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A Information to Thai Noodle Soups

Take a look at the menu of many Thai eating places, and also you’ll see many curries, soups, salads, and stir-fries. However examine that with what Thai folks sometimes eat regularly, and also you’ll discover {that a} main meals group is underrepresented or lacking completely: noodle soups, referred to as guaydtiaao in Thai (additionally transliterated as guay tiew amongst different spellings). 

Thai folks eat numerous noodle soups—some even have them day by day. In Thailand, you will discover noodle soups all over the place, whether or not at road meals stalls or in sit-down eating places. They’re as widespread as sandwiches in North America. However why don’t we see extra of them on North American restaurant menus? My concept: It’s a logistical concern. The components and set-up required to make noodle soups are distinctive, and for a lot of eating places, it merely isn’t sensible so as to add that on high of all the pieces else they make. That is most likely why in Thailand, most noodle soup distributors solely promote noodle soups, and sometimes just one kind of noodle soup. That is additionally why most Thai folks don’t make noodle soups at dwelling.

 But it surely’s potential and worthwhile to make nice Thai noodle soups at dwelling, and whereas I can’t promote them as a “fast and straightforward meal,” the precise cooking is extraordinarily low-effort and quick. Order a bowl of noodles in Thailand, and some minutes is all it takes to assemble. Although the prep takes some time, a lot of it’s hands-off simmering time for the broths. In all honesty, the largest effort required is the buying itself, since you will want to go to Asian markets to search out a number of important components. With a well-stocked Thai pantry and just a bit planning, although, you possibly can have a fully-loaded bowl of Thai noodle soup for dinner—even on a weeknight. Listed below are all of the elements of any bowl.

Forms of Broth

Whereas there are a lot of kinds of broths for noodle soups, you possibly can divide them into two main varieties: mild and darkish. 

Mild broth is known as nam sai, which accurately means “clear broth.” It’s mainly a pork or hen inventory that has been seasoned with salt, sugar, soy sauce, and/or fish sauce. Aside from primary aromatics like daikon, cilantro stems, and white pepper, these broths normally don’t have many herbs or spices.

This primary pork or hen inventory can be utilized as a base for every kind of noodle soups, relying on the way you select to customise it. For instance, you possibly can add a pink sauce constituted of Chinese language fermented crimson beancurd and switch it right into a noodle soup referred to as yen ta fo, or you possibly can add some lime juice, chile flakes, and roasted peanuts to make a tom yam-style noodle soup (that is completely different from the well-known tom yam soup, which comprises lemongrass, galangal, and shrimp).

Darkish broths, or nam kon, are extra closely seasoned and get their inky hue from black soy sauce. They’re made with plenty of herbs and spices infused into them, which, relying on the recipe, might embrace cinnamon, star anise, coriander seeds, and galangal. Nam kon typically doubles because the braising liquid for the featured protein. For instance, if you happen to’re making a duck noodle soup, you’d braise the duck within the  broth. The identical goes for braised beef noodle soup.

Critical Eats / Amanda Suarez

The vast majority of noodle soups in Thailand are made with pork inventory, and pork is the most typical meat used. Nonetheless, when the featured protein isn’t pork, the broth is commonly made to match the meat. For instance, a beef noodle soup would sometimes use beef inventory, and a hen noodle soup can be made with hen inventory. The exception to this rule are fish noodle soups; these are normally made with pork inventory, as fish inventory would make the dish too fishy.

“Dry” Noodle Soup

As counterintuitive because it sounds, you may as well decide to haven’t any soup in your “noodle soup.” In Thailand, a “hold” (dry) model is out there for any form of noodle soup. The broth is omitted and the noodles are tossed with the seasonings as a substitute. Every thing else—the meat, greens, and toppings—stay the identical. It’s a pleasant, mild model that’s nice for if you need noodles, however not the new soup

Select Your Noodle

The enjoyable half about Thai noodle soups is that there’s numerous room for personalisation, the most important one being your alternative of noodles. At minimal, most distributors can have the next 4 choices: 

  • Sen mee – tremendous skinny rice vermicelli
  • Sen lek – rice noodles like ones you get in Vietnamese pho
  • Sen yai – contemporary, huge flat rice noodles just like ones you discover in pad see ew, however for noodle soups they are typically smaller and extra delicate.
  • Bamee – wonton noodles constituted of wheat

Critical Eats / Amanda Suarez

Apart from the essential 4, some distributors can also supply:

  • Sen mama – prompt noodles. Mama is a well-liked model of Thai prompt noodles, and many individuals use these noodles for cooking as effectively. 
  • Woon sen – Glass noodles constituted of mung bean starch.

Frequent Toppings

Gathering and getting ready all of the toppings is essentially the most time-consuming a part of making Thai noodle soups. Whereas it could be tempting to skip a topping within the curiosity of pace, it is value it to make all the pieces the recipe requires to realize the entire steadiness of flavors and textures within the last bowl—with out the mixture of a protein, some greens, herbs, and condiments, it’s actually not the identical.

Critical Eats / Amanda Suarez


Noodle soups made with mild broths are sometimes served with proteins like Asian meatballs, fish muffins, and wontons, which may all be store-bought. Different standard proteins embrace floor pork, fish, seafood, thinly sliced meats, and offal; a few of the quick-cooking contemporary meats are briefly marinated with components like fish sauce earlier than cooking to infuse them with extra taste. All of those are cooked just by blanching in boiling water or the broth itself.

