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Kanom Jeen Nam Ya (Rice Noodles With Thai Fish Curry)

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Top-down view of kanom jeen nam ya, served in a white dish with a side of cabbage and chopped yard long beans.

Kanom jeen nam ya combines tender rice noodles with a delicious Thai fish curry. It’s like a Thai spaghetti with a delightful coconut milk sauce made from aromatic lemongrass and galangal, umami fish sauce, sweet palm sugar, and more.

About Nam ya

This recipe makes one of my favorite Asian rice noodles dishes.

First, a flavorful broth is prepared with fresh fish and an array of Thai herbs and spices. Traditional ingredients like galangal, lemongrass, and finger root (known as grachai or kra chai) infuse the fish and curry with authentic flavors and aromas.

Family in rural Thailand enjoying authentic kanom jeen nam ya.
Me, my grandmother, and my niece and nephew enjoying kanom jeen nam ya.

Then, the cooked fish along with the other ingredients are pounded in a large granite mortar and pestle, creating a smooth paste.

Close-up of red paste for Thai fish curry pounded in a granite mortar.

The pounded paste is added back to the broth, to which coconut milk is added, resulting in the creamy coconut fish curry we name “nam ya”.

This Thai meal is not defined by a fiery heat, but rather a creamy sauce with sweet, savory, umami, and herbal notes.

What is kanom jeen

Kanom jeen are fresh thin rice noodles made of a simple mixture of rice flour and water. Sometimes, other ingredients such as tapioca starch and salt can be added for extra texture and flavor.

A package of fresh kanom jeen noodles on a bamboo background.
A package of kanom jeen rice noodles.

I’m fortunate to live close to a family that operates a small kanom jeen production at their home. They kindly granted me permission to take some photos, and they informed me about how the fresh rice noodles are made.

Nowadays, the process of making the noodles begins by combining rice flour and water to form a dough, which is then shaped into thin, round noodles through a specialized press or a noodle maker equipped with small holes. Thin strands of noodles are extruded through these holes, which are then typically steamed or boiled to cook them.

A home factory where kanom jeen is made. A man is operating a convoyer belt which makes kanom jeen.
This Thai man is operating a kanom jeen workstation belt. At the end of the single station, thin strands of noodles appear.

In the old days, people had to ferment rice grains for 3–4 days. The process of making kanom jeen used to be a real family activity, with multiple people making a dough in a huge mortar and pestle.

A lady shaping freshly prepared kanom jeen on a wooden table.
This lady is shaping freshly prepared kanom jeen on a wooden table, to sell at the food market afterward.

The fresh thin rice noodles are round with a soft and pleasant chew when you bite in them. The round shape and slim texture allows them to be coated with toppings like sauces and Thai food such as spicy coconut curries, which is what they are often used for.

A home factory of kanom jeen, with 3 people operating a rice noodle production line.
This represents the kanom jeen manufacturing process, providing the entire village with batches of freshly made rice noodles.

Each region in Thailand has their own preferred sauce or dishes to combine with kanom jeen.

Kanom jeen nam ya is a traditional Thai dish that combines kanom jeen noodles with the creamy coconut milk fish-based curry, “nam ya”. kanom jeen nam ya pa is another spicy variation of this dish.

What is kanom jeen eaten with

Each region in Thailand has their own preferred sauces or dishes to combine with kanom jeen.

Close-up of nam ya fish curry with fish balls and green onions.

In Southern Thai regions like Songkhla and Pattani, they often serve a variation of this kanom jeen nam ya recipe, but they like to use fish entrails as well as fish flesh.

All over Thailand and in Bangkok, locals and tourists enjoy kanom jeen with Thai green curry (gaeng keow wan) as an alternative for white rice.

Thai restaurants in the northern parts prefer to serve these thin rice noodles with aromatic sauces. For example, kanom jeen nam ngiaw, made from red curry paste, pork, tomato, fermented nuts, shrimp paste, and other ingredients.

Kanom jeen nam ya for sale at a Thai food market.
Kanom jeen nam ya for sale at a Thai food market.

Boiled eggs, fresh vegetables and herbs are just a glimpse of the combinations that can be enjoyed with kanom jeen.

