It seems like every week a new colorful creation dominates your Instagram food feed, but rarely are these extravagantly designed dishes actually worth eating. This cannot be said about chef Hong Thaimee’s newest iteration of Yum Woon Sen, the Magic Noodle Salad. It will have you quite literally licking the last remnants of dressing out of the bowl, and more likely making plans to return to Thaimee’s newest restaurant, Thaimee at McCarren, for another serving. (You may know the chef from the East Village’s Ngam, where she was serving zucchini noodle Pad Thai long before zoodles became a thing.)
Sold for $12 (plus $4 to $12 for add-ons ranging from mushroom to lobster), the gluten-free glass noodles in this cold dish are blue when they reach the table, rained on by a squeeze of fresh lime and turn a lavender-purple hue in a matter of minutes.
“I wanted to do something fun that people would enjoy,” Thaimee said. Growing up in Thailand, Thaimee experimented with “magic” butterfly pea flower tea (Nam dok anchan), which turns various shades of blue in hot water, and can be transformed to shades of pink and purple with the addition of citrus, from a young age.
When considering how to add a “wow effect” to her new menu, Thaimee decided to soak glass noodles in the brewed blue tea and save the acid element for table service, making the color transformation even dramatic for her diners. “I knew it was going to make people happy, but I didn’t know it was going to be this popular,” she laughed. “I cook to make people happy, and I am so happy to see people of all ages go, ‘Wow, what is this?!’”
What it is: Glass noodles are soaked in blue tea overnight, boiled for two minutes for each order and then shocked in ice water to stop the cooking. The drained noodles are then tossed in fish sauce, palm sugar, lime chili, garlic and fresh herbs, with the last part of the dressing, the lime, saved for the table. The result: a multifaceted, chewy noodle salad, spiked with unexpected hints of spice, sweetness and sourness, all in a single fork-full of bouncy purple noodles.
Of course, Thaimee had Instagram in mind when creating the colorful noodle salad. “We live in the world where everything has to be Instagrammable,” she said, noting that her dish isn’t magic only because of how it looks, but how it tastes. The blue tea is also said to have health benefits, like lowering blood pressure, and Thaimee is honored to have the chance to introduce the ingredient (available at Asian markets in the city) to New Yorkers’ diets.
Similarly, she’s proud to introduce people to modern Thai cuisine. “This isn’t fusion,” Thaimee clarifies to anyone who may label the nouveau Thai food some sort of mash-up. “This is true, modernized, elevated Thai cooking.” This past summer, on her first trip back to Thailand as a professional chef, Thaimee cooked for her Thai compatriots at a pop-up at the Sofitel Bangkok and received the same feedback: She’s bringing Thai food into contemporary times.
Though Thaimee also dyes her dumpling wrappers using a similar technique, she’s not planning on introducing any more magic dishes to her menu. Yet. “Maybe a unicorn pop-up,” she laughed when I asked her about the future of her pink and purple foods. “That would be good. Who knows!”