Friday, March 23, 2018

Cambodian Legend: Dhmen Jay And [Not Exactly] The World's First Noodles

Source: Khmer Forums

If you know me, you know that I will shine my little light into the deepest recesses of the World Wide Web looking for useful insights into noodles. .  You won't be surprised, therefor, that I found an interesting and informative piece on Cambodian noodles on, which bills itself as "the leading place for civil discussion of the center-right and beyond."

The very civil post I found by member "LC", simply headlined as "The World's First Noodles," recounts in detail the life of a legendary Cambodian "trickster" (hmm...), Dhmen Jay, a young man who lived at the start of the Common Era in Nokor Phnom, the first unified Khmer kingdom (AD 100-500).  To make a long story short, he was exiled to China, got himself in and out of trouble and eventually left China wealthy for having introduced noodles to China.

Any claim for Mr. Dhmen to have invented noodles 2000 years ago, of course bumps up against science, since archaeologists have found a 4,000 year old bowl of noodles in Qinghai Province, China. It's possible, I suppose, he may have come up with the World's First Rice Noodles, or the World's First Fermented Rice Noodles to be specific,  though to demo the making of such noodles he woiuld have to have traveled with more equipment than a rock band, judging from the must-see video in the middle of this post.

After dispensing with the legend of Dhmen Jay, poster LC provided some truly useful info about Khmer noodles:

"The world’s first noodles or not, Khmers love num banh chok, which is the name of our noodles, and also the names of the dishes made with these noodles. Num banh chok is fermented rice noodles. First, the rice is soaked in water to soften the grains. The rice is then grounded into a liquefied batter with a stone mill. Afterward, the batter is placed in a cloth bag and a heavy stone is placed on top to squeeze out water, while the dough begins to ferment in the process. The drying dough is then boiled until it becomes soft, before being transformed into a smooth dough. The transformation process includes a lot of pounding and another boiling. After the second boiling, the dough becomes very hard. Next, it is pounded in a large stone mortar with a wooden pestle. After the pounding, the dough transforms from a hard ball to a smooth, elastic dough. It requires additional kneading by hand for some time. The dough turns snow-white; it looks almost like whipped cream cheese, and finally the dough is ready to be turned into noodles. The dough is spooned into a metal mold with a perforated bottom. Once the mold is filled, it is pressed down through the perforated bottom directly into boiling water. The cooked noodles are then rinsed in water until they’re completely cooled down. With the water squeezed out, the noodles are looped and coiled and they are arranged in a lotus or banana leaf-lined basket in concentric circles; the noodles are ready for the market or the table." 

"There are four num banh chok dishes: num banh chok samlor Khmer, num banh chok samlor krahamnum banh chok samlor kari, and num banh chok Kampot. Num banh chok samlor Khmer is noodles with green fish gravy, num banh chok samlor kraham is noodles with red fish gravy, num banh chok samlor kari is noodles with red chicken and sweet potato curry and num banh chok Kampot is noodles with crushed dried shrimp tossed with pineapple fish-sauce dressing and topped with roasted peanuts and coconut cream.
"Num banh chok samlor Khmer and num banh chok samlor kraham are served with a huge variety of raw vegetables such as banana blossom, cucumber, long beans, bean sprouts, papaya, young mango leaves, water lily stems, water hyacinth flowers, sesbania javanica flowers, some edible border plants, and countless herbs. The other two dishes require fewer adornments. Of course, these adornments also change with the season. Aside from these four dishes, num banh chok is served as an accompaniment to many other dishes as well.
"Num banh chok samlor Khmer, also known by its other name, num banh chok samlor praher, is so ubiquitous and so loved that we simply refer to it as num banh chok Khmer. In Khmer cuisine, num banh chok Khmer is in a category of its own. We simply eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a 2 a.m. snack."
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If you live in the Bay Area, you are fortunate to  be able to sample Khmer noodles and other classic Cambodian fare in a nostalgic environment (featuring 60's Khnmer rock and roll!) at Nite Yun's Nyum Bai in Fruitvale.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Half Nudel Frontity From Kim Kardashian

