Category Archives: Northern Thailand

About my grandma, and sausage

For as long as I can remember, I was told to refer to my grandmother as “Jiao Yai” (Lady Grandma). As a kid in Amish country somewhere in western Pennsylvania, I thought all Thais called their mother’s mother this term. Grandpa would be content with being a “khun tha”, but grandmas required something a little better.

I found out my grandma was kind of like a princess when we were getting ready to move back to Thailand. Her grandfather Inthawarorot had been the 8th of his line to “govern” Chiangmai; her father had been slated to be his heir. Her family name was “Na Chiangmai”, which, like “Na Ayutthaya”, “Na Songkhla”, or the like, means “Of [insert town name here]”.

Because I am really shallow, I became interested in my mom’s family history because of my grandma. When there were family gatherings, like a big ol’ buzzard, I was there, devouring scraps of old family gossip, hidden (and not so hidden) resentments, embroidering a new mental narrative of myself. Family dynamics were fascinating to me — there were “greater jiao” and “lesser jiao” (guess which branch yours truly belongs in?) and celebrations featuring dancers with ribbons and peacock feathers where everyone dresses up in old Thai clothing and complains about the heat (that’s just me, actually. I sweat a lot, what can I say?)

Best of all, there is gorgeous, life-changing, extraordinary Thai food. Getting gussied up in diapers and gossiping are all well and good, but after a couple of times, that story about Uncle So-and-so in 1847 gets old. The food never got old. It became the reason I still lurk, an ever-hungry buzzard, on the edges of family conversations, inviting myself to this or that party against the wishes of everyone involved. There is gabong, battered and deep-fried pumpkin, beans and whatnot (northern Thai tempura!) with a sweet chili dipping sauce. A sort of gaeng som in crystal-clear broth with chunks of pomfret, intense and flavorful despite its prettiness. A nam prik pla rah (fermented fish chili paste), tangy and salty but strangely un-fishy. Gluay buat chee, bananas served in a hot coconut milk, soft and comforting and almost buttery in taste.

And then there is the sai oua (northern Thai sausage), which I will always associate with my grandma. Obviously, my grandma has never stuffed a sausage link in her long life, but her cook has made exemplary sausage since I was a little girl, and although lots of places make nice sai oua (Soul Food Mahanakorn, the 5th floor of Emporium), I will always associate this particular sausage — fiery, yellow, flecked with fragrant herbs — with her. Nothing compares to my Grammy’s.

Too bad it’s so hard to get the freaking recipe. When I call Porn, my grandma’s cook, it’s a list of vagaries: “Get some shallots — 10 baht worth at the market near Victory Monument … some garlic …” “How much?” “Oh, well … five?” “Five cloves?” “Well, yes.” “What else? What else?” “Kaffir lime leaf, coriander, oh, slice it really thinly.” “Are there seasonings?” “What?” “ARE THERE SEASONINGS?” “Well, salt, and fish sauce, and MSG, and [something unintelligible] and curry base … mix all of that together …” “Anything else? Is there pork?” “Oh yes, pork. Maybe 2 kilos? Soak dried chilies in hot water, and don’t forget the pak chee farang … don’t forget the turmeric! You can’t forget the turmeric.” After guesstimating a handful of shallots as “10 baht worth” and mixing central and southern Thai curry paste to get a nice orange color, I end up with a paste that I think will work. I also get a kilo of minced pork and a kilo of minced pork fat.

Luckily, it was way easier to stuff the sausages than to make up the stuffing. Jarrett Wrisley, the owner of Soul Food, was kind enough to let my friend Chris and me use his sausage casings (100 percent natural!) and his kitchen, as well as his sai oua expertise — we used a mixture of fish sauce, salt and soy sauce, just like Jarrett does for his own, MSG-free sai oua. Chris made a gorgeous Polish sausage, slightly tart and salty, and a nice chicken sausage studded with dried apple.

Getting stuffed

The final product? When I got home, the first thing I did was turn on the oven and cook my very first sai oua. The result: burnished mahogany, soft on the inside, juices running from the pan.

Again, there is lots of great sai oua in the world, but nothing compares to my Grammy’s.


