Sunday, 8 March 2015

'Agak Agak' Glass Noodle Salad with Roast Pork Belly

Sorry for the silence, the past month has been a mad non-stop string of projects and flights. I was in Singapore the past couple of weeks for Chinese New Year and a much-needed breather. As with all my visits home, I was treated like a little princess and fed like a rather large king. The attention from my parents have been almost embarrassing, but I can't deny I haven't enjoyed every moment of it. I wake up to the smell of mum frying vermicelli with garlic chives and last night's leftover braised pork, and go to sleep happy with slow-brewed tonic soup in my tummy.

In a bid to be less of a pig, I've been trying to learn more recipes from Mum, but eventually, I gave up trying to get cooking times and quantities from her. Instead I just watched. And smelt. And tasted.

At the heart of all Asian home-cooking, is a spirit of 'agak agak' (estimation). A recipe from my aunt might look something like this: Chicken – depends how much you want to eat; shallots– 10 to 20, depending how much chicken; chillies – to your tolerance level; sugar – if you like it sweet, add more.I used to fuss a lot about getting every part of a dish perfect, but now, I've found myself cooking more and more like the older women in my family– relying less and less on tablespoons and timers.

Cooking is a lot more fun and creative when you aren't restricted to a set ingredients list and method. Some of my best meals have been made from the sorry bits I discover in a late night fridge forage. A recent NY Times article on reducing food waste also made a pretty good point: A lot of kitchen waste comes from people blindly cooking from a recipe– so learning to cook intuitively also works out to be more sustainable and friendly on the pocket. As much as I love flicking through cookbooks and poring over recipes on the internet, I think every home cook should learn about techniques, flavours and ingredients, and aim to get to the point where they are comfortable enough to cook intuitively from what they have.

And with that said, here is an 'agak agak' recipe for a Thai-style glass noodle salad yum soon sen – this one, a glorious mess of leftover roast pork belly, shredded rainbow carrots, cucumbers, and fresh herbs. 


2 bundles of dried glass noodles 

large handful of crunchy vegetables
  rainbow carrots, julienned
  cucumber, julienned
small handful of fresh herbs
  Thai basil leaves 
crunchy stuff 
  roasted peanuts
  leftover crispy roast pork belly
  fried shallots

  1-2 tbsp fish sauce
  lime juice (about 2 limes)
  urefined palm or light brown sugar
  small handful dried shrimp
  thinly sliced shallots
  chopped bird's eye chillies, to tolerance level

1. Pour boiling water over glass noodles, cover, and let soak till the noodles are pliable and turn translucent. You can pinch a bit off to test the texture- it should be soft but slightly chewy. Drain and refresh in cold water.
2. Stir together the fish sauce and lime juice. You might need more or less fish sauce depending on the brand and age of your bottle and how juicy your limes are. Taste, then add the sugar. It should lead with sour, followed by salty, and should not taste sweet at all; the sugar is only there to round out the flavours and take away some of the heat from the chillies. Add the dried shrimps and chillies, crushing them lightly with a pestle or something heavy. Taste and adjust again as the dried shrimp can be quite salty. Finally, add the shallots; the acidic dressing will take away some of the raw sharpness.
3. Combine the glass noodles, vegetables and herbs pour the dressing over. Toss well and let stand for at least 15 minutes for the noodles to absorb the flavours before serving. Mix in the crunchy stuff just before serving, so they stay crunchy. Crush/ sprinkle with extra peanuts and herbs. 

You can definitely play around with the ingredients – look into your pantry, fridge and/ or garden. What you're creating is your own perfect balance of flavours (sour and refreshing lime, salty pungent fish sauce, and just enough chilli heat to wake you up) and textures (slippery noodles, crisp vegetables and fragrant crunchy things). 


On my trip back to Singapore, I also visited Super Farmers, an old friend Cynthea's urban farming and cooking startup. We made a very similar noodle salad, but played around with local greens, pickled some foraged sour fruit, and infused the sauce with crushed herbal flowers. She wrote a little blog post about that if you're curious.

