By Susan Jenkins
I lived in China for 15 amazing years, falling in love with the people, the culture and the food. Living there made it easy to hop onto planes and jet off to nearby places, such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. The last was my favorite, for two initial reasons: Visas weren’t required and the modest costs fit my teacher’s budget.
As I kept returning to this land of smiles, making 12 trips in all, I found many more reasons to love it. Most were because of Koh Samui, the small, rocky island just a short flight from Bangkok. There, I found a favorite seaside resort that boasted the best in everything: Quietude, massage, wellness and — well, the most gorgeous, delectable food I’ve ever seen or tasted.
One early morning, a taxi picked me up to transport me to the tiny island airport, where I planned to catch a flight back to Bangkok. In the wee hours of the morning, before the sun rose, we came to a stop while a herd of 10 wild elephants plodded ahead of us. In the darkness, they seemed like moving mountains. The sheer force of their footsteps caused the ground to tremble, literally, and I found it unforgettably thrilling to share the morning with such gentle, hulking creatures.
And the food on Koh Samui. So fresh, perfectly seasoned and cheap. Drunken Noodles were one of my favorite dishes — at once sweet, salty and savory, as well as just a bit fatty and pleasingly acidic. I always found them both satisfying and refreshing on a long summer evening.
Now that I’ve returned to California, I have found it necessary to learn to make my own Thai dishes. I don’t know how Drunken Noodles came to have their name, because they contain no alcohol. But I don’t think anybody will mind if I sip a glass of chilled Chardonnay while I cook them, especially in the summer. At least, it works for me.
Note: The list of ingredients may suggest a lengthy cooking time. Fear not: From first chop to final sizzle should take only about 30 minutes.
8 ounces dried rice noodles
¼ cup oyster sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup shallots, thinly sliced
6 teaspoons chili (bird’s eye chilis), thinly sliced (I order mine from Amazon; you might need to remove the seeds — they’re hot)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into strips
1 pound Chinese broccoli or bok choy
½ red bell pepper, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
4 stalks green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh basil leaves
- Soak rice noodles in hot water until they’re flexible, 10 to 15 minutes. Occasionally move the noodles around to separate them. Drain the water and cover noodles with a wet paper towel.
- Combine oyster sauce, soy sauce, Asian fish sauce, maple syrup, sugar and water in a small bowl. These ingredients form the drunken-noodle sauce.
- Heat vegetable oil and sesame oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Stir-fry shallots, chili peppers and garlic until shallots are soft, about two minutes. Move the mixture around the outside of the pan to create a space and add chicken. Sear chicken for one minute, then combine it with shallot mixture. Add bell peppers and Chinese broccoli or bok choy and stir-fry them until they’re tender, about two minutes.
- Add drunken-noodle sauce and sliced green onions and mix. Cook until sauce begins to simmer. Add soaked rice noodles and toss to coat until noodles have absorbed the sauce and are cooked through, about two minutes. Remove from heat.
- Stir in basil leaves until they’re wilted. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Serve.