Friday, February 20, 2015

Meet Full Noodle Frontity's New Pen Pal, Goong's Noodle Shop In Northeastern Thailand

The noodle shop's festive front
As a child I was always interested in what everyday life was like in other parts of the world, perhaps influenced by the Olive Beaupre Miller and Rudyard Kipling story books we had around. I wanted to have my own personal contacts scattered around the globe, and in those days of expensive and relatively primitive  communication options, the mails and pen pals were the way to go. By the time I reached puberty I had pen pals in Japan, England and Finland. (I don't recall how the choices were made, but all three were girls.)

Why would my blog want a "pen pal"? It's all about continuity.  So far, Full Noodle Frontity has been about discovery, always looking for a new country's noodles to try, new noodle dishes to try, or simply new restaurants to try favorite noodle dishes. It has occurred to me that I can also push my noodle knowledge forward by observing a single establishment over time, even one offering only a single iconic noodle dish. Observing its ins and outs and its ups and downs would certainly enhance my knowledge of noodle culture. That's where this simple noodle shop in Thailand, hopefully, comes in. It's in a favorite noodle country of mine, it serves a favorite noodle dish of mine, it has a friendly proprietress, and, thanks to the Internet, I have an almost on-demand line of communication to it.

Jenny's Boat Noodles

It began as a random on-line meeting:.a casual glance across the room that is the Internet, a nod, a smile, and in no time at all, Jenny in Thailand and I in San Francisco were conversing intimately.about.... noodles.

I had broken the ice by telling Jenny how much I liked Thai food, especially noodles.  I boasted about my noodle blog, and sent her a link.  Finally I got around to asking her what she did.

"I'm a merchant, I have a small shop selling noodles and coffee," she wrote.

"What kind of noodles? Pad Thai?" "Wait a sec," she wrote, and sent me a picture. I stared at it.

"Boat noodles!" I exclaimed. "Yes," she wrote.

It was foodie love at first Skype!

Where's Jenny?
Jenny lives in a very remote part of Northeastern Thailand, in Khowang District, Yasothon Province, close to the borders of both Laos and Cambodia. The noodle shop Jenny built two years ago is a simple shop, attached to her house, with a very small menu. It doesn't even have a name; locals call it "Goong's Noodle Shop" after a nickname for her Thai name. Nonetheless, Jenny is very social media savvy and has a good internet connection, When I asked another question about her shop it was "Wait a sec" again and she put through a video call and scanned her fiefdom with her phone's camera, giving me a panoramic view for my own eyes. Such is the age we live in!

The noodle shop's serene interior
Behind the festive, if hectic, shop front in the picture at this top of this page lies a surprisingly serene, clean and orderly space for you to enjoy and contemplate the elaborate bowl of boat noodles you have come for. Jenny's establishment, or Goong's Noodle Shop, if you will, features a dish beloved all over Thailand, Boat Noodles, which I described briefly in an earlier blog post.  You can learn a lot more about the history and lore of this dish in a Migrationology video by Mark Wiens.  

Jenny's soup comes with a broth that is enriched with with pork blood in typical Boat Noodle style; .I know of quite a few Asian soups that use cubes of congealed pig's blood as a garnish, but not many that I am aware of use it as a key ingredient in the broth base. This may seem off-putting to a Westerner, but it makes for a smooth, rich soup and you wouldn't even know it was due to animal blood if no one had told you.

There are only the two traditional Boat Noodle protein choices here, beef or pork, though you'll find pork meatballs in either, along with complex seasoning and garnishment, When it come to noodle styles for your soup, there is a wider range of choices. You can have thin or wide (flat) rice noodles, Chinese-style egg noodles (which Jenny seems to prefer), bean thread noodles or instant noodles. There's coffee to be had, but more importantly (to me at least) beer. The house beer is Leo, which is Singha Beer's little brother. Judging from the video call snippet Jenny treated me to, there will also be some spirit-lifting Thai pop music.

When I asked Jenny how a traveler would find her shop she at first demurred, saying her small village was not on the tourist trail, but I convinced her there would always be crazies like Andy Ricker and me who would look for the smallest village noodle shop they had heard of.  We agreed that one should just find the Khowang District in Yasothon Province, Thailand, and ask someone to point them toward Goong's Noodle Shop.

Now that I've "adopted" this modest Thai noodle shop as my blog's cyber-penpal, I plan to be checking on it often. Look for Full Noodle Frontity to report back from time to time with as many pictures, stories, and videos I can coax out of Jenny (and who knows, maybe even a recipe or two).  If you find yourself in her neighborhood, seek her noodle shop out, and show her how crazy for Thai Boat Noodles a foodie can be.

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