This classic Cambodian kuy teav recipe makes Cambodia’s popular breakfast chicken noodle soup, kuy teav sach moan, in the restrained style you’d typically find in a simple local eatery or market or street food stall in Cambodia. A good clear flavourful stock is the hallmark of this soup rather than a bowl abundant with ingredients.
Our classic Cambodian kuy teav recipe makes the chicken version of Cambodia’s popular breakfast noodle soup and one of Cambodia’s most beloved street food dishes called kuy teav sach moan – ‘sach moan’ is chicken meat in Khmer – but you’ll also spot kuy teav sach chrouk with pork (chrouk) and kuy teav sach ko with beef (ko) on menus.
I’ve called this a classic Cambodian kuy teav recipe – rather than, say, an authentic Cambodian kuy teav recipe as what’s ‘authentic’ is obviously particular to a specific time, place and experience – although I could also have called it a traditional Cambodian kuy teav recipe, I suppose.
The point is to document a Cambodian kuy teav recipe that’s in the restrained style that you would typically come across at a market or street food stall or simple local eatery in Cambodia. A good clear flavourful stock is what has historically distinguished this soup rather than a bowl filled with a variety of or an abundance of ingredients. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’ll explain why I’m sharing this recipe.
And if you like this classic kuy teav recipe please consider supporting our research and documentation of the recipes and stories of Cambodian cooks by becoming a patron of our epic Cambodian culinary history and cookbook on Patreon for as little as the price of a bowl of soup each month. We also have a lot more Cambodian recipes on the site, as well as hundreds of recipes from Southeast Asia and beyond.
Classic Cambodian Kuy Teav Recipe for Cambodia’s Popular Chicken Noodle Soup
Flick through the pages of a Cambodian cookbook (the handful or so that exist) and you might find a classic kuy teav recipe for one of the country’s favourite breakfast noodle soups in a couple of cookbooks. The other soup you’ll find recipes for will be nom banh chok or nom banhchok or nom pachok.
There’s a recipe for beef noodle soup or kuy teav sach ko in Khmer-American cookbook author Narin Seng Jameson’s Cooking the Cambodian Way and another for classic noodle soup (k’tieu) in Elephant Walk restaurant owner Longteine De Monteiro’s The Elephant Walk Cookbook. But there are no kuy teav recipes in Khmer-American cookbook writers Sorey Long and Kanika Linden’s Authentic Cambodian Recipes From Mother to Daughter, nor in Cambodian cookbook author Hem Meakpal’s The Book of Khmer Cooking.
Made with beef stock, thinly sliced beef stock, garlic, onion, celery leaves, and noodles, Narin Seng Jameson’s beef noodle soup recipe makes the kuy teav sach ko you’ll find in any simple eatery or street food stall in Cambodia. Owner of The Elephant Walk, long considered the best Cambodian restaurant in the USA by Khmer-Americans, Longteine De Monteiro’s recipe makes pork kuy teav, albeit a more luxurious version than you’d find at a local eatery or market stall in Cambodia.
Made with a pork bone broth base, pork tenderloin, ground pork, garlic, carrots, onions, and preserved cabbage, and a garnish of scallions, mung bean sprouts, cilantro (coriander), and bird’s eye chillies, Longteine De Monteiro’s recipe also includes shrimps and dried shrimp. This more abundant version is actually a version of kuy teav Phnom Penh or Phnom Penh noodle soup.
As we’re documenting the recipes of Cambodia, we can’t not include recipes for kuy teav – just as we can’t exclude nom banh chok, despite the fact that most home-cooks here in Cambodia are unlikely to prepare their own fresh noodles or pound the fish curry pastes when they can buy excellent bowls of nom banh chok in their home.
The other reason for kuy teav’s exclusion from Khmer cookbooks might be the fact that – unlike nom banh chok, which is quintessentially Khmer and a very old dish – kuy teav is a Cambodian-Chinese noodle soup that originated in China and you’ll find variations of it right across Southeast Asia. Of course, nom banh chok also has cousins in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, but I’ll come back to that in another post.
