Bangkok is a city that takes no prisoners. Whether that’s because you’ve dabbled too much on Khaosan Road or walked too many steps around the golden palace, there’ll come a point where you need a little pick me up. Before you turn your hand to the little bottles of M-150, reach for a bowl of authentic Thai boat noodles instead. Trust me, if you’re like me (and I really like food) then you’ll love these.
What are Thai Boat Noodles?
Thai boat noodles are a deep brothy flavorful bowl of decadence. They are a hangover cure in a bowl. They’re energizing. They’re sumptuously filling. Honestly? They’re just great. There’s a fair amount of prep work that goes into making them, but getting the stock tasting just right is a labor of love that you shouldn’t overlook.
Known as Guay Tiew Reua (Guay Tiew – Noodles, Reua – Boat), this dish historically was a dish created, distributed, and consumed on the canalways of Bangkok. Sure, they’re available everywhere nowadays but it was a staple of the water for centuries. For the true experience, take a flight to Bangkok and make your way down to Rangsit. For a more accessible version, enjoy the following recipe.
How To Make Authentic Thai Boat Noodles
Authentic Thai Boat Noodle Soup Recipe
- 1/2 cup pork blood – you can also use beef blood for a deeper flavor
- 8 tsp sugar
- 4 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 lb pork tenderloin, thinly sliced
- A good handful of pork meatballs – save yourself time and just buy some pre-made
- 1 qt bean sprouts
- 4 cups water spinach – slice these into smaller bite-size pieces
- 1/2 cup crispy pork skin
- 1/2 cup scallions – roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup cilantro – roughly chopped – keep the roots for the stock below
- 1/2 cup Chinese celery – roughly chopped
- freshly ground white pepper
- 2 lbs baby back pork ribs
- 8 oz daikon, peeled and cut into slices – if you can’t find daikon then white turnips or parsnips are a good alternative – these give the subtly sweet taste you get from daikon – you might consider using standard red radishes but they will give more of a peppery flavor.
- 10 cilantro roots – use the leaves for topping
- 1 whole head of garlic – slice it so that all of the cloves are exposed. Save the top half of the cloves in Tupperware for future dishes
- 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp salt
- 3 tbsp mushroom sauce – you could replace this with another umami-flavored item such as Worcestershire sauce but go sparingly and don’t overpower the other more delicate flavors within the stock.
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
Thai chilies in vinegar
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 fresh red or green long Thai chili pepper, standard red or green work well, or you could use traditional Thai bird’s eye chilies.
Simply mix together for around 30 minutes before serving.
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 whole head of garlic – Peel first then thinly slice the individual cloves.
In a small frying pan, warm the oil over low heat, then toss in the garlic. Watch it like a hawk as garlic likes to burn within moments. Use your nose for that toasted garlic smell, stop yourself from salivating for a second and remove it. The golden (not brown) color is what you’re looking for.
Boat Noodle Pork Stock
The stock is where all of the flavors are. If your recipe isn’t as tasty as you expected or lacks a certain depth chances are this is where the mistakes were made. I say mistakes, but everyone has their own preferences when it comes to stock flavor. Some like them spicy and fiery with chili, others prefer a subtle sweetness. If you’ve ever eaten at a Thai restaurant you’ll see that in Thai culture this is an understood concept. Almost every restaurant will have small pots of chilies, sugar, fish sauce, herbs, etc so that you can individualize your meal.
For boat noodle pork stock, start off with a big pan over high heat. We need to get this stock boiling at first to release the flavors and get everything into a nice melange. In the pot add 3 quarts of water, throw in the ribs (I suggest individually rather than as a rack – more of the meat and bone is accessible so more flavor is released), along with the cilantro, daikon, garlic, and peppercorns.
Once boiling, lower the heat so it’s on a nice simmer. You’ll notice that it begins to foam, gently skim that off and discard. After a while (when less foaming is taking place) add the salt, mushroom sauce, and sugar. Now you can leave it to do its thing for around 3 hours. Keep tasting for your own flavor and add elements you feel are missing. If you follow exactly as above you’ll have a deep, rich flavor.
Let the pot cool naturally and then strain. You might want to use a cloth but if you don’t mind a bit of sediment a colander will work fine. Throw away the larger leftover pieces. The remaining stock should be covered and refrigerated or frozen. It’ll last 3 days in the fridge or 3 months in the freezer. If freezing, create yourself individual portions.
Boat Noodle Soup Base
This part of the recipe is the easiest. Take all of your ingredients from the main list (not the blood and tenderloin) and throw them into the pot. Pour over the stock you’ve already made and come back in 2 hours. That’s the base made! It really is that simple.
Around 3 minutes before serving, cook your noodles until tender, and keep them aside.
In order to keep the pork tenderloin soft and from going chewy, you want to add it for as little time as possible. When the base is really hot simply drop in the thinly sliced pork and watch it closely. Once you see it has gone from pink to a white color it’ll be cooked. You can always season the pork beforehand with salt, fish sauce, chili powder, or similar, but there’s already so much flavor in the sauce that you should make sure you taste it beforehand.
Plating Your Boat Noodle Soup
Around a minute before serving is when you add the blood. Longer and the flavor will be lost, less time and it won’t be cooked properly.
Now you’re ready to serve, and really it’s a matter of combining in an order you like and then topping. Some people swear by adding noodles first and then topping with the base, others the reverse. Whichever way your plate your boat noodle soup, don’t forget the toppings. Take your pick of cilantro leaves, fried garlic, chilies in vinegar mix, scallions, crispy pork skin, your choice. Ideally, let all diners top it their own way!