Darkish broth noodles are typically a bit extra concerned as they typically use meats which were braised within the broth—it’s like making a stew, then serving it with noodles. Typically this isn’t crucial, as within the case of boat noodles, which want simply meatballs and sliced meats; though, as you possibly can see in our recipe for boat noodles, you can also make an awesome meat topping from the meats used to taste the sauce anyway, with out nearly any further effort (apart from choosing the meat off the bones). Fish and seafood are normally paired with a lighter, extra impartial pork broth and are hardly ever served with darkish broths. 

Critical Eats / Amanda Suarez

Along with meat and fish, tofu is typically added to noodle soups. Vegetarian noodle soups, nonetheless, are uncommon in Thailand and solely obtainable at a handful of specialty retailers.

Noodle distributors supply many various proteins, however at dwelling, I stick to only one or two for simplicity’s sake. For those who’re braising one thing at midnight broth, there’s actually no want so as to add the rest past the braised meat itself—however if you happen to actually need a further protein, Asian meatballs are nice as a result of they arrive ready-made.


Mung bean sprouts are nearly all the time added to noodle soups, as they assist lighten the meal and convey freshness and a pleasing crunch. Greens like morning glory (water spinach), bok choy, or lettuce are typically added, particularly with darkish broths. Don’t overdo the greens, although, as they normally play a minor position in Thai noodle soups.

Critical Eats / Amanda Suarez

Fried Garlic and Garlic Oil

This feels like a fussy last contact that may be skipped, however belief me after I say the fried garlic is to not be missed. Thai noodle soups are nearly all the time topped with fried garlic, and if the place fries their very own garlic, you’ll additionally get a drizzle of garlic oil within the bowl, which is the very best half. That is one thing it’s best to make a number of days prematurely, even in the microwave

Ending Herbs

For a component of freshness, Thai noodle soups are completed with contemporary herbs like chopped cilantro and inexperienced onions. Typically distributors can also add sawtooth coriander, also referred to as culantro, or Thai basil. 


At noodle soup eating places in Thailand, diners will discover a platter of condiments that features roasted chile flakes, chile vinegar, sugar, and fish sauce. It’s a whole set of candy, salty, bitter, and spicy, so the diner can style the soup after which alter the broth to their liking. At dwelling, the one condiments I put out when serving are chile flakes and chile vinegar, since I can sweeten and taste the broth with sugar and fish sauce to my liking earlier than serving. That stated, if not your whole diners agree on the sweetness and salty-umami ranges of the broth, be happy to supply sugar and fish sauce as effectively, since you’ll have already got them readily available.

Making Noodle Soups at House

Although it’s actually potential to make all the pieces from scratch multi functional go if you happen to’re many of the day to cooking, I like to recommend spreading out the work to make it extra manageable. The prep checklist beneath is predicated on what Thai noodle soup distributors need to get completed to be able to assemble noodles in just some minutes. How a lot you’d like to organize prematurely is completely as much as you, however checking one or two issues off the checklist beneath will assist streamline issues on the day you propose to have your noodles. 

  1. Fry your garlic and retailer the crisped garlic and garlic oil individually.
  2. Some other crispy fried toppings, like fried wonton wrappers, will also be made a day or two forward and saved in an hermetic container.
  3. Make the broth. The broth might be refrigerated for every week or frozen for no less than a number of months, and if the broth additionally yields any braised meats, you possibly can choose the meat after braising and put it aside individually as effectively.

On the day you propose to complete and serve the noodles, these steps—which it’s best to do kind of on this order—are all that’s left to do. 

  1. Marinate contemporary proteins. Some contemporary toppings for noodle soups, like thinly sliced pork, will get a short marinade with flavorings like fish sauce and white pepper, simply to make sure they are not bland within the bowl.
  2. Prep contemporary herbs and greens. Wash and trim/choose any contemporary herbs and greens so that they’re prepared for cooking and/or serving.
  3. Carry a pot of water to a boil for blanching the greens and noodles. There’s no have to salt the water, because the soup might be effectively seasoned sufficient. And whereas I do know it’s tempting to show this right into a one-pot meal by cooking the noodles within the broth, don’t do it! Noodles launch numerous starch into the cooking water and can flip your broth cloudy. 
  4. Reheat the broth by bringing it to a boil.
  5. Cook dinner the proteins within the broth (or, if the recipe instructs, within the blanching water), then scoop them out with a skimmer and put aside. Hold the broth scorching on very low warmth and canopy it with a lid to stop it from decreasing.
  6. Blanch the greens. As soon as your water is boiling, cook dinner the greens till simply wilted, then divide among the many serving bowls.
  7. Cook dinner the noodles and divide among the many serving bowls. The noodles ought to be the very last thing you cook dinner because the water will change into starchy after that. You may then toss the noodles within the garlic oil, which prevents them from sticking and flavors the bowl.
  8. Prime the noodles with the protein, fried garlic, extra garlic oil, and ending herbs.
  9. Ladle the broth over the noodles when able to eat and serve instantly.

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