Feb 21, 2007
Yam Moon Sen
Yam Moon Sen
Above is a photo of some yam moon sen we ordered up in the food court in the Tesco in Nong Khai. Ya I know, where’s the moon sen? Under all the veggies, I snapped the photo before we sent the order back for some fish sauce and a re mixing.
Yam means salad, sen means noodle, and I would guess moon refers to this particular type of noodle, mung bean noodle. I’ve also heard the noodle called glass noodle as it is clear when cooked. Ideally I like the noodles cooled after cooking so that they remain at the proper done ness. They should be firm, biteable and slippery.
I’m a obsessive about yam and I like all cooked ingredients cold before mixing with any of the fresh veggies. I like all the vegetables fresh without a hint of being cooked. Crunchy.
The best yam moon sen I’ve had was next to the McDonalds close to the night bazaar in Chang Mai. Often you had to wait a little to even sit down. People ate quickly though and it was never a long wait. I think they dipped the noodles in ice water just after cooking. The yam by which all others are judged.
This yam moon sen in Nong Khai included mung bean noodles of course, tomatoes, sweet chunks of uncooked onions, green onions, squid, prawns, celery leaves, cilantro, pieces of hot dog, pieces of pork, bits of lettuce, a white sea animal that resembles a sponge and is sold dried, and now the good bits, fresh squeezed lime juice, fish sauce, fresh hot peppers, salt, sugar, bang nua.
Yam moon sen is supposed to rock. It’s a good light lunch for a hot day. The flavours are supposed to set you back on your heels a little. Fish sauce and lime juice in proportions that would be overdoing it by a factor of five under normal circumstances. Double the normal hot peppers. Anyone who eats it needs to be drinking lots of ice water and fresh steamed rice to help put out the fire.
Now I’m going to pan the hell out of an expat Vientiane restaurant so if you are an expat living in Vientiane stop here, please don’t send nasty emails, I already warned you.
I heard about a restaurant in Vientiane selling “real Lao food” and best of all “no MSG”. I had to go see how the heck they cooked “real Lao food” without MSG, and yes I realize that when that cook book was made with the old Kings favourite dishes in it there was no MSG as MSG is a recent arrival on the Lao cooking scene. I have yet to go to a place so remote in Laos that they don’t use MSG. Plenty of places without plah dek, and the hill tribes don’t use fish sauce, but everywhere MSG.
When I went there I felt a little out of place at first, all foreigners dressed up for the office or else rich tourists who dress up for lunch, I couldn’t tell which. The only Lao people seemed to be either staff or friends of the foreigners. It was the kind of place with a menu, written in English so that you had to guess what you were getting. I thought I recognised yam moon sen so I asked, I think on the menu it was noodle salad with pork or something. I know you are wondering what I’m doing ordering Thai food in a Lao restaurant. It was on the menu and I like it.
My goal was to get food with MSG, first I had to get the idea through that rather than checking to make sure there was no MSG I was checking to make sure they put some in my food. Wonder of all wonders they were able to find some in the kitchen and add it as asked. I guess with a restaurant staffed entirely of Lao people they have to eat somewhere.
What I wasn’t ready for was a lack of hotness. The name of the restaurant was Hot Chilli peppers in Lao, I thought they might have hot food. In fairness I also got this exact same yam moon sen in a friends new restaurant catering exclusively to foreigners. When I asked the cook where he had learned to cook so many different foods he replied at a large hotel in Vientiane. So I guess this is an evolving specialty food. Dumbed down Thai food for foreigners.
At first I thought there was absolutely no hotness at all to the food. Careful tasting and looking revealed sauce sri racha, that stuff that looks like catsup. Yuch, like adding catsup to lemonade. If there was fish sauce I couldn’t taste it. I’m sure it had lime juice. Overcooked noodles arranged on a plate to look beautiful. In fairness the rice was fresh, hot, cooked just right and of excellent quality. I told the staff how delicious it all was and smiled continuously. There is a certain pasted on Lao smile that one uses when the situation is simply irretrievable. I must have been bowed to about 15 times on the way out. Felt like I was in Thailand or something, all that bowing and scraping.
The following is how I make it. You can add or subtract as you see fit, especially with the meat and fish, any ingredients work.
In the coke crush twice as many fresh hot peppers as you are used to, add tiny amounts of salt, sugar, and bang nua. Then buckets of lime juice, and fish sauce. Should be enough left on the plate after you are done to drink the stuff from a glass. I like to cool all the cooked ingredients on ice before adding them. Prawns, squid, the white spongy sea food, even some mussels or oysters, glass noodles, cilantro, celery leaves, white and green onions. You can make it with pork instead of the fish or that white sausage called yaw. The ingredients are turned over with a spoon in the coke to mix with all the liquids.
Below is a photo of one of my favourite spices also from the Tesco in Nong Khai.