Filed under Asia, Bangkok, cooking, food, Northern Thailand, recipe, Thailand

What’s Cooking: Larb Dib

When I order steak tartare at French restaurants, I am invariably told by a worried waiter that the dish I have just asked for is raw. Do I want to rethink my order a little bit?

Raw is, in fact, what I’m looking for. There is that feeling of being an animal, of tearing into something in its “natural” state, untouched by flame, uncivilized. I don’t think I’m the only one. Thanks to the rise of the Japanese sushi bar, tartare of some form — beef, tuna or salmon — is a fixture of pretty much any Western restaurant across the globe: studded with avocado, dusted with pink peppercorns, or, if you are particularly unlucky, bulked up with ketchup.

Since tartare is pretty much ubiquitous, other types of restaurants have had less trouble serving raw meat to diners previously considered “too skittish” for such savage fare. Nadimo’s features a “raw kibbee” dish that is made up of minced lamb cut with bulgur wheat and accompanied by a garlicky puree. It’s unusual and surprisingly delicious, an example of how good raw meat can be.

Raw kibbee at Nadimo's

Thai food boasts its own raw dishes — in this case, larb dib nuea, or “raw minced beef salad”. Its nature changes depending on the region; in Isaan, it’s tart and fresh, leavened with ground rice grains and lots of pak chee farang, the sawtooth-edged leaf reminiscent of soap. In the North, it’s something brusque and brawny, with lots of dried chili, a hint of pork blood and a shrimp paste-based sauce. The Northern Thai one is the version I’m trying today.

Larb Dip (for 4 people)

– 400 grams good-quality raw beef, hand-chopped (I chose a Thai-French tenderloin from Villa Sukhumvit 33)
– 100 grams thin beef tripe, sliced and boiled

– 8 Tablespoons fried garlic
– 1/2 stem lemongrass, sliced and fried
– 4 Tablespoons thinly sliced shallots
– 4 Tablespoons shredded coriander
– 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
– 1/2 cup pork blood (optional)
– 1 teaspoon pork bile (optional)

For larb muang paste
– 25 pieces grilled dried chilies
– 10 cloves grilled garlic
– 15 cloves grilled shallots
– 1 piece grilled galangal
– 1 Tablespoon shrimp paste, wrapped in foil and grilled
– 1/2 stem lemongrass, finely sliced
– 1 Tablespoon roasted makwaen, or a northern Thai peppercorn (I could not find it on short notice, so I substituted Sichuan peppercorns, roasted and ground)

1. After having grilled most larb paste ingredients on an oven on full whack, pound into a paste with mortar and pestle alongside lemongrass and roasted makwaen or other substitute.

2. Mix beef and tripe with larb paste mix. If using pork blood and bile, add now.

3. This is optional, but you can cook your larb dib bleu by adding vegetable oil and giving the meat a few stirs with a wooden spoon. Otherwise, you can leave the lovely deep ruby color by leaving it completely raw.

4. Season with salt and fish sauce to your taste. Top with sliced shallots, fried garlic, fried sliced lemongrass and shredded coriander. I also topped mine with lots of mint, even though it’s more Isaan and less muang (Northern), simply because it’s one of the few things we have managed to grow in our garden! Look at these beauties (I know it just looks like regular mint to you):

My finished larb looked like this:

My raw beef larb

5. Serve accompanied by sturdy lettuce leaves, cucumber slices, blanched green beans, boiled pumpkin and any other fresh vegetable you may fancy or have lurking somewhere in your refrigerator. Don’t forget the sticky rice.


Filed under Asia, Bangkok, beef, cooking, food, Northern Thailand, recipe, Thailand

The other Chiang Mai

Rot duan at Suthep Market

Sometimes you don’t feel like treating Chiang Mai like a non-stop food safari. Sometimes, the usual parade of big names — Huen Phen, Lamduan Faham, Samerjai, OMG! — makes you feel all weary inside after thinking of the inevitable throng of people in line for a bowl of khao soy. And sometimes, you just want to eat where all the other jaded Chiang Mai-ers eat.

