There’s a scene in the movie “Ratatouille” that’s a core memory to me, and anyone who’s seen it can probably relate. It’s the scene where Anton Ego, the food critic, takes his first bite of ratatouille, and in an instant is taken back to his childhood in the countryside, teary-eyed with a warm bowl of the very same dish served by his dear mother. The scene conveys how food can capture certain pockets of nostalgia and take you back to a simpler, warmer time. I think everyone has a dish close to their heart like Anton’s ratatouille, and for me, that dish is kuy teav (pronounced ki-tyoo), a Khmer, or Cambodian, noodle soup resembling Vietnamese pho, but distinct enough to be called a separate dish.
I have deeply fond memories of kuy teav. On the days my Yiey (Khmer for “grandma”) would occasionally make it, I would easily down three to four bowls of the stuff, gorging myself with countless strings of rice noodles and broth. I remember that smell — that damn smell — permeating my Yiey’s house and my nostrils with that deeply intoxicating aroma I hold deep in my heart. God, I miss that smell. In my anticipation, I would dawdle around the kitchen excitedly while Yiey made my bowl. When it came time to eat, I unashamedly slurped down every last noodle, and then asked for seconds, then thirds, and on a really, really hungry day — fourths. If I didn’t make it clear enough: I fucking adore kuy teav, and other than maybe my dog or my family (and that’s a strong maybe), it’s the thing I miss the most from home. I can try to fill that hole in my heart with pho — and don’t get me wrong, I love a good bowl of pho — but for me, it just doesn’t hit the same way. The general lack of anything Khmer outside of Long Beach, where I’m from, just makes me miss home more. So, I decided to try and replicate that feeling of home and fill that hole in my heart by making my own kuy teav. The following recipe is my recreation of my favorite food.
Yields 12 servings.
4 hour cooking time
- 3 pounds pork neck bones
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons salt
- 3 seeds of star anise
- 3 tablespoons chicken bouillon
- 1 onion, roasted
- 2 carrots, chopped up into chunks
- Enough water to fill a stock pot
- 1 package rice stick noodles
- Bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro and lime to your liking for topping
- Fill a stock pot with water and bring to a boil. While it is simmering, add the fish sauce, sugar, salt, star anise, roasted onion and carrots. Once it is at a boil, introduce the pork bones and chicken bouillon.
- Reduce the broth to a simmer and maintain at a simmer for about 4 hours. Meanwhile, periodically skim the top of your broth for scum (residual unclean parts from the bone).
- Once the broth is done and fully developed, take it off the heat. Boil your rice noodles according to the directions on the package, add to the broth and serve hot with bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro and lime to your liking.
This easy recipe is perfect for the cold winter days we’ve been having lately. Most of the time spent is downtime waiting for your broth to develop flavor, and you’re rewarded with a delicious noodle soup. I’m really proud of this recipe and I hope you enjoy this piece of Khmer culture.