At Mama Fah Thani, Pa Riang goes all in on instant noodles. Known as MAMA, after a brand that has come to refer to a product, instant noodles are an option at most shops selling noodle soup, and one of no less esteem than fresh wheat or rice noodles. At her restaurant, they’re all that’s on offer.
My recipe is an homage to her signature noodle soup. I took some guesses and I made some adjustments, like trading the dried squid (high-quality stuff is tough to find) for shrimp and poaching, rather than hammering, the eggs. But I try to stay true to its spirit. I don’t, for instance, ditch the envelopes of powdered flavoring. I add them to the broth just like she does. I certainly don’t upgrade to fresh rice noodles. MAMA might be a cheap, industrial product, but it’s welcome in my bowl anytime.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the tamarind pulp and the water and bring to a boil over high heat, breaking up the tamarind as it softens. Immediately turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the mixture sit until the tamarind is very soft, about 30 minutes. There’s no need to skim off any foam. Set a medium-mesh strainer over a heatproof container.
- Use a whisk or wooden spoon to mash and stir the tamarind mixture, breaking up any large clumps. Pour the contents of the pan into the strainer, stirring, pressing, and smashing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. There may be pulp clinging to the outside of the strainer; add that to the container, too. Discard the remaining solids. The tamarind water will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week and in the freezer for up to 3 months. Stir well before each use.
- Put the chiles in a large, dry skillet or flat-bottomed wok, turn the heat to high to get the pan hot, and then turn the heat to low. Toast the chiles, stirring almost constantly and flipping them occasionally so all sides make contact with the hot pan, until they’re very brittle and very dark brown all over, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the chiles from the pan as they are ready. Discard any seeds that escape from the chiles, as they will have burned and taste bitter.
- Let the chiles cool, then, working in batches if necessary, grind them in a burr grinder or pound in a mortar, to a coarse powder that is about halfway between cayenne powder and store-bought red pepper flakes. Immediately transfer to an airtight container. The powder will keep in a cool, dry place for several weeks.
- Put the bones in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover them by 1 inch or so. Cover the pot and bring the water to a simmer over high heat, then turn off the heat. Skim any scum from the surface, then drain the bones and rinse them well under cold running water. All this is to get any blood off the bones, which will give you a cleaner-tasting, clearer stock.
- Clean the pot, return the bones to the pot, and add enough of the 5 quarts water to cover by an inch or so. Bring the water to a bare simmer over high heat, lower the heat to maintain a bare simmer, and cook, skimming off any surface scum occasionally, until all of the flavor has been cooked out of the meat on the bones, about 2 ½ hours.
- Working with one ingredient at a time, use a pestle or heavy pan to lightly whack the garlic, ginger, cilantro roots, and lemongrass to bruise them. Very roughly slice the ginger and lemongrass. After the bones have simmered for 2 ½ hours, add the bruised aromatics to the pot along with the daikon, green onions, Chinese celery, and peppercorns. Simmer gently for 30 minutes more. Strain the stock into a large bowl or pot (don’t press the solids) and discard the solids. Use the stock now, or let it cool and then store in airtight containers in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- Bring a large pot of water to a very gentle simmer and adjust the heat to maintain the simmer.
- Meanwhile, in a mortar, pound the garlic to a fairly smooth paste, 2 to 3 minutes. Working in batches, if necessary, add the pork, cilantro, fish sauce, and pepper and pound until the mixture is well combined and slightly sticky (remember, you’re not being gentle with the mixture as you would with Italian meatballs), about 1 minute.
- In three or four batches, and working one by one, make about 1-inch balls—grab about 14 g / 2 tsp of the mixture and quickly form a rough ball—and carefully drop them into the simmering water as you form them. Cook until they float and are just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. As they’re done, use a slotted spoon or spider to scoop them onto a plate in a single layer. Fully cooled, the balls will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the tamarind pulp and hot water. Let the mixture sit until cool enough to handle, then use your hands to break up the softened tamarind pulp. Pour the mixture through a medium-mesh strainer into a bowl, stirring and pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as you can. Stir in the toasted-chile powder, fish sauce, and sugar until well combined. The sauce will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
- In a wide soup bowl, combine the tamarind water, fish sauce, toasted-chile powder, and sugar. In a small bowl, combine the seasoning powder and seasoning paste from the instant ramen package, stir well, then add 3 g / 1 tsp of the mixture to the wide bowl, reserving the rest for other bowls of soup.
- Fill a large, tall pot with enough water to submerge a long-handled noodle basket and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Meanwhile, pour the pork stock into a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Crack in the egg, lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and poach the egg for 2 to 3 minutes, until cooked to your liking. Use a slotted spoon or spider to transfer the egg to a plate and set it aside. Keep the stock warm.
- Put the block of instant ramen noodles in the noodle basket (breaking the noodles slightly to fit if need be), then add the shrimp, minced-pork balls, and yu choy. Submerge the contents in the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally with chopsticks to separate the noodles, until the shrimp are cooked and the noodles are tender, about 2 minutes. Firmly shake the basket to drain well and dump the contents into the prepared bowl.
- Pour on the hot stock and stir briefly but well. Add the poached egg and sprinkle on the cilantro. Serve with the accompaniments and khruang phrung alongside.
Reprinted with permission from POK POK Noodles, copyright © 2019 by Andy Ricker and JJ Goode. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2019 by Austin Bush