Soup nor mai

20141117 soupnormai1

Have you ever had the experience of going to a much-loved restaurant only to find that your favourite dish is no longer on the menu? I have. Let me relate the story. It was a dark and stormy night…

Actually, it was a warm November evening at our Thai restaurant* — the ‘secret’ suburban Thai place that everyone knows about, but about which no one speaks. The menus had been reprinted, with very little change to the layout. Every dish was there, ostensibly, but when I ordered my soup nor mai, I was informed that it was no longer on the menu. Later in the evening, I asked the owner about the omission. She told me that it was difficult to make for everyone’s tastes and feedback had been mixed. Feedback, shmeedback. I love it.

What is soup nor mai? It’s an Esarn (south-eastern) Thai bamboo shoot salad. As for rujak, it is something of an acquired taste and, when you have acquired it, you won’t be able to get enough of it.

Naturally this meant that I had to make the recipe for myself. Fortunately, it wasn’t the first time I’d prepared soup nor mai, so I knew where to go for help: Amporn Oleski. I used her excellent recipe as a base, and you can find that right here:

Recipe #148: Soup nor mai [aka “spicy bamboo shoot salad”]. You will find all of the ingredients you need for this recipe at your local Asian grocer. You will need a spice grinder, mortar and pestle and/or Thermomix to make this recipe. Serves 8+ as a side.

You will need:
► 400g bamboo shoots, boiled until soft then sliced/shredded into fine strips [some stores sell bamboo shoots pre-cooked and vacuum-packed — in which case, I would give them a good wash before using]
► 4 shallots, finely sliced
► 4 spring (green) onions
► 1 big handful of coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
► 2 heaped Tbsp toasted rice powder [I toasted about 300g of brown rice, which I cooled and ground into a coarse powder. You don’t need all of this for the recipe — but preparing this volume will mean you have some premade for your next batch]
► 1 + 1/2 Tbsp chilli powder [for best results: buy dried chillis, toast them until they start to turn deep red (but not black), then grind them into a coarse powder with your mortar and pestle]
► 6 Tbsp fish sauce
► 6 Tbsp lime juice [I juiced two large limes for this recipe]
► toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Start by preparing your raw ingredients; this takes quite a chunk of time if you don’t have them lined up.

Combine the bamboo shoots with the shallots, spring onions, coriander, toasted rice powder and chilli. Combine the dry ingredients until the bamboo shoots are well coated; ensure the other ingredients are not clumping together too much.

20141117 nakedsoupnormai

Mix in half of the fish sauce and lime juice. Taste. Add more of each, 1 Tbsp at a time, until you reach enough saltiness/astringency to make your tastebuds pop.

Sprinkle over some toasted sesame seeds and eat. Tastes best when eaten within 24 hours, but it’s still pretty delicious on days two and three.

20141117 soupnormai2


  • Pandas eat bamboo raw, but we can’t. Bamboo is poisonous to humans. Cook it first, or buy it cooked and wash it well in water and a little apple cider vinegar before using.
  • Don’t buy the canned sliced/shredded bamboo shoots as a cheaty option. It’s a bit like using pitted olives as a shortcut; they don’t have the same flavour.
  • I tried to make this vegan, I really did, but I couldn’t substitute for the fish sauce. Ordinarily I would say that using some kelp or dulse flakes would do (a la my kimchi). In this case, they don’t. The flavour is utterly and disappointingly different (to me, anyway).
  • Different brands of fish sauce can vary in flavour and saltiness, some limes are more astringent than others, coriander can be tasty or tasteless depending on how old it is and where it is grown, etc. Be mindful of product/produce variations when (carefully) adding your ingredients and don’t be afraid to taste as you go.
  • I couldn’t get my hands on Lao cilantro, otherwise known as culantro, from Amporn’s recipe. Can anyone tell me where I can get this from in Perth?
  • If you’re going to all the effort of preparing your ingredients from scratch, I say it makes sense to prepare too much — that way you have plenty of self-prepped chilli powder and toasted rice powder for future batches.

I hope that you enjoy this dish as much as I do!

H 🙂

*I still love the restaurant, by the way, for its sharp and authentic flavours. It’s called Thai Esarn, you’ll find it in Bayswater, and Libertine Eats wrote up a fabulous review back in 2011:

my specialist shallot peeler :)
my specialist shallot peeler 🙂

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