I don't know much about Kim Kardashian, other than she's apparently one of those people who are famous for being famous because she was on a reality TV show, much like our current President. Since I don't watch much on TV other than news, baseball and Seinfeld re-runs, she only enters my consciousness by occasionally showing up in my noodle content searches. She apparently likes noodles, particularly ramen, and recently emphasized the fact by posting an Instagram of herself eating noodes topless.  Ms. Kardashian's breasts, or at least her nipples, were obscured by her chopsticks hand and her bowl-holding hand respecively, so it mat be a reach to call it a half nudal frontity pose, but Full Noodle Frontity applauds every effort to bring more exposure to the enjoyment of slurping down noodles. We're not about to knock her efforts, you might say.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Two Roads To Laghman, Part I: Eden Silk Road

Laghman at Kashkar Cafe, Brooklyn
I've been fascinated, if not always totally enthralled, with the traditional Uyghur noodle specialty known as laghman since first sampling it at Kashkar Cafe on Brooklyn's Brighton Beach Avenue nine years ago. It's a Central Asian noodle dish, popular with China's Xinjiang Uyghurs as well as the populations of neighboring "-stans"* generally.  While laghman invariably starts with bouncy, muscular house-made noodles and colorful. toppings, the flavor profile it brings to the palate can sometimes be underwhelming.  Here's a clue from the excellent blog The Silk Road Chef
[Laghman]...  is noodles topped with a sauce of meat and vegetables. Basically anything is game – lamb, beef, chicken, green beans, bell pepper, bok choy, squash – whatever fresh vegetables are on hand. However, there are a few common points: onion, garlic, tomato sauce, and bell pepper are almost always present [emphasis mine].
Sound familiar? From too-timid hands, laghman can come to you tasting like under-seasoned spaghetti from too far up the Silk Road.

As happened with my side-by-side comparison of two relatively new self-serve udon shoips, my erratic scheduling afforded me the opportunity to do the same with two very different venues offering laghman, Eden Silk Road and Silk Road Express, this time with separate posts.

Laghman at Eden Silk Road

Eden Silk Road on O'Farrell St. in San Francisco's Tenderloin District (a.k.a. "Lower Nob Hill")  is one of three similarly named Bay Area outposts of  Xinjiang Herembag Trade Co., a Xinjiang-based empire of halal food venues. Eden Silk Road is a sparely but nicely appointed room that considerable thought and investment has gone into, and its managably-sized and well-focused menu offers many near eastern and Uyghur specialties that I will be eager to try. But first the noodles.

Eden Silk Road was nearly empty when I entered just after its opening for dinner service, understandably, since it was on the eve of Chinese New Year Eve. The restaurant closes for two hours after lunch service to prepare for dinner service, and prepared they were to hit the ground running, unlike some restaurants where my 5:00 entrance awakened a snoozing chef or two. 

I ordered laghman with lamb (beef is the default but lamb is available for the same price) and a side order of samsas (two to the order). Being a halal restaurant the serve no alcohol, so I ordered tea. (I suppose I could have brought my own flask of vodkas, like the good ol' boys at halal Kashkar Cafe in New York.) My samsa arrived promptly, followed by my main dish after a suitable interval. Thanks to the alacrity of service, both dishes arrived piping hot.

If I were to describe my laghman at Eden Silk Road, it would be healthy. The saucing was devoid of oiliness (the same could not be said of the samsa), and even the sparse lamb chunks were lean, yet tender. The veggie matter was cooked to the right degree of crispness, and the hand-made noodles (so claimed by the menu) bouncy and bitey. Alas, the "secret" Laghman topping was a bit bland to my taste (and there was nary a chili pot on the table to sex it up with). The visible ingredients were primarily the obligatory tomato, onions, bell pepper and garlic (eith too little of the last). Only the presence of some chewy "wood ear" mushrooms  gave a "made in China" stamp to the dish; the overall personality of the dish was sedately Mediterranean, with a very faintly spicy tinge.  I don't know if they accommodate adjustment requests, but if I ordered it again I would ask for more spice heat, which would, in my mind, make it a very solid dish. As for the samsa, they were tastefully filled with a lamb and spinach-like filling, but distressingly oily. Next time I'll try the manti.

Where slurped: Eden Silk Road Cuisine, 572 O'Farrell St. San Francisco

*According to Wikipedia it is especially popular in Kyrghistan and Kazakhstan, and also popular in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, northeastern Afghanistan and in regions of northern Pakistan,