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Dang! That's some Awesome Soup - The Story

Some people are soup people and I am one of them. In Thailand, soup, in some form, is eaten every day. In North America and South America, I know that nothing beats a winter chill like a hearty soup. Pretty much everywhere, people make soups that utilize readily available ingredients to make delicious and simple soups. What is it about soups that most people like?

I would like to believe that it is the great flavors that marry together in a boiling broth. This makes me think of a “greater than the sum of its parts” scenario and I really think it is true. A couple of vegetables and/or some kind of meat with water can make an incredible soup. (See my upcoming article about “Simple Chicken Soup”. )

This is a story about a simple, delicious soup and a little corner stall.

Ba-Mi Moo Dang. Wow! Just saying those words to myself, makes my mouth water. The soup is made of three basic components. The “Ba-Mi” refers to a type of a fresh egg noodle. The “Moo” is the Thai word for pork. And the “Dang”, well that’s just how good it is. Okay, I wish that was true, because it sounds good. But the “Dang” actually refers to the color of the pork – red.

Sitting down to enjoy at the food stall tables — by David Smith
Sitting down to enjoy at the food stall tables — by David Smith

Tell Me about the Pork

The pork is a loin piece that has been marinated and cooked in deep red spices. The mix and flavorings that go into it are an exotic combination of Asian spices and other ingredients, which result in a deep red-pink color. But nothing like a spicy chili, more of like a unique sweet sauce with hints of star anise and cinnamon. The pork is marinated in the sauce for several hours and then cooked until the sauce thickens on the outside of the pork loin. I have made it before using a pre-made sauce packet and it looks like some odd combination of a meat log in a bubbling “Charlie in the Chocolate Factory” candy-land lava.

The easiest way to tell in Thailand if a restaurant or food stall has Ba-Mi Moo Dang on offer, is to look for these hanging red loins in their shop windows. As the meat is already cooked and usually fresh, at the time of ordering the cooks take the loin down and slice off fresh pieces to put in the soup. Of course, there are also the people who use plastic display versions of this loin in their shops and I always feel like it cheapens the meal. And I am actually less likely to buy my soup from them if I see the fake version hanging up. The point of displaying the fresh product is to give the consumer the ability to see the pork loin they are going to order and eat.

Plastic Food Displays - Walk Away

If a vendor has fake, plastic food on display, I am thinking what other corners have they cut to prepare the soup? And frequently, the people who use plastic food also like to take the shortcut of just using bouillon cubes. There is nothing wrong with using bouillon cubes, but when you want the best, it needs to be prepared in the slow way.

The broth that forms the wet part of the soup is made of boiling water with pork bones, garlic, celery and white or daikon radish. The best broths take hours, if not days to make. It is a deep-flavored bone broth. The flavors leach out of the bones and into the soup, and along with the savory herbs and vegetables, create a deep and flavorful broth.

Fresh Noodles for Everyone

Another component of the soup are the noodles. The fresh egg noodles are given a rinse in water and then cooked for about a minute or two in a sieve-like device that has been submerged in boiling water. The bowl is plated by adding the noodles, several ladles of the regular bone broth, thin slices of the red pork, a handful of water morning glory (ipomoea aquatica) mixed with bean sprouts.

Ba-Mi Moo Dang Soup - The Legend — by David Smith
Ba-Mi Moo Dang Soup - The Legend — by David Smith

And then there was something else. The soup in the pictures had something else added to them. Now this particular Ba-Mi Moo Dang stall does not exist anymore, but I still remember it vividly. And the extra special ingredient – the mother sauce. The petite Asian grandma who ran the stall had a Crock pot, a ceramic-lined slow cooker, filled with this dark, oozing sauce. It had the color of a deep, rich brown or mahogany.

The Secret to Her Sauce

At the end of each lunch day, she would take the remaining concentrated broth at the bottom of the big pot, strain it and add it to the mother sauce in the Crock pot. I really have no idea how long this sauce could have been going on, but I felt like I was literally tasting decades of daily soup making. The rich flavors that this addition made to the broth was incredible, just a delightful richness and flavor. She added it to the step described above when she was finishing the soup, before adding the water morning glory and bean sprouts. I watched her do this time and again. And this extra special step in the soup making process made all the difference.

The Usual Condiments for Thai Soup Restaurants — by David Smith
The Usual Condiments for Thai Soup Restaurants — by David Smith

At all Thai food stalls and restaurants that serve these styles of soups, you can find containers filled with ground peanut, vinegar with slices of chilies, sugar, spicy roasted chili powder (really spicy), and a bottle of fish sauce. Most places encourage you to add your own flavors to balance out the sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy aspects for your palate.

Gone Away Ba-Mi Moo Dang

This place was an amazing lunch spot. It was literally a meal that I eagerly ate every day. The closed table umbrellas meant the soup-making was finished for the day. And when I showed up late and the broth was gone, I was so disappointed because there is no substitute for that soup. I grew to enjoy regularly going there for one summer that I was in Thailand. Unfortunately, a year later, the amazing lady and her mother sauce were gone. Who do you call or where do you go to find the person who had an amazing little food stall near the entrance of a 7-11 on some random corner in a town in Thailand? I realize there is no help, just a memory. A soup of legends that now only exists in my pictures and my memories. A milestone has passed, a checklist on the bucket list, because it might have been the best soup I will ever eat.

Check out the recipe my wife developed to replicate this delicious dish.

This article was originally published on @talentedinternational