Because sometimes, Chiang Mai people are sick to death of aharn nuea (Northern Thai food), just like how Hua Hin people get sick of crab (unbelievable, I know, but it happens). And when that happens, they go to places like Yen Ta Fo Sri Ping on Suthep Road, where the chipped plastic bowls feature al dente thick, thin or glass vermicelli noodles liberally swimming with a garishly pink, chili-flecked seafood sauce crowned with a single, perfect fried wonton (35-40 baht).

Sri Ping's yen ta fo

There is also the requisite tom yum noodle (30-40 baht) and egg noodles with red pork and dumplings (40-50 baht), but nothing is as deliciously saucy as the namesake yen ta fo, a dish sure to get on your shirt and all over your face. And yes, I did rub my eyes after eating, and yes, severely regretted it for hours afterward.

I would argue that the namesake dish at Guay Jab Nam Khon Sam Kaset, right by the city’s monument to the three kings, is not the best dish here, although it is light and peppery and includes plenty of luk lok, a sort of soft porky sausage (50 baht). The gow low (broth without noodles) centers on a richer broth that tastes of beef and plenty of coriander (50 baht), and the khao moo krob is as good as anything you would find in Yaowaraj: a mix of crackle and fat, a thick sweet sauce enveloping the rice grains (50 baht). What can I say? I really like sauce.

Crispy pork rice at Guay Jab Sam Kaset

But if it’s something light and fresh you desire — Thailand via Hanoi rather than Hong Kong — there is always Raan Fer Wiengjan on Rachadamnoen Road. You have your choice of chicken (30-40 baht), fish (40-50 baht), tofu (30 baht), and the Northern delicacy moo yaw (30-40 baht), a pork “pate” originally created by Chinese-Thai chefs seeking to replicate French meat terrines.

Pho moo yaw

Vegetarians, don’t despair: Chiang Mai is thinking of you too. Or, specifically, Raan Jay Yai on Nimmanhaemin Road is. Anything on the regular menu can be made “jay” (a stricter Thai form of vegetarianism), including great versions of khao kluk kapi (rice fried with “shrimp paste”, 35 baht), guaythiew kua “gai” (noodles fried with a chicken substitute, 30 baht) and pad see ew (stir-fried noodles in soy sauce, 30 baht).

Jay Yai's pad see ew

This is all well and good, but did you really think I went to Chiang Mai without having ANY Northern food at all? What am I, an idiot? (Don’t answer that). Of course I went, and filled my face with nam prik ong and thum kanoon and sai oua and shrieked and gurgled as every Northern dish passed me by on the way to someone else, and wished myself stuffed full of everything that was good in the world. So that is how I found Haan Tung Jieng Mai (Northern dialect for Raan Tung Chiang Mai) on Suthep Road by the Chiang Mai University campus.

Khao pad nam prik num at Haan Tung Jiangmai

It’s a typical aharn tham sung (made-to-order) stall, but made achingly cool by the scraps of paper doodled by bored university students coating the tables and the kitsch-retro furnishings. That said, the food is solid, if slow, including rice fried with young green chili dip, pounded young jackfruit, and a nam prik ong that tasted suspiciously like shrimp paste (in the landlocked North, most recipes call for tua now — fermented beans, or nam pu — the juice of pulverized rice paddy crabs, instead of kapi).  Plus, there was a perfectly cooked kai ped yang matoom, a duck egg boiled just enough so that the yolk is “sticky”, like rubber sap.

No, our trip wasn’t all about food. I DO have other interests, you know. For instance, the PURCHASING of food. That is where the Saturday morning organic market off of Nimmanhaemin Road comes in. Organic producers of vegetables, fruit, rice and ready-made foods meet once a week to sell their bounty to the general public, and it’s a shame something comparable isn’t happening in much-bigger Bangkok.

Whole-wheat salapao at the organic market

Food for thought, maybe, for an organized and responsible food lover? (Not me). Maybe, just maybe, we can bring in something from Chiang Mai that doesn’t involve hastily-taped cardboard boxes and a few anxious moments by the baggage claim carousel.

Or maybe not.

