By Kupluthai Pungkanon
The Nation Weekend
MOST THAIS only need to say the words – guay-tiew-ruea – for their mouths to start watering. There’s nothing quite like Thai-style boat-noodles, so aromatic with long-simmered herbs, so rich in flavour and spicy in a thick, dark soup.
Commonly served in a small bowl with lots of pork crackling and fried garlic, meatballs, chilli flakes, boiled morning glory and sweet basil, the noodles (to be absolutely perfect) ought to also have kanom tauy off to the side, a little coconut-milk custard for dessert.
Tell a Thai travelling upcountry that the nearest guay-tiew-ruea restaurant is far away and it won’t matter. It’s a meal that must be had, and any street vendor or passing boat that’s offering boat-noodles will do.
Thong Smith serves only traditional boatnoodles and seeks to bring back fond memories with its decor and design.
The various sources in Ayutthaya and in Bangkok’s Rangsit district are nationally famous. In the past, the noodles were named after the cook-vendor, the venerated individual who did everything from scalding the noodles and seasoning the soup to plunking the dish in front of you and pocketing the payment. These days you can still tell a great boat-noodle restaurant by the ornamental boat parked out front as a lure.
There are not a lot of boats being paddled around the Helix building at Bangkok’s luxurious EmQuartier shopping mall. But go to a shop called Thong Smith on the seventh floor and you won’t be disappointed with the noodles – authentic in taste and aroma, served in nostalgia-evoking surroundings.
As soon as you sit down you can have a pair of Khanom Tuay for Bt29, the original sweet-slightly-salty of coconut-milk custard treat. Irresistible, they don’t stick around for long.
Four pals who share a love of food put together Thong Smith. Atchara Burarak co-founded the popular iberry Group, as well as Kub Khao Kub Pla and Cafe Pla. Her partners here are her husband, Rojanin Arthayukti, COO and director of iberry Group, actress Intira Dangchamroon and Karn Kittivech, the chef.
“We’re all nuts about Thai-style boat-noodles,” says Karn.
“It started simply with the idea of just making a great bowl of noodles, taking the time to create a balanced and aromatic broth infused with aromatics like galangal, cilantro, lemongrass, pickled garlic, and so on.
“Then we added more, premium ingredients and essentially created the perfect bowl of noodles,” he says.
Among the many temptations on the menu is Thong Smith Ribeye Noodle (Bt529) with sliced Australian wagyu, braised shank and tendon in fabulous spicy soup.
Nam Tok Wagyu Thong Smith (Bt329) has sliced Australian wagyu round, beef meatballs, braised shank and tendon. There’s also Ox Tongue (Bt229) with beef meatballs, sliced beef, braised shank and tendon. Other premium ingredients include liver and tripe. The spicy soup has three levels of hot – one to three fiery stars – and you can opt out of spicy soup altogether.
“Using premium ingredients is the key,” says Karn. “We go to the spice market together to find the best herbs – we use more than 15 types of herbs in the broth, Thai and Chinese, and simmer it for eight hours to get the right aroma and intense, authentic flavour.
“We also took time to find the right supplier of thin noodles, but the best are egg noodles made with traditional techniques so the noodles are soft but still have some bounce. The beef, chicken and pork are all premium grades, such as wagyu and ribeye and Kurobuta pork.
“It takes a day to simmer the ox tongue with herbs over very low heat to get the best quality, because we don’t want to lose any of the tasty fat before it’s sliced up. The stewed beef and pork are really tender too, so they melt in the mouth.”
Steamed wontons with Sichuan chilli sauce
Sliced Kurobuta Pork (Bt179-Bt259) has braised pork and liver, accompanied on the side if you like with pork balls, sliced pork, boiled morning glory, extra noodles or rice for another Bt20 to Bt60.
The prices will demonstrate that the good old days of cheap boat-noodles are behind us. But, on the other hand, who can resist all these dishes, or others like Grilled Beef or Pork Balls (three skewers for Bt119), Crispy Pork Fat (Bt50), Fried Crispy Pork and Shrimp Wontons (Bt100) and Steamed Wontons with Sichuan Chilli Sauce (Bt129).
At the end of the meal, to cool the tongue after its spicy revelry, Pandan Noodles with Coconut Milk and Glass Jelly and Longan Syrup are both excellent choices for Bt79.
Karn chuckles that, since the restaurant specialises in boat-noodles, the partners had a “headache” coming up with a name for the place. They gave up trying to fit ruea (boat) into it and went instead with Thong Smith.
“It means ‘expert’ and is homophone for the Thai word samrit, meaning ‘success’. And the name is rendered in an old-style font.
“Plus, since it would have been difficult and unfashionable to have a boat moored outside, we have a picture of a boat on the wall and chose dark wood for the chairs and tables and engraved the restaurant’s name on the bowls.”
RICH, SPICY, SCRUMPTIOUS
>> Thong Smith is on the seventh floor of the Helix Building at EmQuartier in Bangkok.
>> It’s open daily from 10 to 10.
>> Book a table at (02) 003 6226.