Dish: Goo Nam Noodle
Place: Phnom Penh Noodle House, International District, Seattle
In the Bowl: Per the menu: “Cambodian spiced beef stew and tendon served with wide rice noodles.”
Supporting Cast: A plate of bean sprouts (they’ll ask if you want them raw or steamed) with a lemon wedge.
What to do: Toss in as many sprouts as you’d like, squeeze in lemon if desired, and add spice from the spice caddy. (I prefer the chili oil over the Sriracha.)
Noodling around: I’m a sucker for wide noodles, which is why I chose the goo nam noodle over the more popular Phnom Penh special rice noodle, which my companion ordered. I actually liked hers better, as the broth had a nice, clean taste (especially after a squirt of lemon boosted the acidity), and the pork and seafood components played off against each other well.
That said, I did enjoy much about the goo nam. The soup was mellower than expected, with just a slight spicy tang at the end, which I’d attribute to the chilies and lemongrass in the broth. (The chilies and lemondgrass are apparently processed with peanuts, sesame seeds, garlic, shallots, and much more). Some might like the stewed beef to be slightly more tender, but I was especially thrilled with the melt-in-your-mouth pieces of tendon–happy to know that if I ever lose my teeth, I’ll still be able to enjoy this fatty goodness.
As for those wide noodles, they were good, but they can be a challenge to eat. You can feel the slipperiness in your mouth, and you can experience it on your chopsticks as you struggle to corral some together. This struggle often ends in noodle withdrawal, splashing back into the soup resulting in liquid spraying your shirt. My advice: Ask some waribashi (disposable chopsticks) made from bamboo or wood. (Or, bring them yourself.)They have better grip, and you’ll more easily get your noodles.
If still hungry: You shouldn’t be surprised that I was naturally drawn to the pork intestine, either fried or with herbed soy sauce ($8.50), or, even better, pork bung mustard green (braised pork intestine with seasoned mustard greens for $8.49–one cent cheaper!). But I’d ultimately recommend finishing your meal with durian custard and sweet rice ($4.00), as it’s not often you can find durian dessert around here. Also, I love that Phnom Penh has Italian sodas (in a number of berrylicious flavors) here. Maybe I missed something while pursuing my history degree: Is there a connection between Cambodia and Italy?
Be aware/beware: In this era of “secret menus,” note that you can go off-menu and order the legendary “bone soup.” There’s some code of secrecy about this, so I leave it up to you to pursue this if you please.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on February 1, 2011.