"Pasta" Siamese Style
Pasta or by its other familiar names of Japanese "Oodong" Noodles, Chinese "Guay Tiew" Noodles or German "Spaetzle" is known and enjoyed throughout the world. Essentially it is a flourbased dough which when processed can either be served fresh or dried for future use. It is one of the staple foods in many countries but, perhaps, due to its importance in Italian culture and cuisine, the generic word "pasta" is how many Westerners have come to know it macaroni, spaghetti, fettuccine and so on.
In Western countries, the flour for pasta is milled from durum wheat, however, in Eastern nations rice is the staple rather than the cereals associated with European tastes. So riceflour is what is predominantly used when preparing noodles (pasta) in Asian and Oriental countries Thailand as a major producer of rice is no exception so there is a wide variety from which to choose. One style of Thai noodle is "Khanom Jeen" which is freshly prepared every day. It is not dried as Thais prefer it moist and flavorsome, therefore, daily preparation is essential. The 2 words of Khanom Jeen translates to Chinese dessert (Khanom = dessert, and Jeen = Chinese), and known as a snack or light meal. It should be interesting to know why or how the word is connected with Chinese people or Chinese noodles. Their noodles are made through a steaming process meanwhile the Thai noodles are made through boiling process. In Baan Naam Rin, a village (Moo 3) of Khee Lehg subdistrict of Mae Rim, at Km. 24 (about 20 kilometers from the highway intersection) on ChiangmaiFang Road (Rte. 107), has about 24 cottageindustry "factories" making Khanom Jeen for daily dispatch to the market.
During the ancient days of greatgrandma in Ayutthaya, there were two different methods when producing homemade styles for Khanom Jeen. The first is called "Bpaeng Muk". This sees the broken grains of Khao Jao (fluffy white rice) being soaked, overnight, in water. Next morning, the wet rice is allowed to drain, very slowly, through a bamboo sieve. It is important that the rice be kept moist (not wet) so that there is some natural fermentation. Banana leaves, or similar, are used to ensure that water evaporation is controlled and, sometimes, a little more water is added by hand if the rice is draining too quickly. Next day, the moist rice will be handformed into compact balls (about the size of a small melon) and cooked in hot water for around 10 minutes. Now each sphere of rice will be pummeled in a large mortar and, as the pestle pounds, slowly the riceball will become a thick slurry of flourpaste. The flourpaste is then extruded, through a special device, and the thin noodles returned to hot water for a further 5 minutes cooking. The cooked Khanom Jeen is next transferred to a bath of cold water before being removed for thorough draining prior to being sold. This type of Khanom Jeen must be used within 24 hours as it will spoil quickly.
The alternative method for Khanom Jeen is called "Bpaeng Sod" and again begins with soaking broken Khao Jao grains overnight. Next morning, the wet grains are immediately milled and the thick flourpaste packed into large, porous bags. The bags are suspended to permit slow drainage until a sticky dough is formed within. The dough is then slapped into ball shapes and cooked and extruded as in the "Bpaeng Muk" process. Khanom Jeen noodles prepared this way are less tasty than in the first method but have the advantage of a longer keeping time around two days.
Khanom Jeen, authentic Thai noodles, are delicious and are featured in a variety of sauces. The writer particularly enjoys them in Naam Ya (Fish Curry : ground fish + coconut milk + spices), Naam Prig (Bean Curry : peanuts + coconut milk + palm sugar + spices), Naam Ngiew (Pork Tomato Curry : ground pork + spareribs + tomatoes + bean curd + spices) or Zao Naam (Fish pieces + coconut milk + dry shrimp + pineapple + lemon + spices). On the other hand, only select vegetables (fresh or boiled) of the whole set would be suitable for particular sauce. Example of vegetables : bean sprouts, cowpea, winged pea, basil leaves, onion, morning glory, leguminosae, water mimosa, pickled cabbage, fried dry pepper, parsley, etc. Do try these recommendations!