This fermented rice noodle dish is served with a slow-cooked, chili-less broth made from pounded fish meat and aromatics cooked in coconut cream. Creamy in color and velvety in texture, the broth is seasoned either with fish sauce, fermented fish or salted fish according to one’s preferences. The broth is allowed to slow-cook, achieving its full richness over a couple of hours. Once ready, the broth is poured over the noodles, which are then topped with a glossy-orangey layer of minced shrimp meat fried with their tomalley in pork lard. Complementing this richness are crunchy yellowish bean sprouts blanched in turmeric-tinted water, a sprinkle of sweet, golden crispy-fried shallots and, finally, green lemon basil leaves that endow the dish with a unique, rustic herbal persona.
This upcountry fragrance is possibly what led Lady Plean Passakornrawong (ท่านผู้หญิงเปลี่ยน ภาสกรวงศ์) to call the dish Northern Style Naam Ya (น้ำยาเหนือ). However, it seems that she also drew inspiration from a verse in King Rama II’s Boat Poem, in which he describes a dish referred to as “bitter curry”. The poem, a lyrical masterpiece, reveals the King’s love for the various dishes cooked for him by Princess Bunrot (เจ้าฟ้าบุญรอด). Amid these graceful lines, the poem hints at a captivating love story while offering a glimpse into Royal culinary habits during the Early Rattanakosin era.
In his poem, the young Prince writes:
“Love’s posture stands unyielding – forged as bitter naam yaa soup,
Its flavors twirl, entwined, and whole – admiration open yet hidden, perceived but veiled.”
ความรักยักเปลี่ยนท่า – ทำน้ำยาอย่างแกงขม
กล่อมรศกล่อมเกลี้ยงกลม – ชมไม่วายคลับคล้ายเห็น
(khwaam rak yak bpliian thaa – tham naam yaa yaang gaaeng khohm
glaawm roht glaawm gliiang glohm – chohm mai waai khlap khlaai hen)
The verse likens love to a bitter naam ya broth, signifying the intense yet stinging emotions associated with love. The use of food is a nod to the Prince’s affectionate reminiscences of the meals prepared by his lover, Princess Bunrot. The second line conveys how the couple’s love, despite its sharpness, is rounded, like a bitter medicinal curry featuring a complex blend of flavors. The dish serves as a metaphor for the varying emotions between the Prince and Princess – from the sweetness of their memories to the bitterness of their separation and the heat of their passion. Like the fermented rice noodles beneath the broth, it winds around the prince’s heart, signifying the tangle of emotions and a loss of thought in longing for his love.
To prepare the dish, Lady Plean Passakornrawong grates coconut and squeezes coconut cream, then she cleans the fish and removes the scales. She fills a pot with light coconut milk and cooks the fish and the aromatics – lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallots and fingerroot – together until tender. Then she removes the fish and the aromatics from the pot and collects the fish meat, discarding the skin and bones. She pounds the fish meat together with the cooked aromatics into a smooth paste. During the pounding process, Lady Plean repetitively strains and collects the liquids and continues pounding until she gets a smooth and fluffy paste. She then dissolves the pounded fish paste, including the liquids she pressed out during the pounding process, with coconut cream. She noted that seasoning should be to one’s liking, be it fish sauce, fermented fish (pla ra) (ปลาร้า) or the head of the salted Indian salmon (ปลากุเลา); after all, when it comes to fermented fish products, one must have clear personal preferences. Once seasoned, she allows the broth to slow-cook until the mixture turns creamy in color and velvety in texture, a process that can take two to three hours.
Once ready, Lady Plean serves it over fermented rice noodles, accompanied by side dishes that include minced shrimp meat fried with their tomalley in pork lard, bean sprouts blanched in turmeric-tinted water, crispy-fried shallots, and lemon basil leaves.
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To cook the fish
- 600 g snakehead fish (ปลาช่อน)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lemongrass (ตะไคร้) 2 salungs
- 1 tablespoon galangal (ข่า) 1 salung
- 2 tablespoons Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย) 3 baht
- 4 tablespoons shallots (หอมแดง) 5 baht
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fingerroot (krachai) (กระชาย) 1 baht 2 salungs
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล) 3 salungs
- 1 tablespoon fermented shrimp paste (kapi)(กะปิย่างไฟ) 1 baht 1 feuang
- 1 1/2 liters coconut milk (หางกะทิ)
Add to the broth before seasoning:
- 1 cup coconut cream (หัวกะทิ)
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว) optional
For the shrimp topping:
- 1 cup shrimp (กุ้ง) minced
- 1/3 cup shrimp tomalley (มันกุ้ง)
- 1 tablespoon pork lard (น้ำมันหมู)
- bean sprouts (ถั่วงอก) blanched in turmeric-tinted water
- lemon basil (ใบแมงลัก)
- crispy fried shallots (หอมแดงเจียว)
Prepare the main ingredients:
- Grate the coconut to squeeze coconut cream. Clean the fish thoroughly, removing all scales.
Create the base:
- In a pot, combine light coconut milk with the fish and the aromatics (lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallots, fingerroot). Cook these ingredients together until tender.
Prepare the fish paste:
- Once cooked, remove the fish and aromatics from the pot. Separate the fish meat, discarding the skin and bones.
- Pound the fish meat and cooked aromatics together to form a smooth paste
Extract the liquids:
- During the pounding process, strain and collect the liquids repeatedly. Continue this process until you achieve a smooth and fluffy paste.
Mix in the coconut cream:
- Dissolve the pounded fish paste into the cooking liquids. Be sure to include the liquids extracted during the pounding process.
- Add the coconut cream
Season to preference:
- Add your choice of seasoning to the mixture. You can opt for fish sauce, fermented fish or salted fish.
- Palm sugar is optional.
Slow-cook the broth:
- Allow the seasoned broth to slow-cook. The mixture should become creamy in color and velvety in texture. This process can take about two to three hours.
Prepare the toppings:
- While the broth is cooking, prepare your toppings.
- Blanch the bean sprouts (with heads and tails removed) in turmeric-tinted water for a yellowish hue.
- Mince the shrimp meat with tomalley; fry in pork lard.
- Deep fry the shallots until crispy.