Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

If you’re walking down a street in Thailand and you see a noodle stand, it will likely be a vendor selling pork noodles in a clear broth, known as guaydtiaao nam moo. This is because Thais adore pork noodle soups, which are as ubiquitous as slices of pizza are in New York. Noodle soups are eaten at all times of the day in Thailand, and, like a slice of pizza, are generally understood to be a standalone meal. One wouldn’t typically combine a noodle soup with rice or serve it as part of a multi-dish Thai meal. Once you make this recipe, I’m sure you’ll understand the appeal.

The foundation of this soup is a clear, savory pork stock that serves as a fairly neutral flavor base. Full disclosure: Many cooks throughout Thailand, especially street food vendors, use soup stock cubes or soup packets as a shortcut. But for the sake of experiencing the version of this soup that I think is clearly superior, I’m going to insist that you make the stock before proceeding with this recipe.  

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Guaydtiaao nam moo can include pork in several forms, but this recipe features two of my favorites: marinated sliced pork and pork meatballs. The marinated pork is sliced so thin that it becomes seasoned with fish sauce and white pepper in mere minutes and it cooks in a matter of seconds.

The pork balls aren’t the Italian-wedding soup meatballs that you may be imagining, nor are they the bouncy meatballs commonly found in Thai soups or Chinese hot pot restaurants. These are more rustic and homey; you simply season minced pork with fish sauce, soy sauce, white pepper, and white sugar and pinch pieces of the mixture into boiling water to form irregularly shaped meatballs. I’ve eaten at many noodle shops that serve pork balls this way, and I adore how quick they are to flavor, form, and cook—it’s a very comforting and nostalgic experience.

Success with these meatballs relies on a vigorous mixing method that involves slapping and stirring the meat in a mixing bowl with the seasonings. As the meat is aggressively worked with its seasonings, the salt dissolves meat proteins, and then the proteins bind with each other to form a sticky meat paste. This sticky texture will yield a bouncy and juicy meatball once cooked, as opposed to a crumbly one—very similar to how a good hamburger patty tends to be loose and crumbly thanks to minimal handling and salting, while a sausage is tiger and bouncier thanks to salting and intentional mixing.

Close up of desired texture for sticky pork mixtureSerious Eats / Amanda Suarez

You’ll notice in this recipe that the marinated sliced pork and the seasoned meatballs are cooked in plain boiling water. This may seem strange—won’t the water wash the seasoning off? Well, it will, but just a little, frankly just enough to strip away any excess salt. But the overall flavor of the marinades will remain in the cooked meat. You might be tempted to cook the pork in the pork stock instead, but I’d warn you against it, as it can risk over-seasoning the broth, which already gets a healthy dose of fish sauce for flavoring just before serving.

When you order this noodle soup, you can pick from different varieties and sizes of egg noodles or rice noodles. While I’m calling for Chinese-style egg noodles (wonton noodles) known as bamee in this recipe, you should feel free to use any type of rice noodle you like. Either way, the noodles are cooked and then coated with garlic oil before transferring them to serving bowls and pouring the hot broth on top. I cannot stress how imperative it is to make the garlic oil, which coats the noodles, significantly enhancing their flavor and altering the sensation of eating them thanks to the slick of oil on each noodle.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

As with all Thai noodle soups, guaydtiaao nam moo is not complete without condiments meant to be added to each individual bowl according to the diner’s tastes—this particular noodle soup has a restrained flavor that requires adjustments to taste at the table. The common ones for this soup are Thai dried chile powder, chiles in vinegar, fish sauce, white pepper, and sugar. I provided a base seasoning for each bowl just to get them on the right track, but I recommend that you add additional seasonings to your liking for the full experience.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Marinated Pork and Meatballs: In a mixing bowl, toss sliced pork with 2 teaspoons fish sauce (10ml), 1/8 teaspoon white pepper, and a pinch of salt until evenly coated. Set aside.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In another mixing bowl, combine the minced pork, Golden Mountain Sauce, remaining 1 tablespoon fish sauce (15ml), remaining 1/8 teaspoon white pepper, and sugar. Using clean hands, vigorously stir ground pork, occasionally picking up the mixture and smacking it against the bowl, until meatball mixture is homogeneous and very sticky (it should begin to be difficult to handle), about 3 minutes.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In a medium pot of boiling water, cook the marinated sliced pork, using chopsticks to separate the pieces, until just cooked through, 20 to 30 seconds. Using a wire skimmer, transfer sliced pork to a clean bowl and set aside.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Return the water to a boil. Working quickly and using clean hands, pinch off about 1 tablespoon of the meatball mixture and lightly press together to form a roughly shaped ball slightly smaller than a ping pong ball, then drop into the boiling water. Repeat with remaining meatball mixture until all is in the pot. Cook until meatballs float to the top and are fully cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a wire skimmer, transfer pork balls to bowl with the sliced pork; set aside. Reserve pot of boiling water for assembly steps below.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Chile Vinegar: In a small saucepan, bring vinegar and salt to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and add chiles. Let steep for at least 30 minutes (vinegar will be best after 1 day).

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To Prepare and Assemble the Bowls: In a medium saucepan, bring pork stock to a boil; cover and keep hot. Return the pot of water used to cook the pork to a boil, then add the egg noodles, and cook, stirring with chopsticks to prevent sticking, according to package directions. Using a spider, transfer noodles to a large bowl. Add garlic oil to noodles and toss to coat. Divide noodles among 4 serving bowls.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Return stock to a simmer, then warm bean sprouts until just heated through about 15 seconds. Using a spider, transfer bean sprouts to serving bowls. Add meatballs and sliced pork to stock and simmer until just heated through, about 15 seconds. Using a spider, divide meatballs and sliced pork among the bowls with the noodles.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Add fish sauce to stock, then ladle hot pork broth over the noodle bowls and garnish with scallions, cilantro, Chinese celery, white pepper, and fried garlic. Serve immediately, allowing guests to season their bowls with fish sauce, white pepper, Thai chile flakes, sugar, and chile vinegar to taste.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Notes

You can substitute rice noodles for the egg noodles. The types that are typically served with this dish are thin rice noodles (known as sen mee), medium rice noodles (sen lek), or wide rice noodles (sen yai). 

A Holland chile and Fresno chile will have a similar mild heat level balanced with a sweet finish, while a fresh Cayenne chile will be spicier. A jalapeño chile may also be substituted in this recipe.

If Golden Mountain Seasoning Soy Sauce is unavailable, Maggi seasoning or Thai light soy sauce are the best substitutions.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The chile vinegar can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

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