Vegetables you can eat with kanom jeen:

  • Cucumber
  • Soybean
  • Sweet basil
  • Lemon basil
  • Pickled cabbage
  • Banana blossoms
  • Bean sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Morning glory
  • Flowers
  • Yard long beans
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Bamboo shoots
  • And many, many more.
Seated Thai woman handling a large wok pan fish a flavorful Thai fish curry. The background shows flourishing banana trees and rice fields.
Cooking up the fish broth.

Other types of noodles for this recipe

The traditional choice of noodles for pairing with this Thai fish curry are kanom jeen, but if you’re struggling to find them, here are some good alternatives:

  • Rice vermicelli: These are thin and delicate, which also absorb flavors of sauces or curries very well.
  • Fresh egg noodles are made from eggs, flour, and water.
  • Glass noodles are made from mung bean starch and are very thin and translucent.

Ingredients

Ingredients can be sourced at Asian grocery stores and Asian markets.
The exact measurements are in the recipe card at the end of this post.


Bird's-eye view of the ingredients required for this dish's preparation: water, palm sugar, salt, shrimp paste, fish sauce, fish balls, coconut milk, dried chilies, fresh fish, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, green onions, galangal, shallots, finger root, and lemongrass.
  • Fish – Fresh fish flesh forms the heart of this dish. I used tilapia since it’s an affordable option and readily available at food markets in our rural village. Other options are mackerel, catfish, barramundi, snapper, grouper, or sea bass. Feel free to experiment with others as well.
  • Fish balls (look chin pla) – Fish balls add texture and are a delicious addition to the fish curry. These fish balls are available at the frozen section in most Asian grocery stores.
  • Water – Water forms the base of the fish broth.
  • Lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, finger roots – Aromatic Asian herbs infuse the broth with flavor and herbal notes.
  • Dried chilies (large & regular) – Fiery chilies bring heat and a spicy note, without overwhelming the other flavors. For a spicier dish, add more dried chili peppers.
  • Garlic – Garlic adds depth and extra flavor.
  • Coconut milk – Use full-fat coconut milk for a creamy Thai fish curry.
  • Salt – Salt balances out the overall flavors.
  • Shrimp paste – A key ingredient of Thai cuisine, adds umami and intensifies the seafood flavor.
  • Fish sauce – A staple in Southeast Asia for umami and salty flavors.
  • Palm sugar – A sweetener that adds a hint of caramel flavor.
  • Shallots, green onions

Cooking instructions

First, we’ll prepare a flavorful fish and spice broth. Then, we’ll pound the broth ingredients with a traditional mortar and pestle. After returning the pounded paste into the broth, we’ll add coconut milk for creaminess and richness.

  1. Top-down view of chopped shallots, lemongrass, galangal, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, dried chilies, and finger root in a bamboo plate mat.

    Chop the finger root, galangal, lemongrass, and shallots.

  2. Thai fish curry preparation in a pot.

    Begin by heating water in a large sized wok or pot over medium heat. Once the water begins to boil, add the fish along with the herbs and spices (lemongrass, finger root, kaffir lime leaves, large & regular dried chilies, garlic, galangal, and shallots).

  3. Top-down view of a large wok with a fish broth filled with herbs and spices.

    Place a lid over the mixture and allow the broth to simmer for a duration of 30 minutes, or until the fish reaches a tender consistency.

  4. Top-down view of herbs and spices in a colander, plus the same herbs and spices in a granite mortar.

    Remove the fish and transfer it to a separate plate to let it cool down. Using a sieve, remove all herbs and spices, and transfer to a mortar or a food processor. Remove the wok or pot from heat and set aside, don’t dispose the broth!

  5. Close-up of red paste for Thai fish curry pounded in a granite mortar.

    Pound or mix the herbs and spices into a fine paste. Add shrimp paste and pound/mix once more.

  6. One image is showing a whole fish while another image is showing fish flesh.

    Fillet the fish, leaving only the flesh.

  7. Bird's eye view of fish curry paste in a granite mortar.

    Move the fish flesh to either your mortar or a food processor, and proceed to pound or blend it into a rough paste.

  8. A wok with Thai fish curry; another image shows coconut milk being added to the fish curry; and another image shows a lid over the Thai fish curry.

    Return the wok or pot with your broth to heat, and add the pounded fish curry paste once boiling. Pour in the coconut milk, then cover with a lid and cook for 5 minutes.