@anuntakob and @aceimage caught haggling at Suthep Market


Filed under Asia, food, food stalls, markets, noodles, Northern Thailand, pork, rice, shopping, Thai-Chinese, Thailand

Dishes to Try Up North

Pak ki hood, blanched and served alongside nam prik

Believe it or not, I am not going to write about kanom jeen nam ngiew or the Steelers today. I know, I know. I know this makes you sad. But I must branch out. Show all my brilliant colors. Spread my wings.

So instead, I will ramble on semi-incoherently about my childhood in the era of Rama VI, back when rickshaws ruled the North and people foraged in the jungle for food. My fascinating reminiscences include memories of being abandoned at the post office as my nanny chatted up her then-boyfriend, and being menaced by a homicidal goose tethered to a pole in the middle of her front yard. Did you know geese are thoroughly unpleasant creatures? Now you do.

I also remember my Aunt Priew, who lived right next door to my grandmother’s house — easily accessible from our yard once you managed to jump over a tiny hill of ferocious red ants. Somehow, I never really made the jump and was bitten every time I tried. Yet day after day would find me once again testing the anthill because my Aunt Priew is a tremendous cook, possibly the best cook of Northern Thai food in the kingdom.  Roasted lin fa (sky tongue) beans, julienned and stir-fried with glass noodles or paired with a fatty raw larb; a touch of magorg, or water olive, added to a fiery nam prik num (roasted green chili dip) — my aunt is full of these little touches with the local produce that set her dishes apart from the rest. Now if I could just convince her to open a restaurant …

These are some of the Northern Thai dishes that are worth the long trek up to the tip of the country. They go just as well with khao suay (jasmine rice) as they do with khao niew (sticky rice). Try them for a real taste of Northern Thai food:

(Note: Please forgive the photos. They are a little … blurry. No, it wasn’t the wine.)

Gaeng om, Northern-style

Gaeng om, sort of

Unlike the light, prickly Isaan gaeng om, the Northern Thai version is — like much of the rest of Northern food — richer, meatier and fattier. The curry paste is that for a typical gaeng muang (Northern curry), with a couple of additions. There is lemongrass, galangal, dry chili, shrimp paste and garlic, plus pla sarak (kind of like pla salid, but bigger) and bakwan, which, if not Sichuan peppercorn, is something very similar, with the same tongue-numbing effects.

The tongue-numbing peppercorn bakwan

This paste is then fried in oil and augmented by fresh chilies, pork innards, bruised lemongrass and red shallot bulbs, and kaffir lime leaves and stewed, and then garnished with dill and coriander. It has a lingering meat taste that is very Northern.

Gaeng gadang

Pork “jelly” with pork rinds

Some dishes seem like they were engineered by mistake. Puff pastry is one; this is another. It’s basically a gaeng muang focused on kaki (fatty pork leg) and/or moo sam chan (three-layer pork), left out in the cold. It’s a distinctly “cold season” dish because traditionally it was left out overnight to congeal; today, it is chilled in the refrigerator and served in slices like a terrine. Very unusual and very porky.

Saa pak

Northern Thai “salad”, or saa pak

This is hands-down my favorite dish up North, but something that, aside from a few vendors in the Chiang Rai wet market, is very difficult to obtain. The reason could possibly be the 10+ types of local leaves (pak puen muang) required for a real saa pak (“spicy leaves”).

Greenery includes thinly sliced brinjals, young mango leaves, water olive leaves, pak pu ya (“grandfather-grandmother leaves,” a kind of edible blossom), plus sliced shallots and chopped fresh tomato. It is then tossed, like a chopped or Caesar salad, with flaked fish meat which has been grilled or boiled (with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf to lose the fishiness), plus nam prik num (roasted green chili dip) and sliced water olive.

This is a dish I am going to try to recreate at home with plain old lettuce, onions, tomato and avocado. I think it could give me a little taste of home, even in the middle of Bangkok.



