This mee Kola recipe makes the vegetarian noodles of Cambodia’s Kola people who originally came from Burma and settled in the Pailin area in northwest Cambodia to mine gem stones. Our recipe for Kola noodles is modelled on a dish made by a Kola family here in Siem Reap. It’s super easy and makes a fantastic single-bowl lunch.
Our mee Kola recipe makes a delicious single-bowl dish of Kola noodles made with rice stick noodles stir-fried in soy sauce, served with papaya cucumber pickle, bean sprouts, crunchy vegetables, fragrant herbs, and crushed peanuts, which you combine altogether with a dressing in your bowl. It’s addictive, easy to make, and it’s one of my favourite Southeast Asian noodle dishes.
Mee Kola translates to Kola noodles – ‘mee’ are noodles and this is a noodle dish of the Kola people (also known as the Kula and Gula people), a Cambodian ethnic minority people who originally came from Burma (Myanmar) and settled in the province of Pailin in northwest Cambodia to mine gem stones. Their history is fascinating. Families of Kola heritage are now scattered all over Cambodia, including here in Siem Reap.
So, no, Kola noodles are not made with Coca Cola, if that’s what you’re wondering – which is nothing to be embarrassed about, as many visitors to Cambodia leave with that impression. One of my tuk tuk drivers told me exactly that when I invited him to lunch to get his insights and help with translation soon after we moved to Siem Reap seven years ago. More on that story below.
Our mee Kola recipe is another recipe that we’re testing out for our epic Cambodian culinary history and cookbook project that is documenting the recipes and stories of Cambodian home cooks and chefs for the first time. If you’re interested in Cambodian food and preserving Cambodia’s culinary history and recipes, we’re always looking for patrons and currently fund-raising for the final research trips we’ll be undertaking over coming months.
You can support our Cambodian culinary research and cookbook – an important, original, first-of-its-kind book, which will be globally distributed in English – on the Patreon platform for as little as US$2 or US$5 or US$10 a month, or whatever you can afford, or you can make a one-off donation. And if you can’t, we get it, but please do take the time to browse our recipes, particularly our Cambodian recipes.
Mee Kola Recipe for the Vegetarian Noodles of Cambodia’s Kola People
Our mee Kola recipe is based on a dish of Kola noodles that I’ve been eating for seven years at a simple, local eatery serving a handful of Cambodian street food dishes that’s owned by a Cambodian family with Kola heritage here in Siem Reap.
Soon after we decided to make Siem Reap our base for our Southeast Asia work as food and travel writers back in 2013, we began to research Cambodian food simply because we loved it and we believed it to be a highly misunderstood and under-appreciated cuisine.
At the time, we had no idea that this passion project would become such an epic undertaking that we would spend seven years researching Cambodian food and Cambodia’s culinary history. You really don’t want to know how many words I’ve written so far.
Before I met the young Cambodian woman who would become a dear friend, little sister, translator, research assistant, and (pre-pandemic) a culinary guide who introduced Cambodian food to some of my clients, including some of the world’s best chefs, I used to take my tuk tuk drivers to lunch.
The drivers I used got to eat a nice lunch, we got to spend some quality time together, and during lunch I would pick their brains about Cambodian food – what they ate, when they ate it, their earliest food memories, what their mums, grandmas and wives cooked, what they cooked, etc – and it worked out really well.
Except one lunch, when I was led to believe that mee Kola was made with Coca Cola – until, convinced there definitely wasn’t any Coca Cola in the noodle dish we’d eaten, I did some more research, took another translator to lunch, did an interview with the family, and learnt about Cambodia’s Kola – also written as Kula and Gula – who originally came from Burma.
That’s the nature of culinary research, whether we use local friends or drivers or professional translators. I could write a book about the bizarre stories that professional guides and translators right around the world have told us over the years.
I’m going to share a whole lot more about the Kola people and the history of Kola noodles on our Patreon page and ultimately in our Cambodia culinary history and Cambodia cookbook. For now, I’m going to jump to the mee Kola recipe. We hope you enjoy it!
Tips to Making this Mee Kola Recipe
Only a few tips for making this Cambodian mee Kola recipe as it’s another easy dish to pull together. Before you start, the first thing to do is to read the instructions for your dried rice stick noodles as different brands have slightly different instructions.