  9. Overhead view of Thai fish curry with fish balls and green onions in a wok.

    Add the sauces and seasonings by adding palm sugar, salt, and fish sauce. Next, add the fish balls and cook for approx 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Lastly, add the green onions and stir once more. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

How to serve

Arrange the noodles into bowls and ladle the Thai fish curry (nam ya) over the noodles. Add fresh herbs and vegetables like chopped yard long beans and cabbage near the noodles.

Close-up of kanom jeen nam ya in a white dish, with an abundance of fresh vegetables and fish balls.

Additionally, you can serve with condiments like fish sauce and Thai chili flakes.

How to store

Let your leftovers cool down to room temperature and store them in the refrigerator.

If possible, store the rice noodles and the fish curry in separate airtight containers.

Consume the leftovers within 2 days.

To reheat: Reheat on the stove top over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally.

To freeze: Transfer the curry to a freezer-safe container and store in your freezer. Thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat.

Fun facts

  • “Kanom jeen” (ขนมจีน) refers to a specific type of fresh rice noodles. “Kanom” translates to a snack or dessert in English, and “jeen” describes Chinese-related dishes.
  • Kanom jeen is more than just a noodle dish. It’s part of our Thai culture, and our celebrations and festival activities. At weddings, the long white noodles symbolize enduring love. And in Isan, the northeast of Thailand, they’re a joyful part of welcoming new life. Since the noodles are versatile and can be paired with a variety of food, they’re an excellent choice to serve at activities with many people.
  • Thailand’s food culture is a blend of influences from the neighboring countries Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, plus a strong cultural food connection with China. Most noodle types in Thailand come from the Chinese, but that’s not true for kanom jeen. Instead, it comes from the Mon people, an ethnic group from Southeast Asia.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ’s)

Where to buy kanom jeen noodles?

Kanom jeen noodles can be found in some Asian grocery stores or Thai specialty stores. Additionally, you can search online for websites that specialize in Asian food. If you have an Asian food market nearby, you can ask for the noodles there, or ask if the vendors know where to find them.

More Thai curries you’ll love

If you love this kanom jeen nam ya recipe, please leave a star rating and/or a comment below!

Kanom Jeen Nam Ya (Rice Noodles With Thai Fish Curry)

Top-down view of kanom jeen nam ya, served in a white dish with a side of cabbage and chopped yard long beans.
This authentic recipe for kanom jeen nam ya combines rice noodles with a coconut fish curry.
Praew
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Cuisine Thai
Course Main Course
Serving Size 6 people

Ingredients

  • 35 ounces fish
  • 51 fluid ounces water
  • 3 lemongrass
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 4 dried chilies large
  • 3 dried chilies regular
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 3.5 ounces shallots
  • 1 ounce galangal
  • 1.3 ounce finger roots
  • 34 fluid ounces coconut milk
  • 1 cup green onions roughly chopped
  • fish balls (look chin to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon shrimp paste
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce

Instructions

  • Chop the finger root, galangal, lemongrass, and shallots.
  • Begin by heating water in a large sized wok or pot over medium heat. Once the water begins to boil, add the fish along with the herbs and spices (lemongrass, finger root, kaffir lime leaves, large & regular dried chilies, garlic, galangal, and shallots).
  • Place a lid over the mixture and allow the broth to simmer for a duration of 30 minutes, or until the fish reaches a tender consistency.
  • Remove the fish and transfer it to a separate plate to let it cool down. Using a sieve, remove all herbs and spices, and transfer to a mortar or a food processor. Remove the wok or pot from heat and set aside, don’t dispose the broth!
  • Pound or mix the herbs and spices into a fine paste. Add shrimp paste and pound/mix once more.
  • Fillet the fish, leaving only the flesh.
  • Move the fish flesh to either your mortar or a food processor, and proceed to pound or blend it into a rough paste.
  • Return the wok or pot with your broth to heat, and add the pounded fish curry paste once boiling. Pour in the coconut milk, then cover with a lid and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Add the sauces and seasonings by adding palm sugar, salt, and fish sauce. Next, add the fish balls and cook for approx 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Lastly, add the green onions and stir once more. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Notes

  • Use the nutrition card in this recipe as a guideline.
  • Serve with fresh vegetables like yard long beans and cabbage.

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