Filed under Asia, Chiang Rai, curries, food, food stalls, markets, Northern Thailand, Thailand

The Ugly Face of Chauvinism

I have inexplicably agreed to be on a panel at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand to discuss foreigners cooking Thai food. While I am happy to do it, I am also a little apprehensive. This is the grad student who had to give her presentations sitting down in order to keep from passing out or vomiting. This is the friend who hates talking on the phone because that form of communication is too immediate and invasive. This is one of your speakers, guys! Hopefully I have moved beyond panic attacks and am now at peace with being a gibbering idiot.

Another reason I’m worried? Because I am a great big hypocrite.

Let me explain. I have been writing a street food guide for the past year, a project I have been super-quiet about because I don’t want to jinx it (yes, I am that type of person). It’s called “Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls” and it will be out early next year (knock on wood. Fingers crossed. Turn around three times).  In it, I detail different types of stalls — yummy duck porridge; buoyant oyster omelettes; exuberant iced coconut milk desserts; extravangantly stuffed flat noodles.

And not a mention of a northern Thai noodle dish, anywhere.

I know what I’ve done. I know there is ample khao soy and kanom jeen nam ngiew to be had on the city’s streets. Believe me, given my issues with northern Thai food I have tried almost all of them. But I feel like 1.) the best ones are branches of Northern Thai institutions, so why not go to the real one, and 2.) there are so many other great stalls out there. Really, though, there is no excuse. I am guilty of culinary chauvinism. I don’t want to believe Bangkokians can make a decent bowl of khao soy, much less approach the personal Freudian nightmare that is nam ngiew.

And, I am sorry to say, this is not my only prejudice. As long as I’m laying it all out there: watching the movie “Invincible”, I was struck by how Mark Wahlberg (who plays an Eagle) had a girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) who was a Giants fan. Uh, WTF?! Because there is no, no, never, ever, never any way I would go within two feet of a Cleveland Browns fan. Sure, some of them may be nice and all, but to date or even marry one? Are you kidding me? (This from the person who still cannot show her face at Bully’s because she almost got into a fist fight with a Cardinals fan two years ago. He was almost 50! I could have taken him).

People tell me about close friends, open-minded in every other way, who turn into Asia’s answers to Glenn Beck when it comes to the issue of foreigners cooking Thai food. It can’t be done: farang lack the upbringing, the tastebud training, the turbo-charged metabolisms, the innate love of the color fuchsia.  We laugh at this, but I’m the same. I have my blind spots too.

So I want to make amends before I go on this panel. Here are the Northern Thai places I go to in Bangkok when I know I won’t be going up North for a while:

People desperate for good Northern Thai noodles in front of Nam Ngiew Pa Suk


You know what this is

Nam Ngiew Pa Suk (Soi Phiphat, 300 m from Silom, on the right side)

Not surprisingly, this is the branch of the venerable stall in Chiang Rai. It also serves khao soy (which I find kind of bland) and khao ganjin, or what my friend calls “crazy purple Shan rice”: rice steamed in pork blood and garnished with deep-fried garlic and fresh coriander. But the nam ngiew is almost as thick, rich and meaty as the original, and very popular, unlike many other Bangkok stalls where it’s the nam ngiew that is neglected in favor of the more well-known egg noodle dish.

Maan Mueng (Ramkhamhaeng 112)

This is a good Northern Thai restaurant overall. They do everything well here: super nam prik num (roasted green pepper dip), nice gaeng ho (a sort of “goulash” of leftovers including glass vermicelli noodles and pork), and yes, a good khao soy. The nam ngiew is sort of unusual here — a thick fermented bean base that has a deep undertow of near-fishiness. I love it. A shame it’s so far away.

Maan Mueng's nam ngiew

So there. Two places I go to again and again. And not in the hopes I find something to complain about, either. I would have tried for three, but let’s not push it.

Have a good weekend. Unless you are a Baltimore Ravens fan.


Filed under Asia, Bangkok, Chiang Rai, food, food stalls, noodles, Northern Thailand, restaurant, Thailand

Things to be Thankful For

Yes, I know. “You’re late, beeyotch”, you say. I am indeed a day late, but last night, sitting among friends and a table groaning under the weight of delicious food, I found myself, for once, momentarily forgetting to complain about my sad-Jen-Aniston-dust-bunny-in-a-girdle existence. Instead, I found myself feeling thankful. And I don’t want to let go of that feeling just yet.

