My very wonderful friends K & L bought me a present last time they visited: David Thompson’s Thai Street Food. Now, I know everyone’s been heaping praise on the book for a while now, so I’m a bit late to the party. Some of my favourite food bloggers like Andrea Nguyen love it, and it’s been reviewed everywhere from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. It’s as much a cultural moment as a book, finally bringing Thai street food into the cultural mainstream, courtesy of the chef many people see as Thai cuisine’s answer to Julia Child.
It’s certainly a handsome book: far too big to fit on even my tallest bookshelf and with enough glossy full-page colour photos to make the recipes sometimes hard to find. A cynical soul might imagine it to be a coffee-table cookbook for the kind of foodie that doesn’t actually cook. Certainly, one could spent happy hours leafing through its beautiful pictures of Thai street food culture (my favourite might be the man hugging a rather large dog, who seems to be looking at the camera thinking ‘yeah, he loves me, what of it?’). But you’d be missing the point if you didn’t realise that these are some seriously good recipes.
Now I know a more normal person might have started with a substantial curry dish, or perhaps checked out how Thompson riffs on a well-known dish like pad thai. But for some reason what caught my eye was a dish of kanom jin with dried shrimp and pineapple. Kanom jin are rice noodles usually served in the morning, but this mix of savoury and sweet was hitting all of my Thai buttons and I had to have it for dinner. Pineapple and noodles for dinner? I know, it sounds totally perverse but Thompson’s recipes don’t steer you wrong, and this dish was vibrant and ridiculously moreish. The ginger, garlic and shrimp cut the sweetness and provide an amazing savoury setting for the pineapple flavour to shine.
This version is based on Thompson’s recipe but I didn’t have all the ingredients to hand, so I’ve switched a couple of things around. For instance, I replaced green mango with carrot – Thompson also suggests apple or cucumber.
Kanom jin sao nahm
- 1/2 cup white sugar (I know, this seems alarming but have faith)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 3 bird’s eye chilies, pounded
- squeeze of lime juice
- 1/2 cup coconut cream
- pinch salt
- 250 g kanom jin noodles
- 1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
- 1/2 cup shredded ginger
- 1/2 cup shredded carrot
- 1 tbsp thinly sliced garlic
- 1/4 cup ground dried prawns
- some more small chilies to taste
- dash of fish sauce
Begin with the dressing: simmer the sugar with 1/2 cup of water, salt, fish sauce and chilies until slightly reduced. Take off the heat and add lime juice – I put in half a lime. The sauce is sweet (no shit, 1/2 cup of sugar) but also salty and nicely tart. It’s also already crazily delicious. I wanted to drink it.
Thompson instructs that you simmer the coconut cream but I didn’t bother as it was already pretty thick. I just stirred in a pinch of salt and put it aside for later. Grind the dried shrimp in a mini-prep until fluffy. Thinly slice the garlic, chilies, ginger and carrot. Chop the pineapple into small chunks. Boil the noodles until ready and cool to room temperature. Now you’re ready to serve.
Start with a pile of noodles in a bowl. Thompson recommends wrapping them like yarn around the fingers into skeins, which does produce a pretty effect. Add a handful of pineapple, ginger and carrots to each bowl. Add garlic and sliced chilies. Spoon on some dressing. Sprinkle generously with dried shrimp. Drizzle fish sauce over the top and lastly, spoon on some coconut cream.
I can’t tell you how delicious this dish was. Thanks again, K&L, your present rocks!
Serves 2. Mildly adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Street Food.