You will want to stir-fry your noodles last, and serve immediately, but depending on the instructions, you may need to soak them first.
If boiling your noodles – and I say ‘if’ because with some brands you just soak and then stir-fry – make sure you follow the instructions but boil to just before the noodles are al dente so that they are still nice and firm.
Because if you cook the noodles too long and they’re soft, they’ll either go mushy or cling together when you stir-fry them, and they won’t combine well with the other ingredients after you serve.
Once you know what you’re doing with your noodles, make the quick green papaya pickle and pop that in the fridge. If you can’t get green papaya, just go with cucumber and carrot. This is a quick pickle, but you could always make these pickles a day or two ahead and refrigerate them.
Next make the dressing and always taste and adjust as necessary. The thing that we’ve found during 35 years of eating Southeast Asian food is that everyone has such different tastes.
Your idea of what’s salty or spicy or sweet might be very different to mine. With Southeast Asian cooking, I think chefs and home cooks taste and adjust and taste again, much more than they would with other cuisines.
If you want to keep this as a vegetarian dish, skip the optional dried shrimp and fish sauce (look for vegan fish sauce or just use water). If you’re not a vegetarian, then you will definitely want to add the dried shrimp and fish sauce.
Mee Kola Recipe
- ½ small green papaya - grated
- 1 cucumber - medium-sized, grated
- 1 carrot - medium-sized, grated
- 2 limes
- 1 tbsp white rice vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- ¼ cup water - vegan fish sauce or fish sauce
- ¼ cup lime juice
- 2 tbsp palm sugar
- 2 cloves garlic - finely chopped,
- 2 shallots - finely chopped,
- 2-4 birds eye chillies - finely chopped, number to taste
- 2 eggs - boiled, optional
- 20 g dried shrimp - optional
- 100 g bean sprouts - blanched
- ½ cup fresh mixed herbs - basil, mint, coriander
- 1 tbsp neutral cooking oil
- 200 g noodles
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- ¼ cup peanuts - roasted, peeled, crushed
- First make a quick green papaya pickle by grating the green papaya, half the cucumber and half carrot in a bowl, then squeeze in the juice of two limes, one tablespoon white rice vinegar, and add one teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon sugar, combine well, taste (adjust to your liking) and refrigerate. Slice the remaining cucumber and carrot into coin-shaped pieces and set aside.
- Make the dressing by simmering a quarter-cup of water or vegan fish sauce (to keep this vegetarian) or half a cup of fish sauce, 2 tbsp palm sugar, two cloves of finely-chopped garlic, two finely-chopped small shallots, and 2-5 birds eye chillies, finely-chopped. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat, add lime juice, stir, and taste. Adjust as necessary so the dressing is balanced, then remove from the heat, pour into a serving dish, and set aside to cool a little.
- This dish sometimes comes with dried shrimp. Skip this step to keep this vegetarian. Otherwise, soak the dried shrimp now for around ten minutes.
- Boil two eggs to your liking. While the eggs are boiling, wash and blanch the bean sprouts then set aside, and wash and dry your mixed herbs and set aside. If you’re using dried shrimp, drain them now and set aside. Peel your eggs, chop them in halves or quarters, and set aside.
- Prepare the dried rice stick noodles according to the instructions on the packet. Some brands suggest that the noodles be soaked first, and then boiled before stir-frying; other brands recommend soaking only and briefly stir-frying. When boiling your noodles, take them off the heat just before they are al dente so that they are still firm – if you cook them too long they will be too soft and go mushy when you stir-fry them. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse them under cold water so they stop cooking.
- Add a neutral cooking oil to your wok and quickly stir-fry the noodles with 1 tbsp soy sauce.
- Arrange everything in big bowls: distribute the noodles between bowls, sprinkle peanuts, optional dried shrimp and some fresh herbs on top. Arrange the papaya pickle, bean sprouts, additional cucumber and carrot slices, boiled eggs, and fresh fragrant herbs around the noodles. Serve the dish of dressing on the table with a teaspoon.
- Before eating add some dressing and combine everything in your bowl. Enjoy!
Do let us know if you make our mee Kola recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.