Another reason why it’s important for us to document traditional kuy teav recipes is because it’s challenging to find them online. Google ‘kuy teav recipe’ and you’ll find mainly find kuy teav recipes from younger chefs in the Cambodian diaspora in the USA and Australia that in no way resemble anything I’ve to see at a street food stall or local eatery: big bowls of noodle soup brimminng with an abundance and array of ingredients in a way that they wouldn’t here in Cambodia.
One recipe includes five different types of vegetables plus pork tenderloin, chicken drumsticks, dried shrimp, shrimps, and pork mince – ingredients you probably wouldn’t find together in classic kuy teav recipes – along with virgin olive oil! Similarly, another kuy teav recipe includes pork shoulder, ground pork, and calamari, which is clearly an iteration of kuy teav Phnom Penh or Phnom Penh noodle soup.
Just as a bowl of Vietnamese pho in Hanoi or Saigon is more restrained than one you’d buy in Houston or Sydney, so it is with Cambodian soups in Cambodia compared to those in the Cambodian diaspora. That’s not to say that they’re not good. By the look of the recipes they’re incredibly delicious.
They’re just different. Dishes and cuisines evolve when they travel – which is why the notion of authenticity is so slippery, why I’ve used ‘classic’ instead of ‘authentic’ to describe this kuy teav recipe, and also why we think it’s important to document these Cambodian kuy teav recipes.
Tips to Making this Classic Cambodian Kuy Teav Sach Moan Recipe
My best tip to making this classic Cambodian kuy teav sach moan recipe is to have some chicken stock on hand and the recipe, below, assumes you have some home-made stock in the fridge or store-bought stock in the cupboard.
I’m lucky to be married to a man who always has stock on hand for us to use. When Terence needs stock for a dish, he’ll make a big batch and we’ll split it up re-sealable plastic bags or plastic containers and freeze the stuff. At the moment we have a few litres of chicken stock in the freezer.
Like a good Vietnamese pho, this classic kuy teav sach moan should have a good, clean, clear, aromatic stock. Cambodians will nearly always add additional seasoning and condiments to their bowls at the table – anything from pepper, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and soy sauce to slices of bird’s eye chillies, chilli flakes, chilli oil, or a local Sriracha-like chilli sauce – so you don’t need a full-flavoured broth.
How to Make Chicken Stock
To make chicken stock for Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese recipes, Terence has long used a recipe from David Thompson’s Thai Food cookbook, which he tweaks depending on what he has planned for the stock. Terence will throw a kilo of chicken bones, chicken pieces, or even a whole chicken, into a big soup pot and half-fill it with cold water.
Terence will bruise a few cloves of garlic and a big knob of ginger by lightly pounding them in a mortar and pestle and will throw those in the pot, along with a couple of pinches of salt, and a dozen or so coriander stalks with roots (we always keep these in the fridge after using the leaves). Depending on what’s planned for the stock, he might also throw in a few pieces of star anise, perhaps some spring onions or maybe some lemongrass.
Bring that to the boil, then let it simmer for 30 minutes, skimming it every now and again to remove the scum. In Thai Food, David recommends washing the bones first to remove the fat, or removing the skin if you’re using a whole chook, if you want a really clear stock. We tend to use bones only and skim the stock regularly and find that’s sufficient for this sort of soup. Strain the stock, allow it to cool, and skim off the rest of the impurities before freezing it.
While I will add my carrots to the stock, along with additional salt and pepper to taste, I will poach the chicken breasts separately, and blanch the bean sprouts and Asian greens or lettuce individually.
Blanch your chicken in some chicken stock and water in a separate smaller pot. A lot of recipes say to blanch the chicken in water, but trust us, it’s going to be even more delicious poached in some stock. Ensure the chicken is completely covered and then simmer it, don’t let it boil. Do take care not to over-do the chicken. Use a thermometer.
