A Glass-Noodle Salad From the Land of Smiles

By CiCi Li, NTD Television
October 29, 2019 Updated: November 3, 2019

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles because of its genuinely happy and welcoming people. Bangkok, the country’s capital, is the place I called home for eight years of my childhood.

One of my favorite Thai dishes is yum woon sen, a beloved glass noodle salad dish. The word “yum” literally translates to “mix,” and refers to a type of Thai salad; while “woon sen” means “glass noodles.”

Yum woon sen is a dish that every Thai home cook knows how to make by heart. It has many dimensions of flavors and textures, all different but coexisting in harmony: slippery, chewy glass noodles; crunchy Chinese celery, juicy tomatoes, snappy shrimp, and umami-packed dried shrimp and ground pork. Roasted peanuts add more crunch and nuttiness, and a spicy, zingy dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, and bird’s eye chili peppers brings it all together.

A Quest for the Perfect Dish

I remember eating yum woon sen in Thailand all the time, whether at school, from street food stalls, or in luxurious restaurants. Despite all being made with the same ingredients, each version tasted slightly different, from one place to another. My favorite spot was at a food stall in front of a giant shopping center, The Mall Bangkapi.

Thai food on the streets in Bangkok
Street food in Bangkok. (Shutterstock)

After coming to the United States, yum woon sen became a dish that I had to order in every Thai restaurant I went to—and yet I never found one that perfectly satisfied my palate, like the one in front of The Mall Bangkapi.

I told my husband about my quest to find the perfect yum woon sen. One day, he piled up all the ingredients for the dish on our kitchen counter. He was determined to make it for me.

For the next 30 minutes, he worked his magic on the dish. To my surprise, he presented me with a flavor that was so familiar, and yet that I had not tasted for the longest time. It is one that I missed dearly.

To me, it is the taste of Thailand, the taste of smiles. It is so refreshing, a perfect balance of sweet, savory, citrusy, and spicy. I believe yum woon sen will also become your family’s favorite salad dish and bring a smile to everyone’s face.

Yum Woon Sen (Thai Glass Noodle Salad)

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Serves 4

  • 6 ounces glass noodles
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup peanuts
  • 3 tablespoons dried shrimp
  • 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/4 pound ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1/2 small onion, sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/4 cup Chinese celery stalks, cut into 1-inch-pieces
  • 1/4 cup Chinese celery leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • A handful of cilantro, chopped

For the dressing:

  • 6 tablespoons lime juice
  • 5 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon palm sugar
  • 2 bird’s eye chili peppers, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

Soak the glass noodles in water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

To make the dressing, mix together the lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, bird’s eye chili peppers, and minced garlic. (Traditionally, the bird’s eye chili peppers and garlic are pounded in a mortar and pestle, but if you don’t have one, chopping them with a knife will do just fine.)

In a small pan, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and the peanuts. Stir fry the peanuts over low heat until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Drain the oil and set aside.

In the same pan, add the dried shrimp, and stir fry over low heat until crispy, about 2 minutes. This is going to add a lot of umami flavor to the salad. Drain and set aside.

In a pot, add about 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cook the noodles until al dente, about 30 seconds. Without draining the water, remove the noodles from the pot and rinse in cold running water, to stop them from cooking any further. Set aside.

Bring the water in the pot back to a boil. Transfer in the shrimp and boil over medium-high heat until they turn pink, about 1 minute. Remove from pot and set aside.

Drain most of the water from the pot, leaving about 5 tablespoons. Add the ground pork and fish sauce and cook over high heat, stirring, until well done, about 3 minutes. Drain and aside.

To assemble the salad, in a large mixing bowl, add the onion, Chinese celery, grape tomatoes, cilantro, glass noodles, dried shrimp, shrimp, minced pork, and dressing. Toss together.

Serve on a plate and top with the peanuts.

CiCi Li is the producer and presenter of “CiCi’s Food Paradise” on NTD. Join her in discovering the world of Asian home cooking at CiCiLi.tv