For my ultimate crispy roast pork belly recipe, get on the mailing list!

Related reads
Super Farmers Blog: Foraging with Shu
NY Times: Starve a Landfill (Efficiency in the kitchen to reduce food waste)

Other simple agak agak recipes
Wild Green Pancakes and Any Flower Syrup
Kohlrabi Som Tum
Bittergourd Fish Noodle Soup, and what I learnt about 'perfect' soups in Hanoi
Chinese steamed eggs


  1. I have pretty much always cooked without measuring spoons and cups. I guess it's a bit challenging for cooks that are fearful (probably people who are just starting out), but cooking intuition is something you can learn.

    The only place where it doesn't work too while, I find, is with baking! Baking improvisation and intuition results in disaster most of the time! I measure to the millilitre there, especially the first few times of trying a recipe.

    1. Definitely. When I first started out, I followed everything to a T. But I think it is something you can and should pick up. Cooking then becomes so much easier and fun!

      Hehe hence why you don't see many baking recipes on my blog at all... :(

  2. Now you have me crave glass noodle salad! So light, yet packed full of flavours. The roasted pork belly is totally irresistible.

    1. Thanks Angie! The roast pork belly makes it slightly naughty, in a good way :)

  3. This salad looks delicious. I don't think I've ever had roasted pork belly, it's about time I changed that! I totally agree with you about measurements in cooking. One of the hardest things I find about blogging is having to give exact amounts for recipes as it's just not the way I throw together most of my meals.

    1. It's possibly one of the best things to roast! Crispy crackling, juicy meat, and a healthy balance of fat :p Exactly! Sometimes I have to do things again the next day just to make sure I have pen and paper ready to take notes of my measurements.

  4. This salad looks like Vietnamese food and one of favorite kind of food I am looking for.

    1. It is Thai/ Viet inspired. The food and flavours of Southeast Asian food cross over so much :)

  5. Shu, I have been following your blog since years now. Love this refreshing salad you made with glass noodles. I love the lots of crunchy ingredients there. Would try this out soon!

    1. Aw thank you Purabi! That made my day! Hope you enjoy making this salad. Will hop over to check your blog out too x

    2. Yes , This is Vietnamese food .@ Purabi , in vietnam , it is called " nộm đu đủ "
      love your topic !

  6. I can’t wait to make it this weekend.

  7. This site looks awesome and what a lovely recipe. This Glass Noodle Salad with Roast Pork Belly looks very delicious. I want to serve this for father's birthday special. For sure he will love this. Can't wait to try this recipe. This is also a perfect weekend with my family with your other recipes.Thanks for sharing your delicious recipes as free. Nice post indeed, great!

    1. Thanks Tarin! So lovely to hear from you! And please let me know how it went for your father's birthday- really chuffed you chose to do this for your dad!

  8. I made this dish 2 days ago, it was huge hit for a pot luck party. This is my 1st time trying out your recipes, won't be my last for sure. :)
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful recipe Shu Han!

    1. You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear from readers who've tried the recipes out! Thanks for dropping by to let me know and look forward to seeing you on the site more :)

  9. It's maybe wow full.Very interesting and helpful articles posting to you.Thank you so much.

  10. It should cause having poisonous, and then salty, and should definitely not preference lovely by any means; this mister should be only at this time there to help around available this flavors in addition to alleviate a lot of the warm on the chillies.

  11. Flavor, adding the actual sugars. It will guide along with bitter, then salty, and really should not really flavor fairly sweet whatsoever; the actual sugars is just presently there in order to circular away the actual flavors as well as remove a few of the warmth in the chillies. Include the actual dried out shrimps as well as chillies, mashing all of them gently having a pestle or even some thing large.

  12. Ah, this is one of my favorites when eating out! But never knew what is the traditional name! I think I'd head to our local Asian groceries to try to cook it myself - seems simple enough.