Contrary to popular belief, the most common dish here in Thailand is not phad thai, green curry or other favorites that are much beloved in Thai restaurants in North America and Europe. It seems to me after three months of living here now that the closest thing to a staple dish (albeit it's not exactly a staple either) are the different forms of noodle soup that you see people scarfing down at street food stalls at almost all hours of the day. Common varieties include sen lek neua (beef noodle soup), bamee (egg noodle soup) and kuay teow reua (boat noodles). The latter includes plenty of rice noodles, beef or pork balls, slices of beef and an intense brown broth thickened with pork blood. It's called boat noodles because it used to be sold out of the small boats that dotted the canals and rivers all over Central Thailand.
Most of the noodle soups sold on the street have some kind of meat broth, though I occasionally put on my "flexible vegetarian" cap and indulge (no pork blood for me though!). However, this recipe is totally vegetarian and completely delicious. You can use whatever type of curry paste that you fancy (this particular day, I opted for a simple red curry paste) and any veggies that you might have on hand. The lovely thing for us here are that the markets and supermarkets are full of mysterious new fruits and vegetables, rendered even more mysterious by virtue of the fact that their names are usually written only in Thai. Luckily, there are websites like this one which help to decode Thai produce for farangs (foreigners) like us. I used some "Chinese leaf mustard" in my soup (which I presumed meant Chinese mustard greens, but a bit of Internet research revealed that it's a close relative of bok choy called pak gat doi tung in Thai).
This is the perfect quick and easy one-dish dinner. Try it tonight!
THAI CURRY NOODLE SOUP
1 tablespoon rice bran or canola oil
1/2 large onion, chopped into medium-large chunks
1 red spur chili, sliced diagonally
2 sticks lemongrass, bruised and thinly sliced
1" piece of galangal or ginger, finely chopped
1 heaping tablespoon curry paste of your choice
2 cups mixed hard vegetabes of your choice (I used carrots, baby corn and red bell peppers)
2 cups vegetable or mushroom broth
500 milliliters (16-17 fl ounces) coconut milk
10-12 kaffir lime leaves
Juice of 1/2 lime
Handful of additional mixed (softer) vegetables (I used bok choy, enoki mushrooms and bean sprouts)
200 grams (7 ounces) fresh yakisoba noodles or other noodles of your choice
Fresh coriander, for garnish
Lime wedges, for serving
1. In a large pot, warm the oil. Add the onion, chili, lemongrass and galangal/ginger. Saute until the onion is mildly translucent.
2. Mix in the curry paste and your first set of vegetables. These should be harder ones which will take longer to cook. Stir well.
3. Pour in your broth, coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves and the lime juice. Mix well and allow the soup to come to a boil.
4. Reduce heat to low-medium and add the additional vegetables (softer ones which won't take long to take), as well as your fresh noodles.
5. Cook about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the noodles are just al dente.
6. Serve with fresh coriander and lime wedges.