The Origin Story & History Of The Famous Thai Boat Noodles

Boat noodles are probably the only reason why I ever visit ORTO. If you haven’t tasted boat noodles, you would have most likely seen pictures and videos of your friends indulging in bowls after bowls of boat noodles on Instagram.

But have you ever wondered why boat noodles are almost always served in small bowls instead of normal-sized bowls like the ones that you use to eat your wanton mee from?

Image: Bangkok Post

Here’s a break down of the origin and history of the famous Thai boat noodles that we know and love.

Why Are They Called Boat Noodles 

The boat noodles, also known as kuay teow rua, is a dish that reflects cultural and geographical conditions.

Boat noodles originated from Thailand and are best known in the Rangsit area of Pathum Thani province, where they first emerged.

The Rangsit Pathum Thani area has many canals. Chinese people settled there and happened to sell noodles from boats.

Hence, you can assume where the name “boat noodles” came from there.

Salted Cows’ Blood As Soup

If you were to order a bowl of boat noodles at ORTO, you can choose the kind of meat that you want alongside your choice of soup.

However, in the past, the boat noodles were originally beef noodles and the soup was flavoured with salted cows’ blood, a massive difference from the herbal or tom yum soup that we order today.

Image: Giphy

It might sound pretty gross, but it must have been pretty nice, considering the popularity of the boat noodles in the past.

In addition to the salt that was added to prevent the soup from coagulating, spices such as star anise and powdered cinnamon were added.

The Small Bowls- A Practicality Or A Marketing Tactic? 

Since the noodles have to be cooked in hot water, it would be difficult for vendors in small boats to sell noodles in normal-sized bowls as they would have to keep a lot of soup and heavy bowls on the boat.

Thus, boat noodles were served with a small quantity of soup in small bowls so that the vendors could use their hands to prepare and serve the noodles to customers while they place their leg on the canal bank to keep their boats steady.

Image: Giphy

Multi-tasking at its finest. 

However, some people think that vendors use small bowls so that each customer will order several bowls to satisfy their hunger, thus paying more for a normal meal.

Come to think of it…if you were to calculate the price after the GST and service charge, 6 bowls of boat noodles at ORTO costs you more than a McDonald meal.

Also, a lot of my friends always seem to over order as they underestimate how full they can get from a seemingly small bowl of noodle.

Image: Giphy

Canals In Bangkok Was Clean Enough To Wash Dishes 

Back when the canal water was clean, vendors would dip and wash the bowls by their boats. When it was muddy, they could still wash it, but had to wash it further by using boiled water in their boats before preparing the noodles.

However, as new buildings were built on waterways and more wastewater was discharged into canals, worsening water pollution and disappearance of canals made vendors come ashore.

And that’s the story of how boat noodles came about. It’s a pity that we can’t ever experience the authentic boat noodles culture but it sure is nice knowing the history of the noodles.


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