Most Thailand guide books will tell you that the national dish is phat thai, kaeng kiao wan or tom yam kung. And whilst that may be true, if you ask just about any Thai person they will tell you there is another candidate that makes a good case for being Thailand’s number one food. Take a bow, Mama instant noodles. In a land with such a rich food culture it might seem almost sacrilegious for instant noodles to be considered alongside more illustrious dishes that use fresh ingredients, but this is Thailand and these tasty rice noodles have found their niche in the Thai food scene.
There are a number of different brands of instant noodle for sale in Thailand including Wai Wai and the oldest brand Yum Yum which was established in the early 1970s. But it is the Mama brand which has become a byword for all types of instant noodle in Thailand. Mama noodles are comfort food and I’ve heard a number of Thai people say that when they went on their first overseas trip they stocked up with packets of Mama noodles in their suitcase. Thai friends have told me that if you walk into any home in Thailand you will see at least one packet of instant noodles tucked away in a kitchen cupboard. A pack of dried noodles comes complete with sachets of oil and condiments that give the noodles the added spice and zing that Thai foodies crave. The dried noodles are placed into a bowl and hot water is then added together with the oil and condiments from the pack. Cover the bowl for 2-3 minutes to allow the flavours to sink in, give it a quick stir and the noodles are ready to eat. But this being Thailand, creative cooks and chefs have adapted the basic idea of the noodles and in homes and at roadside stalls, phad mama has become a firm favourite. With phad mama, the dried noodles are fried in a wok with a little oil and water. Other ingredients will also be added such as vegetables, pork or shrimps. The liquid is drained and the food is served as a one-plate dish making for a more substantial meal compared to the basic way of serving the noodles.
With the added salt and flavourings, instant noodles might not be the most healthy choice for a meal, but Thailand’s equivalent to the hamburger does make for an occasional treat and although I personally much prefer freshly prepared rice noodles, every now and again Mama noodles hits the spot. If you want to try them when you visit Thailand I recommend the tom yam kung flavour (pictured above) which also happens to be the most popular variety sold in Thailand. The packets and cups of noodles are sold just about everywhere, from little ‘mom and pop’ stores to 7-Eleven to Tesco Lotus with prices starting from just 6 Baht for the small size or from 10 Baht for the version that comes in a cup with its own plastic fork. At a roadside restaurant, a plate of phat mama will typically cost around 25-40 Baht depending on the extra ingredients that have been added.