Kway teow gaeng ก๋วยเตี๋ยวแกง or kway teow kaek ก๋วยเตี๋ยวแขก are Thai Muslim Thai curry noodles that hail from the South of Thailand. These mellow vegan coconut curry soup noodles combine a range of seasonings and toppings including pieces of tumeric-tinged yellow tofu (sometimes fried), bean sprouts, preserved radish, ground peanuts, coriander, spring onion, and deep fried shallots. Lime may or may not accompany the bowls, which would also be served alongside a standard set of Thai noodle soup condiments.
What are(n't) Thai curry noodles?
Pop over to Google for an image search of Thai curry noodles and your return will mostly include a gallery of work by content creators untrammelled by even the most basic of Thai culinary knowledge.
It's not that curry and noodles have no coalescence in Thailand, but rather that the way they are presented by most Western
peddlers of empty language bloggers sidesteps the reality of what exists in country. For instance, with perhaps the exception of tourist enclaves where locals may create and serve dishes based on culturally skewed assumptions of Western tourists, you aren't likely to see menus advertising monolithic red or green curry noodles in Thailand.
There are of course exceptions, such as kanom jeen, which are extruded rice noodles served at room temperature with curry over top. But kanom jeen are not soup noodles.
As far as other Thai curry noodle soups go, khao soi (not this one though) is easily the most well known in this category, but kway teow gaeng is not the same. The latter hasn't procured the fame of the former, but that doesn't mean it's not worth knowing. Sidebar: even though they aren't the same, if you love khao soi then you'll equally appreciate kway teow gaeng.
Characteristics of kway teow gaeng (kaek)
Muslim Thai curry noodles are known by two names: kway teow gaeng, which translates literally as "curry noodles" and kway teow kaek. Kaek is a word that means both guest as well as a reference to people from South Asia and the Middle East, but it is sometimes used in a derogatory fashion (e.g. there is a phrase - เจองูกับเจอแขก ตีแขกก่อน jer nguu gap jer kaek dtii kaek gon – that translates to meet a snake and a kaek, hit the kaek first). I don't understand the contextual uses enough to know if it's offensive or not in reference to the noodles, but these things are always worth mentioning.
Kway teow gaeng is typically served with sen lek, which are narrow flat rice noodles (the same noodles favoured for making pad thai). In Thailand you can readily purchase fresh sen lek, but in the West you'll mainly find them dry. They're very easy to find and you may see them referred to as rice stick noodles on the packaging. Some vendors may use wider rice noodles, as did I here (it's what I had to hand). Either work fine.
Other recipes I’ve found for these noodles include using curry pastes, but this one employs similar methods to that of Southern Muslim Thai massaman. The only paste is made with galangal and lemongrass, with all other flavour components included as ground powders or whole spices to infuse. This, despite the long ingredients list, makes these Muslim Thai curry noodles much easier to make (less labour spent pounding a paste).
Ingredients & Substitutions
The ingredients list may seem daunting, but remember you don't have to add every single topping. The curry is, on its own, well flavoured; any add ons are a bonus.
- Chilli powder. Thai curry-like dishes typically use curry paste made with dried Thai chillies (though there are some exceptions), but note this recipe calls for Indian chilli powder. You could also use something like Deggi Mirch (a blend of dried kashmiri and bell peppers). It's perhaps not traditional, but it tastes good. If you've super averse to chilli heat and want a mild option, feel free to stray far from what's customary and look to Korean gochugaru. This is what I use when I'm cooking for my partner, who is the kind of person to find ginger too fiery.
- Siam cardamom tastes a little bit like the more commonly found green cardamom, but the latter is more camphorous. If you are unable to find the Thai variety, which are round and white rather than oblong and green, you can substitute with Indian green cardamom but use just two pods instead of 5.
- Thai bay leaf is not the same as bay laurel, the type utilised in European cookery. If you can't find it, you can use bay laurel. The taste will not be the same, but that doesn't mean it will be bad.
