Saturday, August 08, 2009

Thaksin Beef Noodles - II

[Continued from Part I]

The first time I went there was soon after I had shifted to Gillman Heights, a few bus-stops away. My then-flatmate Mainak and I decided to go there on the spur of the moment. It was a cold, damp evening; had rained almost throughout the afternoon. Neither of us had cooked anything, or was inclined to do so. And so we decided we could do with something hot, spicy, filling and, most important, cooked by someone else.

Actually we also wanted something dryish by way of noodles, not soupy or overly gravy-laden, and that's where we messed up. The Signboard had two pictures - one soupy and the other dry - and we didn't know which was which. (Like I said, this was in my comparatively greenhorn days.) We tried asking the ladies manning the stall, but they had only minimal English, only slightly more than I had Malay. So we finally asked for the beef noodles and, sure enough, we ended up with the soup! I mean, it was bound to happen.

We had opted for $4 bowls. This gave us a substantial amount of broth containing lots of noodles and a fair amount of meat, and topped with large cilantro leaves. The Travelling Hungryboy reports the $5 version is garnished with garlic, which makes an immense difference. Also, apparently, its broth is far superior to that used in the $3.50 version, though he wasn't able to understand how this could be so. I am yet to try either version, so am unable to comment. So let me say only that the broth in the $4 version tasted just fine!

In his comment on Part I, my friend Soumya asked how this Thai Muslim version is different from the non-Halal soup sold on Thailand streets. He also mentions the Thai food he'd tried in Singapore's Lau Pa Sat was noticeably sweeter and less spicy. I have never been to Thailand myself (about the nearest was the Tom Yam I had at Kota Bharu, Malaysia, just south of the Thai border). Nevertheless, my guess is that the Thaksin version (at least, in stock form - pun fully intended) was milder that what one gets in Thailand. There are many Chinese who have no stomach for spicy food. At the same time, the soup was not exactly bland; it had its bite all right! It was also mildly sour, but the taste that stood out was the umami of the meat. The meaty broths and stews I've had so far have all been thick, usually creamy. This is the first time I have come across a broth that is thin and so markedly meaty in its flavour. The usual Thai seasonings went into it - one could discern lemongrass and a good deal of coriander. And of course the ubiquitious chilli. Like I said it was comparatively subdued, but certainly made its presence felt.

The meat was the best part of the experience - fresh, of excellent quality, and minimally seasoned. As the notice promised, it had not been marinated using tenderisers or vinegar. Neither had it been sauteed or braised to get rid of the stink most meats have. And yet it was neither hard nor stinky. It was soft and juicy, and the lightly marbled fat imparted a feeling of substance. And they were pretty generous with the meat too.

By the time the food came we were both famished, not the ideal frame of mind for taking levelheaded decisions. Mainak, moreover, craved something really spicy. Poor fellow, he heaped chilli flakes onto one of those little sauce-dishes, and tipped the entire lot into his soup. Thankfully I stopped myself from following his example, and remained content with a few tentative sprinkles. That itself was powerful enough for me. It got me just the right amount of bite, I settled down to a nice, pleasant dinner. And then Mainak start to glow. A fiery incandescence spewed out of his eyes: his heavily swarthy complexion was suffused through with a redness angry like molten lava. He could only gasp for breath. Perspiration saturated his t-shirt and likely as not collected in little puddles on his seat. And still he continued, in spite of my protestations. He finished the bowl, and then together we walked across to Vivocity for some Korean-style barbeque. Ultimately we had some ice cream, and that seemed to finally cool him down a little.

I went to Thaksin again a few weeks later. This time I tried out the Phad Thai. Very well cooked (the meat was tender and flavourful as always), and sprinkled over with coarsely ground peanut. True, it lacked the sheer personality of the Soup. Nevertheless, it made for a very satisfying meal, arguably more satisfying than the latter.