04/18/17 3:53pm

A Tale of Two Umami Bombs: Lao and Malaysian


Umami bombs in the form of dried fish curl in this tangle of fried noodles.

Long before I heard the word “umami” I was addicted to the savory fifth flavor. I blame pouring Accent directly on my tongue as a young boy. Accent has precisely one ingredient: monosodium glutamate. In terms of umami overload, it was the equivalent of Peter Parker’s radioactive spider bite. I’ve had superpowers ever since, OK not really. I did develop a keen palate for umami though, which brings me to the subject of today’s post: the use of umami bombs—little bursts of flavor in two Southeast Asian noodle dishes I ate recently.

The first comes from Thailand via Laos and Woodside, Queens. “Spicy noodle with Lao sausage real Thai,” read the menu at Thailand’s Center Point. (For the record, everything at this place that I’ve been reacquainting myself with of late is real Thai.) The tangle of noodles ($11.50) is riddled with generous chunks of chewy sour sausage and fried dry chilies, a nice touch which enables one to adjust the heat in the dish. There was another component: little almost imperceptible nuggets of fishy flavor.

“Is there pickled fish in this?” I asked the waitress, who looked surprised by my question. Thanks to Instagrammer @gustasian, I now know that the little umami bombs were dried fish.


Pinang’s char kway teow features tiny cubes of savory fried pork.

My other experience with bursts of savoriness in a noodle dish came in the form of the char kway teow ($8.50) at Pulao Pinang. The stir fry of narrow noodles and seafood had some nice heat and little crunchy cubes of fatty, salty pork. It’s the hallmark of a good version of the dish and any place that leaves this umami bomb out is doing its customers a disservice.

Come to think of it I had a third experience with umami bombs this week. A Lao friend turned me on to eating crab paste with Thai chilies as an accoutrement to Thai boat noodles. Like I said, I’m an umami addict!

Thailand’s Center Point, 63-19 39th Avenue, Woodside, 718-651-6888
Pulau Pinang, 82-84 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-672-7380

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