- Sweet preserved turnip (radish), also used in pad thai, is easily found at ESEA shops. Be mindful there is also a salty version. I've seen recipes that either don't specify or call for salty version, but the majority suggest the sweet one. You can buy it minced so there's nothing else to do but top your noodles with a teaspoon or two.
- Fried shallots are easy to make and are far superior to the tasteless crunch bunches you would buy from ESEA grocers. If you can't be arsed to make them, I get it, but it's a worthwhile endeavour. They keep for awhile and you will also be blessed with shallot oil, which will fast become a favourite seasoning agent for a range of dishes.
- Restaurants that serve noodles soups in Thailand provide a caddy of seasonings on the table for diners to adjust flavours as they see fit. These typically include nam som prik dong (chilli vinegar), prik nam plaa (chillies soaked in fish sauce), granulated sugar, and prik bon (toasted chilli powder). All are very easy to make.
Muslim Thai curry noodles (gway teow gaeng, kway teow kaek)
- 1 teaspoon chopped galangal
- 2 teaspoons chopped lemongrass
- 1 ½ tablespoons oil
- 1-3 teaspoons chilli powder see notes1
- 400 millilitre can of coconut milk preferably Aroy-D or or Chaokoh brand
- 200 millilitres water
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon palm sugar or light brown sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 5 Siam cardamom pods see notes2
- 2 Thai bay leaves see notes3
- 1 clove
- 1 star anise
- 1 heaped cup mock beef, chicken, or tofu
- 180 grams dried rice noodles 60 grams per portion, give or take
- Bean sprouts handful per bowl
- Garlic or shallot oil optional
- Extra firm yellow tofu, sliced see notes4
- Fried shallots
- Ground peanut
- Spring onion
- Chopped sweet preserved radish see notes5
- Lime optional
- Prik pon see notes6
- Soy sauce (with or without chillies) see notes7
- Chilli vinegar see notes8
Make the curry
- Use a pestle and mortar to pound the lemongrass and galangal together into a smooth paste.
- Heat the oil to medium heat in a saucepan and add the chilli powder. Fry for a minute or two, stirring often, until the oil is red. Add the lemongrass-galangal paste and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add the coconut milk and water.
- Bring to the boil and add all remaining curry ingredients. Turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, until you see red oil rise on the surface (15 ish minutes). Add your vegan protein to cook through.
Assemble the bowls
- Bring another pot of water to the boil. Cook the noodles and bean sprouts by submerging them in the water for about 20-30 seconds. Drain and divide between serving bowls.
- Pour around ⅓ of the curry over each bowl of noodles. Top with a few pieces of tofu, around a teaspoon or two of the shallots, ground peanut, coriander, spring onion, and preserved radish. Squeeze a wedge of lime over and serve alongside recommended condiments.
- I have made this curry with a range of chilli powders, from Deggi Mirch (a more fiery blend made from dried kashmiri chillies and red capsicums) to gochugaru (mild Korean chilli powder). The latter is not traditional by any stretch of the imagination, but it's mild enough that my very British and heat averse husband likes it.
- These are not the same as green or true cardamom. If you can't find Siam cardamom, use two green cardamom pods in place of 5 Siam cardamom pods.
- Thai bay leaves, or bai grawaan, are very different to the bay laurel we cook with in Europe and North America. Bay laurel will work fine, but the flavour profile will be different.
- The colour of yellow tofu comes from turmeric. It's common in Thai cookery, but less so elsewhere. You can use firm white tofu too, but I recommend boiling it first.
- Preserved turnip (radish) can be easily found at ESEA grocers. Look for the minced variety with sugar in the ingredients.
- Prik bon is a type of toasted chilli powder. You can make it yourself.
- Prik nam plaa is made by soaking fresh chillies in fish sauce. Make a vegan version of prik nam plaa with soy sauce.
- Chilli vinegar, or nam som prik dong, is one of my top five condiments of all time. I've always got a jar to hand.
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