“Khanohm jeen” (ขนมจีน) noodles are made from rice starch. Their strands are long, round, thin and elastic with a beautiful white sheen and a pleasant chewy texture.
It is unclear when exactly khanohm jeen production arrived to Thailand. However it is likely that production was already active here during the Ayutthaya period (1351-1767) in communities along the “khanohm jeen canal”, a main water artery, in Ayutthaya’s Senna district. (คลองขนมจีน อ.เสนา จ.พระนครศรีอยุธยา)
Rice noodles have been produced in China for over two thousand years, and nowadays are a favorite dish all over East and South-East Asia. However, Khanohm jeen noodles are neither Chinese in origin nor related to Thai desserts (In Thai Khanohm means dessert and jeen means Chinese).
Khanohm jeen origin is Mon (Maawn), an ethnic group from Myanmar, that ruled the Dvaravati kingdom which occupied present-day central Thailand during the 6th-11th centuries. In the Mon language (Raman) the word “khanohm jeen” means “kneaded and double boiled” noodles. “khohn ohm jin” (คนอมจิน) means to cook twice and “khanohm” means “kneading”. Another possible meaning of the Mon name is referring to the way the noodles are rolled into bite-size bundles when served.
Two types of fresh khanohm jeen are available in the Thai markets:
1. “Khanohm jeen bpaaeng mak” (ขนมจีนแป้งหมัก) – These are the traditional and most sought-after khanohm jeen noodles, made from fermented rice starch. They have a distinctive tangy and nutty flavor because the rice starch was allowed to ferment for few days before cooking. The fermentation is dominated by lactic acid microbes and yeasts. (Lactobacillus sp. and Streptococcus sp.) It also improves the rice noodles texture and give it a light-brownish color.
Fully fermented khanohm jeen noodles are not easy to find and even harder to make. Their making requires skill, time, labor and group collaboration. Therefore they are only produced by communal or family supported small manufacturers.
2. “Khanohm jeen bpaaeng soht” (ขนมจีนแป้งสด) – This is the most common, mass-produced variety, made from fresh rice starch. With its raising popularity and the growing demand for khanohm jeen, production was scaled up. Manufacturers started to use non-fermented (fresh) starch to simplify production and to increase their yield faster.
Khanohm jeen noodles are usually served with curry like dishes as a single-plate dish, incorporated into salads or used as substitute for white rice.
Often alongside the curry or soup there will be a selection of vegetables (fresh, blanched or fried), fresh herbs, pickles, boiled eggs and fried dry chili peppers to choose from. Making it a filling and tasty dish, easy to serve to large number of people and therefore it is popular in religious Buddhist temple ceremonies.
It is also popular to serve khanohm jeen in wedding ceremonies. The qualities of the noodles – long, white and elastic – suggests the longevity of the young couple’s love and sending them wishes of a long lasting bond that will not be easily broken.
The collective’s efforts in making the noodles implies the young couple will remain a united family cell and will help each other to overcome challenges.
Khanohm jeen noodles are called by different names in the different regions of the kingdom of Thailand as follows:
- khanohm sen (ขนมเส้น) – In Northern Thailand.
- nohm bpan jaw (นมปั่นเจ๊าะ) – In the southern parts of Issan.
- khaao bpoon (ข้าวปุ้น) – In Northern parts of Issan.
- no:hm jeen (โหน้มจีน) – In the Southern provinces of Thailand.
- khanohm jeen (ขนมจีน) – In Bangkok and the central region of Thailand .
- “dtuaa daawng daaeng” (ตัวด้องแด้ง) are shorter and fatter khanohm jeen noodles. They are produced by pressing the dough through a sieve with larger holes. It is popular to use it in Som Tum like dishes.
- “huaa gai o:hk” (หัวไก่โอก) are pieces of khanohm jeen dough that are torn by hand and boiled. It’s a popular substitute for sticky rice among the producers of khanohm jeen noodles.
- khanohm jeen noodles are sometime tinted in different colors and dressed with different aromas by using extracts from herbs, spices or flowers.
- Safflower (ดอกคำฝอย) – Orange color, saffron like.
