Cambodian Cooking: Beef Noodle Soup (aka “Kathiew”)

These past few weekends I have taken advantage of not having to travel (and leaving my schedule open on weekends), so I had the time and energy to do some spring cleaning and cooking/baking. I have been trying to get back to my roots with cooking but it’s difficult without my mother around as she was the top Cambodian cook I know. This past Saturday, when I went to a local Cambodian market to pick up ingredients to make lemongrass beef satay, I asked the store owner whether I had enough ingredients for the amount of beef I bought. She, along with a customer, was friendly and eager to advise, and as she pointed out a few items I needed, she asked me, “Do you have mommy at home?” in her broken English. I knew she was trying to help and assumed that my mom would have been able to advise me on what to get if she were around (and she was right – obviously I wouldn’t have to ask strangers for Cambodian cooking advice if my mom were still alive). Anyway, my dad, being a chef himself, is great in the kitchen, but I think his Khmer cooking pales in comparison to my mother’s. If only cooking and being a “foodie” was trendy back in the day, I wouldn’t have been so rebellious every time my mother told me to stay in the kitchen with her!

A few weekends ago I tried for the first time ever, to make Cambodian noodle soup (the Vietnamese pho equivalent), “kathiew”. I asked my dad what ingredients I needed and from there I played around with seasonings until I was satisfied with how the broth tasted (the broth is key to a good noodle soup). Here is all I needed for a good broth base: beef bones, bone marrow, cabbage and an onion.

I let the ingredients simmer in a giant pot of water for a few hours and then let it sit overnight. The next morning I woke up early to continue letting the broth simmer for another few hours until the beef was fall-off-the-bone tender, and looked like this:

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Getting the broth started
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After 6 hours of simmering

The broth is already flavorful from the beef, cabbage and onion so seasoning is very simple – just salt, fish sauce and a bit of sugar to round out the flavor! My parents are MSG fans but we quickly got rid of MSG when my dad moved in with us, so I blame lack of MSG for my broth tasting differently than my parents’.

To pull together a bowl of noodle soup, all you need now are the fixings. For me, it’s primarily MEAT. Here is sliced beef and beef meatballs (my parents usually also offer tripe and shrimp, but I was too cheap to buy those additional ingredients). We cook the beef in our bowl of noodles, and let the meatballs cook in the broth, like so:

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Sliced beef, beef meatballs, noodles, and my parents’ handy strainer
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Cook the meatballs in the broth; cook the beef in your soup bowl

You’ll have to boil a pot of water separately to cook the dry noodles:

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Cook the noodles according to your liking!

And now, the fixings to make the soup even tastier: scallions, cilantro, bean sprouts (yuck for me, but good for others), lime, fried garlic, 2 different types of Sriracha hot sauce, Hoisin sauce and Chinese fried dough. Everyone fixes their plate differently.

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For me, I like my noodles with a variety of meats (beef from the broth, meatballs and steak), cilantro, scallions, fried garlic and a touch of hot sauce for a little bit of spice. Here is the final product:

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My siblings came over for brunch to eat the kathiew, which was great because it’s been a while since we had home-made kathiew together. Although my soup did not taste as good as my parents’, it was still a success (we had a few more bowls throughout the day!), and I look forward to trying it again in another month or so.

Lastly, kudos to all the food bloggers who post their recipes and photos of the cooking process. I tried doing it for this post, but it got tedious really quickly. Much respect!

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