This just might be the most beloved dish in Mae Hong Son. Indeed, it’s a variation on khanom jiin naam ngiaw, the pork-and-tomato-based noodle soup that is one of the most beloved and ubiquitous dishes in northern Thailand. But where the standard northern Thai version boasts a broth that tends toward the meaty and hearty, the Mae Hong Son variant is thin and tart, its bulk stemming from a generous knot of thin rice noodles or ingredients like the crunchy pith of the banana tree.
In Mae Hong Son, locals prefer to call the dish khao sen, literally “rice threads,” a reference to the dish’s thin, round noodles, made via a labor-intensive and time-consuming process of soaking, pounding, boiling, and extracting a rice-based dough. Consumed as a light meal or a snack, khao sen is sold both from stalls in the city’s market in the morning and home-based restaurants in the afternoon, typically alongside khaang pawng, deep-fried herbal fritters delicious with—or in—the soup. Note that fresh khanom jiin noodles are generally not available outside of Southeast Asia. If cooking in the United States, Andy Ricker of Pok Pok suggests using fine-gauge dried bún (Vietnamese rice noodles), following the cooking instructions on the package.
- Heat the oil in a medium stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and garlic and fry until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp paste, stirring until it has disintegrated and become fragrant, another 2 minutes. Add the canned mackerel (including the tomato sauce), stirring until disintegrated, fragrant, and a thin layer of oil emerges, another 5 minutes.
- Increase the heat slightly and add the tomatoes. Fry, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes have mostly disintegrated, the mixture has reduced slightly, and the oil reemerges, about 20 minutes.
- Add the pork and fry, stirring frequently, until the oil reemerges, another 10 minutes. Add the pork bones and 2 quarts of water, and increase the heat to high. When the mixture reaches a simmer, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the bouillon powder and salt, and simmer another 10 to 15 minutes.
- Taste, adjusting the seasoning if necessary; the broth should be relatively thin and should taste tart, savory, and salty (in that order).
- To each shallow serving bowl, add 3½ ounces of khanom jiin noodles and top with 1 cup of the broth (remove stock bones if they are too big to serve). Garnish with crispy garlic and garlic oil, cilantro, and green onion, and serve with with shredded cabbage, lime wedges, and small bowls of salt and chile powder.
Reprinted with permission from The Food of Northern Thailand by Austin Bush, copyright © 2018. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.