Most times we go to Noodle World in Pasadena, and pass around our dishes family style. Once the modest sampling is done, we dig in to our own, mine most likely the same every time, rad nah, a Thai noodle dish, soft in texture with a gravy of hushed toned flavors. The sensations in the mouth gives no challenges or chides; it is rich and springy, salty and hot, the perfect dish to nurture an anecdote of love.
In Thailand, I walked along a street that had tiny rad nah restaurants the size of our coffee kiosks, side by side, each selling a particular kind of rad nah: rad nah with pork was one establishment, shrill with the sound of metal spatulas scraping the fresh noodles against the pan; rad nah with beef was his competitive neighbor’s work, the pieces of meat tossed highly in the air.
In Los Angles, on the menus, they signify shrimp as an option, and that is always more expensive, and the one I get with nothing else. The waitresses always ask if I know that this is the thick, white noodle, using their fingers to demonstrate its large width, because most American patrons prefer their noodles thin and transparent or yellow and skinny. The plate comes too often with too much china at the edges. There is never enough for me. I sprinkle garnishes of fresh chili in vinegar and a little red pepper flakes. I have spied other patrons use sugar before they mix everything together. I speak little while I am eating. This dish, like a lover whispering, requires close attention.
I look up to see my girlfriends, their eyes misty with redoubtable hurts, their cheeks pale with too many sleepless nights, and know if I could only offer them another bite of my rad nah, they would feel better. But I don't. As every veteran of romance knows, others can never sample the singularity of our experiences, however beneficial or fulfilling it would be to share them.
Rad Nah: Thai Fresh Noodles with Pork Gravy
4 tablespoons oil
½ package fresh wide rice noodles 8 to 9 ounces
3 cloves of garlic
¼ lbs. pork, sliced thinly (a thick pork chop from the shoulder is good)
1 lbs. Chinese broccoli, but I mostly use bitter greens, mustard, kale, etc. which is more available to me
1- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4- 1/2 cup cold water
· Pull apart the fresh noodles and separate them as best you can without tearing off their length. If they have been in the fridge a few days, I cover them with cool water to re-hydrate them slightly. Drain after five minutes.
· Heat nonstick skillet. When it is hot, measure out 2 tablespoons of oil covering the bottom of the pan. Add the noodles over medium high heat, letting the edges of the noodles get brown, but keeping the whole assembly from sticking to the bottom and edges. After about three minutes, turn out into the serving platter or bowl. Scrape the bottom clean.
· Pour in last 2 tablespoons of oil into the pan, and when warm, sauté the chopped garlic until golden. Toss in the pork and fry until they change their color and become slightly brown.
· In succession, stirring well after each to incorporate, add the broccoli or other leafy vegetables, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and cornstarch dissolved in water. Let this bubble excitedly to let the gravy develop. When vegetables wilt, the dish is done.
· Now this is my bastardization of the dish: I add back the noodles and let them simmer for a minute, instead of the traditional way, which is to place the gravy on top of the noodles, letting the individual mix everything in at the table.
Out of character for the theme of this post, I served it last weekend to my parents, between customers at our U-Pick persimmon ranch in Moorpark, California. I brought it over in an amber-colored glass casserole dish, and served it on money pod plates with chopsticks. It had cooled by then, and the pliant and tender noodles had time to absorb the marine sauces, condiments that eluded them, but intrigued their palate.
“Is this Chinese?” they asked.
With the patis, which we call our fish sauce, it could have been one of our Filipino dishes, but the oyster sauce and fresh noodles showed its Sino- strains and origins. How this has become a quintessential Thai dish, I do not know. Maybe love was involved; the way a girl falls in love with a boy, and from then on, she becomes his.