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Yen Ta Fo (Thai Pink Noodle Soup)

Yen ta fo – or Thai pink noodle soup, owing to its gorgeous hue – is one of my favourite street foods to eat whenever I’m in Bangkok. It’s a totally unique flavour of spicy, meaty, savoury but tangy, all at once, with an assortment of tasty toppings. This unsung hero deserves its time in the spotlight, so here’s my recipe for recreating this dish at home. One taste and you’ll see what I mean.

PREP TIME
15 minutes
COOK TIME
45 minutes
SERVES
4
Ingredients

200g (7 oz) dried rice noodles (either small pad Thai noodles or rice vermicelli are fine)

12 prawns, peeled, deveined, tails intact

300g (10.5 oz) Asian fish balls*

200g (7 oz) water spinach (also known as pak boong or kang kong), stalks only, cut into batons (use the leaves in a stir-fry)

4 fried tofu puffs

 

Broth:

500g (1 lb) pork mince

1 tbsp fish sauce

⅛ tsp ground white pepper

4 coriander (cilantro) roots

4 garlic cloves

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 small turnip or daikon, peeled, sliced

2 tbsp Thai soy sauce

2 tsp sugar

1 tbsp sea salt

 

Yen Ta Fo sauce:

1 long red chilli, roughly chopped

3 Thai birdseye chillies (or to taste)

⅓ cup Thai sriracha sauce

⅓ cup tomato ketchup

¼ cup red fermented bean curd/tofu*, plus 1 tbsp of the sauce

4 cloves garlic

4 pickled garlic cloves, plus 1 tbsp of the juice

1 tbsp white vinegar

2 tbsp sugar

 

Fried wontons:

4 wonton wrappers, cut on the diagonal

vegetable oil, for deep frying

 

Garlic oil:

4 tbsp roughly chopped garlic

¼ cup vegetable oil

Steps
  • Step 1

    To make the yen ta fo sauce, add all the ingredients to a food processor and blend. Pour the sauce into a small saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes on medium heat to allow the flavours to mellow and infuse. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

  • Step 2

    For the broth, place around 3 litres (3.2 qt) of water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, place the pork mince, fish sauce and white pepper into a large bowl. Use your hands to mix vigorously, then bring the mixture together into a ball and ‘slap’ it into the bowl (this helps to firm up the mixture). Pinch off scant tablespoons of the pork mixture and form into ‘loose’ balls. Drop them into the boiling water. Repeat until the pork mixture is finished. Simmer the meatballs for around 10 minutes or until cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pork balls to a bowl and set aside until ready to serve.

  • Step 3

    Use a mortar and pestle to pound the coriander roots, garlic and peppercorns to a rough paste. Add this to the simmering broth along with the turnip, soy sauce, sugar and salt. Simmer for 20 minutes. Then strain the broth into a clean saucepan (you can eat the turnip or pop it into your soup bowl if you like). Taste and season with additional salt if required. Keep warm.

  • Step 4

    For the fried wontons, fill a saucepan or wok to about one-third capacity with the vegetable oil. Heat over high heat. Once the oil is hot (165°C/325°F, or when a wooden spoon dipped into the oil forms small bubbles), add the wonton wrappers in batches and cook for 3-4 minutes or until golden. Flip them a couple of times as they cook to ensure an even colour. Drain on kitchen paper.

  • Step 5

    For the garlic oil, place oil and garlic in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook until garlic is golden, then remove from heat and pour into a heat-proof bowl.

  • Step 6

    To cook the noodles, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the noodles and cook according to packet instructions. Use tongs to drain the noodles and divide among serving bowls.

  • Step 7

    When ready to serve, heat the broth back to a gentle simmer. Add the prawns, fish balls and tofu puffs and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the prawns are just cooked. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the prawns, fishballs and tofu puffs to the serving bowls. Add a handful of your reserved pork balls and heat those in the broth for a minute or so. Transfer to the serving bowls. Do the same with the water spinach.

  • Step 8

    Spoon 2 tablespoons of the yen ta fo sauce into each bowl. Then ladle over the hot broth. Garnish with a crispy wonton and a few spoonfuls of the garlic oil.

  • Notes
    Notes:

    – You will have more yen ta fo sauce and pork balls than you need for this recipe. Both can be frozen for up to 2 months. The pork balls are a great addition to any kind of noodle soup.

    – Find various types of Asian fish balls and tofu puffs in the freezer section of your Asian supermarket.

    – Red fermented tofu is a little funky umami bomb. You can find it at an Asian grocer or online.

What is yen ta fo?

Yen ta fo (aka Thai pink noodle soup) is a staple when it comes to street food! This little known Thai classic is a soup staple throughout the country, and is beloved by locals. Yen ta fo generally consists of a funky, tangy yen ta fo sauce, combined with a salty, savoury pork broth and an array of totally delish toppings. Top your yen ta fo with pork meatballs, prawns, tofu puffs, fish cakes galore and pad pak boong (also called water spinach) for that hit of leafy greens. In Thailand, it is often served with small rectangles of coagulated blood, but my version omits that part.

What does yen ta fo taste like?

The taste of yen ta fo is unlike any other noodle soup, and you’re hard pressed finding it anywhere other than the streets of Thailand (which is exactly why I’ve made my very own version!). Yen ta fo is spicy, funky and tangy, with a bit of a ‘sweet and sour’ vibe to it. It’s brimming with toppings too, so you get to fully customise your homemade bowl of pink soup goodness.

What is in yen ta fo sauce?

Yen ta fo noodle soup is spicy, funky and tangy, and it’s all thanks to the yen ta fo sauce, which is made up of red fermented bean curd or red fermented tofu, birdseye chillies, Thai sriracha sauce, tomato ketchup, garlic, vinegar and pickled garlic for that added tanginess.

Why is yen ta fo pink?

Yen ta fo gets its iconic pink colour from the yen ta fo sauce, in particular the red fermented bean curd/tofu, the birdseye chillies and the Thai sriracha sauce. The sauce itself is a  beautiful crimson red but, when combined with the pork broth, the red transforms right before your eyes into a pink colour.

Marion's Kitchen is for everyone who finds joy in flavour and happiness in every bite. Marion's Kitchen is for everyone who finds joy in flavour and happiness in every bite.

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