Sukhothai – On Noodle and History
Sukhothai – On Noodle and History
For historians, or those self-proclaimed historical buffs, Sukhothai means a magnificent place to study the old pasts. But for food lovers, the name can mean another thing. Sukhothai as a province, as many of you might have already known, is Siam’s founding capital city with a traceable record harking back about a century ago. Located about 450 kilometres north of Bangkok, or about five-hour drive, Sukhothai boasts the country’s best preserved historical park, the one big highlight for anyone interested in trailing back the time into the unknown, through mazes of ruins and remnants of the time passed.
But then, Sukhothai also appears as in Sukhothai Noodle – a flavoursome, hearty bowl of pork noodle that had somehow been populated throughout the country. Pork noodle, Sukhothai style, contains a number of unique and delicious twists. Instead of using the simply boiled-up pork slices and minced like any other ordinary pork noodles, Sukhothai Noodle calls for BBQ pork, the red-rimmed kind, with its sweet, aromatic tastes enhancing the bowl. Also, there are long green beans, transversely trimmed and blanched for a good crunch, spoonful heaps of freshly toasted peanut, crushed, toasted red chilli, fresh lime and all. A good bowl of Sukhothai noodle should deliver a balanced taste of everything, including a subtle sweetness from palm sugar.
Sukhothai noodle is so famous that we can find a good bowl of this specialty in many parts of Bangkok. And also perhaps in many parts around Thailand. But to keep with the theme of originality, we made a long drive one day to Sukhothai province to find out what the real thing is all about.
Turned out that in the city of Sukhothai, there are actually a good number of Sukhothai Noodle shops. This is an evidence a food writer would love. Simple and solid straight line of the food’s name derived from its native origin. But delving deeper, and we saw some minor details of Sukhothai eating that perhaps lends the style into their signature bowl.
A lot of details are put together with an intention to create different textures and tastes. BBQ pork aside, there are also slivers of minced pork, crispy pork rinds for both taste and aroma, pork cracklings, and a handful of crispy fried wonton skins. The noodle, typically, must be the soft and chewy kind of narrow rice noodle (sen lek), just a small amount, blanched to cook and tender. The flavouring, though, comes from a lot of toasty stuff – peanuts, red chillies, all crushed to create aroma and tastes. White sugar is also added and a ready bowl is served with a wedge of lime.
With all the aforementioned seasonings, many eaters might find Sukhothai Noodle ready to eat. No need for additional condiments. For me, though, I might tell the cook to go easy on the sugar.
Venturing further about 80 kilometres north of Sukhothai town is Baan Na Ton Jan community in Si Satchanalai District of Sukhothai, another magnificent historical gem of Thailand. Tucked deep in the rice fields, through curves and bends and some mysterious turns, is a full-fledged noodle shop that serves yet another version of Sukhothai style pork noodle. Instead of cooking their fare typically style on the heating stoves and in a pot, this place use steamer and only steamer to cook everything they serve.
Their steamer is a pot of boiling water; its narrow rim is covered with a stretched piece of tea cloth. Fresh noodle and vegetables, instead of being blanched in a boiling water like other places, are steamed on this cloth and covered. Fresh eggs are cracked on this very surface and then covered to cook. The result is a mellow texture of the egg, its rim round-edged and tender. The yolk still nicely oozy. Delicious.
In terms of flavouring and combination, though, this version of Sukhothai Noodle still stick to the original. But as rustic as it is being in the middle of rice field, they serve the noodle, the dry version, on a delicate piece of banana leaf. The BBQ pork sliced thickly into a palm size. Hearty, looking great and delicate. Very subtle in taste and delicious.
For those wishing to visit Sukhothai, bear in mind that this province is a quiet one. A sleepy town, as many might recall. Most activities usually take place during the day. The first break of day sees throngs of tourists wishing to cover miles in Sukhothai Historical Park beating the morning hours to walk, or bike, or run. They are wise, because the midday’s sun can be, as always, brutal. Expect to spend at least two days in Sukhothai’s Muang municipality if you want to cover all the foods and historical parks, and then venture off to other bucket lists scattering throughout the nearby area.