Noodling around khanom jiin


Making khanom jiin used to be a norm during festive periods in Mr. P’s home village when he was young. The process of making these thin, capellini-like strands was rather labourious (as illustrated by this post and the other), hence it was not an activity that the villagers engaged in on a regular basis but reserved for bigger occasions.

Like any other kid, the khanom jiin preparations would thrill Mr. P to no end; he liked to tag along female relatives who would join other ladies to make the noodles. Uncooked rice is first soaked in water to ferment for over three days, and the soggy batter that results will be vigorously pounded in big wooden krok (mortar). The dough is then pushed through a tin can with holes, which will be moved in a circular motion to collect the strands in a pot of simmering water; once the strands float to the water surface, they will be scooped up and shocked in cold baths. Sometimes, during the process, the adults would pinch a bit of the dough and grill it for kids to savour as a slightly sourish snack first, Mr. P recalls.


Not every household possessed a huge wooden krok though, and any family with one would be guaranteed reservations from neighbours prior to the festivals. Several families would often come together to pool resources to make khanom jiin, awaiting their turns to use the rice flour pounder. Owners who rented out their krok would get a batch of fresh noodles in return.

But alas, as “modernisation” marches across Thailand—and any other village on earth—such food-making practices are increasingly rarer as machines and vehicles make inroads into villages and younger folks head to urban areas for work, according to Mr. P. Along the way, the art of making khanom jiin also fell into disfavour as mass-produced or commercially made versions become readily available.

A staple in many Thai dishes—from being a carb alternative to sticky rice to tam sua (rice noodle papaya salad)—these fermented rice noodles shine brightest in khanom jiin naam ya, which pairs these soft strands with various Thai curries. At such stalls, vendors will place the accompaniments—typically hard-boiled eggs, shredded cabbage, raw beansprouts, pickled mustard, lemon basil and long beans—on a communal table. Once your order arrives, add the desired sides (tongs are usually provided) on top of your bed of noodles, mix them up and tuck into the noodles. (Note: the greens are usually free, but eggs will be charged separately.)

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Whenever we head to the fresh market at Ramkhamhaeng 2, a suburban neighbourhood Mr. P used to stay in when he first moved to Bangkok, we will hit the khanom jiin store at the adjacent open-air food market too. This stall serves various naamyaa, from kati (coconut milk) and kaeng khiaow waan (green curry)—popular versions in central Thailand—to naam ngiaow—favoured among the northerners. Of late, I’m starting to develop a fondness for khanom jiin kaeng tai plaa, the southern version (below) served in a pungent and robust curry made from fermented fish entails.


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But when it comes to home cooking, I would opt for green curry to pair with khanom jiin since the former can be easily whipped up with ready-made paste. (After trying a few brands, my favorite is Roi Thai.) Prepare the green curry as per package instructions, but make sure to have vital vegetables such as galangal, lemongrass, eggplant, pea aubergines, kaffir lime leaves and bird’s eye chillies to yield a more authentic taste.



However, the dish name khanom jiin is kind of a misnomer in Thai. Khanom usually means snack or dessert and jiin means Chinese, but khanom jiin is neither a dessert nor Chinese in origin. In fact, khanom jiin is believed to originate from the Mon people—an ethnic group from Myanmar—with its name meaning twice-boiled in the Mon language.

Food cubes: from the neighbourhood

20130622-152123.jpgI’m definitely not the most disciplined person around when it comes to blogging—and dieting—but in order to make my food scribblings more consistent on this space, I decided to feature on-the-go photos taken with my iPhone and add them to this space. I’ve amassed a lot of photos in the tiny device, so I hope to pen down some of the culinary inspiration that strikes me whenever I’m out and about in a new section called “Food Cubes”.

