen Thai chiles (preferably green), stemmed and cut into
½ cup Thai fish sauce
In a small bowl or container, combine the chiles and fish sauce and stir.
The chiles will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days.
÷ ÷ ÷
worked in restaurants all over the world before settling in Portland, Oregon, where he opened his first restaurant, Pok Pok. He has since gone on to open Whiskey Soda Lounge, Noi, and Lat Khao in Portland, and Pok Pok and Wings in New York City. He has been featured in Food and Wine
, and Bon Appétit
. He splits his time between New York and Portland, OR. Pok Pok: Noodle Dishes From Thailand and Beyond
is his most recent cookbook.