I write a lot about yen ta fo. It is my absolute favorite Thai noodle dish. What’s not to love? An unlikely but irresistible melange of textures and flavors, from squidgy blanched morning glory stems, rubbery squid, soft fish balls, crackly bitter deep-fried garlic and the crunch of a deep-fried wonton — and that’s before you even get to the sauce. Because it’s the sauce that makes or breaks it all: tart with distilled vinegar and pickled garlic, resonating from the heady boom of fish sauce, underneath which the slightest whiff of sweet fermented red tofu emerges like the flash of a red sole on an expensive shoe … that is what yen ta fo is to me. A very delicate balance that, at its best, is the stereotypical juggling act illustrative of the best of Thai cuisine.
At its worst, yen ta fo is something different. It’s all sweet, all pink, all sickly and flat, like Hello Kitty. So it gives people the wrong idea, that these noodles are something for people with a sweet tooth, that there is no complexity to it at all, that it’s Britney Spears when you want to be rocking the egg noodle-PJ Harvey special. I always put this down to people going to the wrong places for yen ta fo. There is such a thing as the wrong place for a certain dish. In fact, that is the whole point of this blog.
I’ve been to Thi Yen Ta Fo (084-550-2880, open 11-22 except Mondays) more times than I can count. I mean, it was always closed those other times, but it feels like second nature to me now to just head automatically to that street corner on Mahachai Road, just down the street from Thipsamai and next to Jay Fai. Usually, I just find a shuttered cart with a sign bearing the vendor’s name. But just a few days ago, it was all systems go: an entire corner and then some, littered with packed tables and the sort of flustered, harried waiters you would see at your nearest Fuji or Crystal Jade restaurant.
For a soup noodle dish that is so often dismissed as “those terrible pink noodles”, yen ta fo sure seems popular here. But there is a very good reason for this. When our bowls come to the table, it’s less about the pink sauce and fermented tofu and more about the veritable blanket of chopped chilies that coats our food like a suit of armor. If there was ever any doubt in my mind that a typical Thai fix-it involves just throwing a bunch of chilies on something to make it taste better, that doubt has long since been blasted from my head by the smoke coming out of my ears after a bite of these noodles. This stuff is SPICY. It changes the whole flavor profile of the dish. Here, it’s all tart and fiery, even slightly metallic. It’s yen ta fo for people who don’t like yen ta fo very much.
There’s other stuff too. The immense popularity of this place has necessitated the incorporation of a second cart, this one offering fried noodle dishes like guaythiew kua gai (pan-fried rice noodles with chicken and egg). That’s not to mention the pork satay place that also serves the customers here, and the other soup noodles offered by Thi, like the just-as-spicy tom yum egg noodles with fresh basil and minced pork:
I can’t say I don’t like these noodles, because that wouldn’t be true. Would they be my favorite yen ta fo? No, because they are barely yen ta fo at all. Would I go back? Absolutely. With a pack of tissues. And some Tums.
14 responses to “Yen ta fo for h8ers”
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What is the difference between yen ta fo and suki sauce?
Good question. Yen ta fo sauce is much pinker, with far less chilies and garlic and watered down with broth.
Thanks for answer!
But:) Suki Nam is also pretty brothy with lots of liquid.
So, the taste profile is pretty similar?
Only the composition of the whole dish makes it different?
Suki Nam is soupy and yen ta fo is more like a dry dish?
Suki should have a dipping sauce. That’s what I’m referring to
I love Yen Ta Fo as well, I can wait to try it in Thailand in January 2015. Sawasdee Pee Mai
Thanks, happy new year to you too!
I love how you described it with Hello Kitty (which I hate) and Britney Spears (who I love to hate.)
They were the two most generically girly-yet-famous products/people I could think of, though I must admit to feeling some sympathy for poor old britney as a person!
Never tried them Chow – they look amazing! Happy Eating and Weekend XX
Thanks Anney, you too!
Would you please give a more detailed address for Thi Yen Ta Fo. I searched Google maps for Mahachai Road & only got roads in Samut Prakan & Nakhon Ratchasima! Thank you
OK it’s on the same road as the Golden Mount Temple. From Golden Mount, go further along down Mahachai Road (away from Rachadamnern Road) and you will pass in succession on your left a gas station, Thipsamai pad Thai, and then Jay Fai. Thi is on the street corner after Jay Fai, still on the left side.