So here, in no particular order, are Things to Be Thankful For:

Pumpkin danish from La Creation de Gute in Hong Kong

Pastries. Need I say more? This is the entire reason people still get up for me on the Skytrain (cuz pregnant ladies be needin assistance!)

Geoduck sashimi in Shenzhen

Travels. Going anywhere new gives you (and by you I mean me) the golden opportunity to 1). meet great people, 2). try things you’ve never tried before, like this geoduck sashimi in China, and 3.) blather on about it endlessly in blog posts that make no point. How lucky is that?

Rambutan in Chantaburi

Thai fruit. It’s the best in the world. Really! The range and variety of fruits in this country are dazzling. And they are all delicious, in their own different ways and in their own various seasons.

Thalad Gow in Chinatown

Outdoor markets. Is there a more fascinating place to explore? From France and Hungary to Vietnam and Japan, outdoor markets are my favorite place to go to find out about a place. Someday, I may even work up enough courage to try out this pickled crab stand in front of the Old Market in Chinatown.

Tamarind chili dip with purple long beans in Sukhothai

Chili dips. They are my favorite part of a Thai meal. And they are so criminally underused, especially in Thai restaurants abroad! Tamarind, shrimp paste, crab eggs, lohn (coconut milk-based dips) — krueang jim are the dish that packs in a significant amount of protein and a wide variety of veggies, making it (and a bowl of rice) a complete, nutritionally balanced meal for millions of Thais, every day.

Chicken wings in kajorn blossom broth at Guaythiew Pik Gai Sainampung

How could I go this long without mentioning street food? Thailand, obviously, has some of the best in the world. People may be up in arms about farangs taking to their own mortars and pestles in restaurant kitchens, but Thai food’s real heart comes from the street.

Family. In a fit of earnestness (which will die at the end of this sentence), I am actually posting a real family picture and not a shot of the Kardashians. Of course, I am not in it.

Other things for which to be thankful: great wines (I would include a picture, but let’s face it, when I start being thankful for wine is the exact moment when I start being incapable of taking a picture); good friends; air-conditioning; the Steelers (haterz gonna hate!); people who are bored enough to occasionally read this blog (thanks, really); and the fact that my infant son is so readily diverted by a tissue.

Oh, and this:

Nam ngiew

I’m off to Chiang Rai next week for even more. Enjoy the start of your holiday season!


Filed under Asia, Bangkok, Chantaburi, chicken, Chinatown, dessert, food, food stalls, Hong Kong, markets, noodles, Northern Thailand, restaurant, Thailand

What nam ngiew means to me

Proper pork nam ngiew at Pa Suk in Chiang Rai

(Photo by @SpecialKRB)

Everyone has a dish that reminds them of their childhoods. This — and the “last meal” that a person would select were he or she able to choose — are two of the most illuminating things you can know about a person, telling you how they see themselves, and how they grew up. I’m not the only person to think this (although there is no “childhood meal” book — I mean, we have the TGI Friday’s menu for that); in 2007, photographer Melanie Dunea asked some of the most famous chefs in the world what meal would be their preferred parting shot, and the result was “My Last Supper”.

It turns out chefs are as varied as regular people when it comes to what they want, and the setting: Daniel Boulud likes Versailles, Gordon Ramsay likes home. Jacques Pepin, characteristically elegant, wants a hot dog; BLT chef Laurent Tourondel, a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Some even chose soundtracks, with U2 making an appearance (why? If it’s post-“Unforgettable Fire”, I shake my head and judge).

I really don’t know what my last meal would be. I used to say a cold lobster with mayonnaise; sometimes I think I prefer meatloaf with a side of mac and cheese. But neither of these dishes says anything about me. The dish that figures most prominently in my childhood, and the one I keep coming back to again and again in Bangkok (like a culinary Don Quixote, or an idiot) is kanom jeen nam ngiew, a Northern Thai dish of minced pork and/or beef and dried ngiew blossoms.

