Duck Noodles With a Difference at Chalawan Khao Man Gai Charoen Nakhon.
As the name suggests, Chalawan Khao Man Gai – จารุวรรณข้าวมันไก่ is known locally for their excellent Hainanese chicken rice but today I’m here to try their duck noodle soup. Duck noodle soup definitely isn’t a rare dish in Bangkok, in fact, on Charoen Nakhon Road alone, I can name a few shops off the top of my head that are worth a visit when you’re in the mood for stewed duck. So what makes the version at Chalawan Khao Man Gai different from the rest? They serve a rare type of Hainanese noodle called sen Hailam. Also, the owner told me they have been open for 30 years selling the same dishes so you know they must be doing something right!
Hailam noodles are a fat, round rice noodle that has the same sort of shape and chewy texture as Japanese Udon noodles. Do I prefer them to the normal sen lek or sen yai rice noodles that come with most Thai noodle soups? Not necessarily but for someone who eats as much noodle soup as I do, I’m talking at least one bowl a day, it’s nice to have a break from the norm. There are only a few places I know of in Bangkok that serve these type of Southern Chinese noodles, one of which is again on Charoen Nakhon Road and the other is Jay Wa-Jay Yong in Bangkok’s Dusit area which you can read about in Bangkok Glutton’s excellent post here.
The meat and stock
The soup comes with sliced, stewed duck meat, and the customary bean sprouts, spring onion and fried garlic found in 99% of Thai noodle soups and of course, the chewy Hai Lam noodles. The duck broth was rich, salty and quite oily with a pretty strong flavour of cinnamon. A large dollop of the chilli vinegar on the table helped to balance the richness of the soup. The duck was soft and tender, well seasoned and has just the right amount of fat left on it to stop it being dry. The Hailam noodles retained their chewy texture in the hot broth, which was great but the smaller pieces of noodles at the bottom of the bowl proved too slippery for my plastic chopsticks and too big to scoop with my spoon so I had to give up and leave them where they were and move on to the khao man gai!
Duck noodle soup with Hailam noodles: 50 THB
The Chicken Rice
I can’t go to a shop with khao man gai in its name and not try the chicken rice so I ordered a cheeky boiled/fried chicken combo on rice. The boiled chicken came without skin, probably because I’m ‘farang’, which suits me down to the ground as I’ve never understood the fascination with the boiled, flabby chicken skin that comes with Hainanese chicken rice. The chicken was perfectly tender with not a hint of dryness in sight and the fried chicken was so ridiculously crispy and moreish that if I hadn’t already eaten the duck noodles, I’d have ordered a plate of this by itself. The rice had a good hit of garlic and was well cooked, chewy without being hard and just the right amount of oil. Chalawan serve a solid khao man gai!
The only two letdowns from the meal were the sauces for the chicken rice and the accompanying soup. The khao man gai comes with two sauces; the classic ginger sauce for the boiled and a sweet chilli sauce for the fried chicken. I was never going to like the sweet chilli sauce and it’s not my thing but the ginger sauce was a little too sweet for me. I like mine more on the savoury side but that’s just personal preference. The soup literally tasted of nothing but at least I got a piece of winter melon in it so it wasn’t all bad. Neither of these qualms is a deal breaker for me, I would happily head back to Chalawan next time I’m nearby as the food is very good, especially for the price.
Khao man gai tod: 50 THB
Inside The Restuarant
Chalawan isn’t going to win any awards for ambience, it’s a classic hole in the wall Thai eatery with metal tables and plastic chairs where you come for decent Thai food at low prices, eat your food and get on your way. The staff are friendly but speak very little English.
Chalawan Khao Mun Gai is located on Charoen Nakhon between sois 29/2 and 31.