Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Nite Of The Kuy Tio Phnom Penh: Nyum Bai Pops Up At Mission Pie

Ever since enjoying Ha Nam Ninh's vaunted #25 Hu Tieu Nam Vang in both "dry" and soup versions, I've been wanting to try the Cambodian dish that inspired it, Kuy Tio Phnom Penh. Last night I finally had the opportunity, thanks to a pop-restaurant in the heart of the Mission district, Nyum Bai, hosted by Mission Pie. "Nyum Bai at Mission Pie" has a nice ring to it, especially considering I love noodles as much as some people apparently love pie.

Nyum Bai literally means "eat rice" in Cambodian, but figuratively means "let's eat!" much like kin khao in Vietnamese or chi fan in Chinese.  It's the creation of Ms. Nite Yun, whose given name is pronounced as spelled (a gift to punsters like me; here's  hoping she opens a restaurant called "Nite Market). Kuy Tio Phnom Penh is a dish with a history as complex as the broth it features: inspired by Chinese  migrants in Cambodia, it became a breakfast staple there, and was further popularized and embellished in Viet Nam as Hu Tieu Nam Vang. Ms. Yun, as described in this Saveur profile, is on a mission to bring the foods she learned to cook from her mother to us fortunate Californians. She's also on a mission to bring us her father's passion for 1960s Khmer Rock and Roll; unfortunately Mission Pie's sound system (or management) wasn't quite up for it last night.

Nite's traditional interpretation of Kuy Tio, which has many variants, as described in a Wikipedia entry, consists of pho-style rice noodles in an exquisitely savory pork and shellfish broth, topped by slices of fresh pork and ground pork. The noodles were cooked just right, remaining firm to the end, and with no "clumping." The broth is nicely described in the Saveur article: "The pork broth is brightened by kroeung, a pounded paste of lemongrass, Makrut lime leaf and zest, galangal, shallots, garlic and fresh turmeric....[and] garnished with crispy garlic, sprouted mung beans and a splash of her mother’s hot sauces."

The house-made hot sauce actually came in a jar on the side.  As is my habit, I savored the broth as it came from from the chef until I had eaten all the solids, then sexed up the remaining broth with a generous dollop. My soup also came with a side dish of slices of the fried dough stick known in Chinese as youtiao. (TIL in Australia, Cambodian Chinese refer to it as "chopstick cake.)  These I also reserved until there was only broth left; adding the youtiao along with the chili oils made a "second course" of the soup, so to speak.

It was a very satisfying beginning to my traditional Cambodian street food learning experience, and I will be following Nite's pop-up as devoutly as a 60s Cambodian teenager might follow Khmer rock and roll. Next time please play it LOUDER.

Where Slurped: Nyum Bai pop-up at Mission Pie, 2901 Mission St., SF

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