Nam ngiew at Yui Lee on Sukhumvit Soi 31

It is a widely accepted fact that good Northern Thai food is hard to find in Bangkok. This is not just a bunch of Northerners pissing and moaning about Central people mucking around with beloved old favorites (although there is some of that). For some reason, something is lost in translation that isn’t when it comes to any other region in Thailand, be it Isaan or Southern Thai. It’s not heat: actually, Northerners cannot compare to Southern Thais when it comes to spicy food. I think it’s the shortcuts that people are tempted to take with northern food, which features a lot of cut or shredded herbs and painstakingly put-together pastes (plus a lot of fatty cuts of pork to combat the “cold” weather). I cannot tell you how many nam ngiew noodles I have had missing the dried dok ngiew, or ngiew flowers, which resemble sawed-off broomsticks. The fact they still serve it without essential ingredients suggests laziness, and disrespect to the customer.

Yet I haunt every food stand serving nam ngiew, and order it at restaurants when I know I shouldn’t; against all logic, I want to find The One that will bring me back home. Home to New Castle, Pennsylvania, where I wanted to dine on cavatelli (“cavads”) like everyone else in my predominantly Italian-American town, and look forward to wedding soup or pasta fagioli (pronounced “fazool”) on holidays. Home, where I would see my dad in his pajamas stuffing his own sai oua on the floor of our kitchen and feel unaccountably embarrassed. Home, where my dad would have to refer to nam ngiew as “Thai spaghetti” to get us to eat what he cooked after a 14-hour work day. And it does resemble bolognese, after a fashion (possibly a reason why I LURVE spaghetti bolognese). But it’s much, much better — meaty and rich and a little bit macho, and, if you’re from Chiang Rai, skimpy on the girly tomatoes that effete Chiang Mai-ers use to balance out all that heft (Chiang Mai people, I jest. My mom’s family is from Chiang Mai).

So where is the best place to get this very special dish? My house, where I keep two bags of sauce at all times. Also, Chiang Rai’s Pa Suk, which probably has the best nam ngiew on earth (sorry, Chiang Mai). The sauce comes in pork or beef versions (beef is VERY beefy), with fermented rice noodles (kanom jeen) or regular guay thiew (rice noodles). Also, they offer a wide variety of pork rinds (kaab moo) because no bowl is complete without them.

Beef nam ngiew at Pa Suk

(Photo by @SpecialKRB)

But where in Bangkok? Ah, well, other people are probably better guides. (This one is good.) But I urge you to do something really crazy. You can do it yourself. Alas, the Duangnet family recipe is out of bounds. But if you don’t mind the tomatoey Chiang Mai style, here is the recipe from my great-aunt, Jiao Sri na Chiangmai.

Nam Ngiew (for 10)


1. Nam Prik: Grind the following together well

Dried pepper,     30 pieces

Dried Bird Chillis,   30 pieces

Shallots,    0.2 Kilo

Garlic,     0.1 Kilo

Shrimp paste (Kapi),   0.1 Kilo

Lemon Grass,    3 pieces (stems)

Salt,     1 tablespoonful

Grilled dried pickled bean paste, 0.2 Kilo

2. Next, boil until slightly soft:

Pork spare ribs, cartilage parts, 1 Kilo, cut into 1 inch pieces. Save cooking liquid.

To cook:

  1. Fry “Nam Prik” in hot vegetable oil in a big pot until it “smells good” (the inside of your nose tickles). Add 1 Kilo of ground pork and the cooked spare ribs. Stir until cooked. Add the soup from the cooked spare ribs. Then add 1 Kilo of cherry tomatoes, add cooked pork blood in pieces and 0.1 Kilo of dried “Ngiew Flowers”. Add 0.2 Kilo of Black Tao Jeao.

Boil in medium temperature until well blended. Before serving on kanom jeen, add fish sauce and lime juice to your taste.

  1. Serve with:
    1. Deep fried chopped garlic
    2. Chopped shallots
    3. Cut shallots
    4. Cut limes
    5. Cut pickled greens
    6. Ground deep-fried dried chillis

Bon appetit!


Filed under Asia, Bangkok, beef, Chiang Rai, food, food stalls, noodles, Northern Thailand, pork, Thailand