- Turmeric (ขมิ้น) – Deep orange color
- Green Tea leaves (ใบชาเขียว) – Green Color
- Pandanus leaves (ใบเตย) – Vivid green color
- Butterfly pea flowers (ดอกอัญชัน) – Purple-blue color, or Pink-blue color when adding few drops of lime juice
- Broken rice grains, preferably old rice
- Wash the rice grains
- place the rice grains in earthenware jar and soak in clean water. Seal the jar with banana leaves and secure it with a heavy lid.
- Change the water daily to prevent the sour odor from accumulating and mix the rice grains thoroughly to assure uniform fermentation.
- Now the rice grains are soft. Wash them well from the first fermentation waters and replace it with salt brine. Leave the rice undisturbed to continue the fermentation, the added salt regulates the metabolic process. This stage is called in Thai “gaan naawn naam” (การนอนน้ำ) which means – Sleeping in the water
- In the old days they used manual stone mill for this job, I am using a combination of a blender and an electric slow juicer to grind the rice and produce the starch. Add water as needed.
- Let the starch mixture to rest overnight so the starch particles will settle down
- Transfer the wet starch milk into a clean cheese cloth.
- Tie up the cloth into a sack using a string or a wire.
- Place a heavy weight on top of the sack, and leave for 2 days. This will squeeze out all the water and will allow the starch to complete the third phase of fermentation.
- The fermented starch is now ready, it has a pleasant nutty-sour smell, and a nice off-white color.
- Gradually add hot water and kneed with your hands until the dough reach a consistency that you can shape it into a ball without it sticking to your hands.
- Shape the dough into a 15 cm ball. This stage is called in Thai "gaan kheun ruup bpaaeng" (การขึ้นรูปแป้ง)
- Warp the dough with a clean cheese cloth.
- Prepare your steamer on high heat. And steam the dough balls for about 4-5 minutes. You may boil them instead, getting the same results.
- Remove from the heat
- Use a spoon to check the thickness of the cooked dough.
- The rule of thumb is that about 0.5 cm should be cooked (gelatinised).
- In the old days large wooden pestle and mortar were used to mix the cooked and uncooked starch into a homogeneous dough. Rice flour lack the characteristics of wheat gluten, and the gelatinised starch is serving as a binding agent that allows to form elastic and stable noodles. You should pound the dough ball while it is still hot from the steamer. This stage is called in Thai "gaan dtam bpaaeng" (การตำแป้ง)
- After the cooked and uncooked starch were combined together, add small amount of hot water while kneading.
- Keep kneading the dough with both your hands until you will get a soft white cream. This stage is called in Thai "gaan nuaat bpaaeng" (การนวดแป้ง)
- To save labor, I used an electric mixer with dough hook attachments to beat the dough, and added hot water until the mixture became creamy.
- To check if the cream is ready, it should stay firm on a spoon and not drip.
- Transfer the starch cream to a fine cheese cloth.
- Using your hand squeeze the cream through the cloth’s pores.
- Discard any gelatinized lumps that didn’t mix up in the beating stage. This stage is called in Thai “gaan graawng bpaaeng” (การกรองแป้ง).
- Before using the cream make sure the top layer did not got dry from the air, if so mix it with a spoon. This stage is called in Thai “len bpaaeng” (เล่นแป้ง).
- Boil clean water in a large pot. When the water are boiling hard, add some cold water to moderate the boiling and reduce the amount of air bubbles that might damage the noodles.
- With a ladle mix the water fast to create turbulence, this will help the noodles to spread evenly in the water and not sticking to each other.
- Place the starch cream into an extruder, press continuously laying long noodles into the boiling water. Do it in batches. This is called in Thai “gaan beep khanohm jeen” (การบีบขนมจีน) or “gaan rooy khanohm jeen” (การโรยขนมจีน)
- When the noodles float it means they are ready. Scoop out the cooked noodles.
- Transfer them into clean cold water.
- Rinse three times.
- With your fingers, grab a bunch of noodles strands, and roll it on your hand into a bundle, lightly press to squeeze off extra water. This action is called in Thai “gaan jap khanohm jeen” (การจับขนมจีน)
- You need practice to create good looking noodles with the right consistency.
- Lay the cooked noodles on a tray, ready to sell, serve and eat.
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