Kai yang Wichian Buri | Kai yang (grilled chicken) is a Thai staple, but the district of Wichian Buri in Petchabun province has rose to fame by being associated with the grilled birds, so much so that many kai yang stalls will declare their style as Wichian Buri. Just a stone’s throw from our apartment in Bangkok lies one of the most superb kai yang vendors we have tried. The grill fashioned from an used oil tin and corrugated zinc may not make the most appealing setting, but the smoked birds that come out from this stall are just yummy.

Coconut ice-cream | Coconut desserts are aplenty in Thailand, but coconut ice-cream remains my favourite. I was walking the talaat nat (makeshift market) in the neighbourhood one evening when I had a sudden craving for coconut ice-cream, so I bought one and enjoyed 10 minutes of heaven as I browsed the stalls.

Khanaeng | I first tasted khanaeng, or cabbage sprouts, at our favourite neighbhourhood restaurant, and since then I’ve found these vegetables the size of a child’s fist at the local fresh market and learned to replicate the same dish at home. How not to love these Brussels-sprout lookalikes, especially after they are stir-fried with minced pork, chillies and a liberal dose of Shaoxing wine?

Eggs | Interestingly, eggs are one of the most sensitive markers of rising expenses in Thailand. In the six months since I moved back to Bangkok, the prices of eggs at the local market have been constantly inching up. The smallest and biggest eggs at the market used to cost 38 baht and 41 baht respectively just earlier this year, now the prices are hovering between 41 baht and 44 baht. Inflation—it’s happening everywhere.

Thai pineapple and mussel curry (แกงคั่วสับปะรดหอยแมลงภู่)

“The only time pineapples are acceptable in Thai food is in pineapple mussel curry (แกงคั่วสับปะรดหอยแมลงภู่; kaeng sapparot hoi malaeng phuu) or sweet and sour dish (ผัดเปรี้ยวหวาน; phat priaow waan),” said Mr. P insisted, who is adamant that fried rice and pineapples are a mismatch. “Pineapple fried rice are only seen on menus in MBK and places with lots of tourists. Have you seen your Thai gal friends ordering this dish before?”

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Farewell My Paak Paet Thort

Like any love affair, the early days of my Thailand obsession—which is into its ninth year—saw me taking to well-known Thai dishes; but as the relationship goes on but with a bit less sizzle, I started seeking out lesser-known comfort dishes, such as paak paet thort (fried duck beak), a low-key Isaan dish that not many people knew about. My food-loving Thai colleague, Sai, introduced it to me one day while we were having lunch at a street-side Isaan stall beside a petrol station. I never knew that duck beaks could be eaten, but Sai assured me that it was yummy. After sampling this chewy delicacy, I was intrigued—and hooked.

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Spotted: Lime Flowers

I love seeing a hawker’s dedication to his trade. It doesn’t matter if he’s just peddling lime juice along the streets of Yaowarat, but he makes the best out of the tools available—and his creativity—to come up with simple yet ingenious ways to display his citrusy drinks. At this humble roadside store, the limelight (pun intended) was shone on its sole product: limes. A row of limes, with their skins peeled into segments, folded and tucked inwards, were perched atop wooden sticks, resembling lotus flowers emerging from a sea of ice. There were no shortage of lime juice sellers—and presentations—in the vicinity, but none could beat the work of art showed by this particular vendor. Thumbs up to Thai creativity!

Lot Chong Singapore: Singaporean or Thai?

One of the thrills of living in another country is discovering something from your homeland that you have absolutely no inkling of. When I first came into contact with lot chong Singapore* (ลอดช่องสิงคโปร์), a Thai iced dessert of green noodle-like strands doused in coconut milk, I remember feeling a slight embarrassment of not knowing my native cuisine well enough. But I’d quickly assumed that this pseudo-Singapore dessert was a Thai variant of the famed cendol that we all know so well in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. After all, this being Southeast Asia, there are lots of dishes, which are, in regional speak, ‘same, same but different’.

* This dessert also goes by various names, including lot chong naam kathi and lot chong thai, which are very similar desserts made of different ingredients. However, the impression I get is that most Thais use the different names interchangeably—and rather loosely.

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