Pull the biggest chicken piece out and pop it on a chopping board and poke your thermometer into the centre. You want it to register to at least 70˚C, aiming for a final internal resting temperature of 74˚C because you want the meat to be white and soft, not brown and hard. When you’re there, remove the breasts and allow the pieces to cool a little and then use your hands to shred the chicken, pulling them apart with your hands. Much better than chopping them up with a knife.
Use dry rice vermicelli for this soup. I read one recipe that recommended fresh rice noodles, but they don’t work for this soup, as they are too soft. You want a firmer noodle.
Most kuy teav cooks add lettuce to their soup, some Asian leafy greens. If you’re not a fan of wet lettuce, use leafy Chinese greens. The presentation, above, is very typical of a classic kuy teav joint in Cambodia, but feel free to get creative.
Provide plenty of condiments on the table, especially if you’re feeding four people or more. (Note that the recipe ingredients below are scalable.) Set out dishes of lime quarters, fresh fragrant herbs such as basil, coriander, mint, fish leaf, etc, extra blanched bean sprouts, and finely sliced birds-eye chillies. Also provide pepper and sugar – Cambodians tend to use fish sauce instead of salt in soups – and fish sauce, soy sauce, chilli sauce, chilli flakes, and perhaps some homemade chilli oil.
Classic Cambodian Kuy Teav Recipe
- 2 litres chicken stock
- 300 g poached chicken breasts shredded
- 200 g dried rice vermicelli noodles
- 1 large carrot sliced
- 100 g bean sprouts
- 8 pieces of Asian greens or lettuce
- 2 cups of fresh fragrant herbs: coriander basil, mint etc.
- 4 birds eye chillies finely sliced
- 2 limes quartered
- 2 pieces spring onions finely sliced
- Put 2 litres of chicken stock – or 1 litre of stock and 1 litre of water – in a big soup pot on the stove to boil, then turn down low to simmer until you’re ready to serve the soup. Season if needed with additional salt and perhaps some pepper.
- While the stock is simmering, in a separate smaller pot, poach the chicken breasts in enough stock to cover the meat until just cooked, taking care not to over-do them. If you have a thermometer, do use it. Poke the biggest piece of chicken in the centre. You want it to register at least 70˚C, aiming for a final internal resting temperature of 74˚C. You want the meat to be white and soft, not brown and hard. When it's ready, remove the breasts and allow the chicken to cool a little before shredding it into bite-sized pieces, just by tearing it apart with your hands.
- While the chicken is poaching, add the thick slices of carrot to the stock; when you do take the opportunity to skim off any fat that has floated to the surface of the stock and any impurities on the bottom.
- Blanch the bean sprouts and Asian greens/lettuce and set both aside.
- Boil the dried rice vermicelli noodles as per the instructions on the packet. Once they're ready, drain them, rinse them so they remain firm, and set aside.
- While the noodles are boiling, finely chop your birds-eye chillies, chop your limes into quarters, wash and pat dry your fresh fragrant herbs, and put them into dishes on the table so your guests can garnish as they wish. I also like to provide additional bean sprouts and chillies.
- Divide the noodles between the bowls – either two big bowls for two people or four smaller bowls for four -- and place the Asian greens/lettuce on the noodles, then the carrots, and chicken.
- Gently pour the stock on top, filling each bowl, then add the bean sprouts and sprinkle on some finely sliced spring onions.
- Suggest to your guests that they squeeze a quarter of lime into their soup, garnish their noodles with more fresh fragrant herbs, perhaps sprinkle on some finely sliced chillies, and squeezes of sauces as they wish. Provide pepper, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, chilli sauce, chilli flakes, additional fresh chillies, and chilli oil.
Do let us know if you make this classic Cambodian kuy teav recipe in the comments below or on social media, as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.