Thai Noodles with Cinnamon and Prawns

I have been alive a long time and, at least when it comes to eating, have spent that time wisely and well. So, it's not often that I eat something that tastes so different to anything I've come across before. But this is such a dish. A gorgeous and mesmerically talented chef called, so perfectly, Tum, cooked it when I was on holiday in Thailand last year, and I made him cook it again and again, and then finally asked him if I could video his making it, so I could try and recreate it at home. I was apprehensive about doing so, not least because I was frightened of facing up to my inadequate camera work and the lesser ingredients found at home. And yet, even with frozen prawns, the substitution of regular celery for the Chinese celery (which is all leaf, no stalk to speak of, and stronger-tasting) and a less-experienced hand at the wok, the very first mouthful brought back the magical enchantment of its taste in Thailand. You do need to buy leafy celery, and even though the stalks don't get a look-in, you chop the slender stems to which the leaves are attached and add them to the wok along with the other flavorings at the very beginning. Apart from having to make geographically enforced changes, I have stuck to Tum's recipe, including the ready-ground pepper and chicken stock concentrate (actually, he used chicken powder). I just had to share this spectacularly unfamiliar but compelling recipe with you. I hope you will be as bowled over by it as I was.
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 25 min
  • Active: 15 min
  • Yield: 2 servings
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1 tablespoon sunflower oil

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

3-centimeter (1 1/4-inch) piece (15 grams [0.5 ounce]) fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks

1 star anise

1/2 long or 1 short cinnamon stick, broken into shards

2 to 3 leafy stems at the top of 1 stick celery, stems cut into short lengths, leaves roughly chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

100 ml (scant 1/2 cup) cold water

1 teaspoon chicken stock, concentrate

1 tablespoon ketjap manis (or 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce mixed with 1 tablespoon soft dark brown sugar)

10 raw peeled king prawns, thawed if frozen

80 grams (3 ounces) mung bean (glass) noodles or rice vermicelli, soaked and drained as per packet instructions

1 fat pinch ground cinnamon

1 fat pinch ground cloves


  1. On a high heat, heat the oil in a large wok. Add the garlic, ginger, star anise, cinnamon and the sliced stems of celery (reserve the leaves), and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  2. Stir in both soy sauces and leave to simmer for 30 seconds, then stir in the oyster sauce and ground pepper.
  3. Add the water, followed by the chicken stock concentrate and the ketjap manis (or the mixture of dark soy sauce with soft brown sugar), stir until everything's well combined and bring to the boil.
  4. Now add the king prawns, immersing them in the liquid. Simmer until the prawns are cooked through.
  5. Finally, add the drained noodles and stir well--I find a couple of pasta forks, one in each hand, best for this--so that everything is combined, and most of the dark liquid is absorbed.
  6. Add the pinches of ground cinnamon and cloves, stir again, and if you're not serving straight from the wok, decant into a serving bowl, and sprinkle with the reserved chopped celery leaves.

Cook’s Note

Cool leftovers, then cover and refrigerate within 2 hours of making. Will keep for up to 2 days. Delicious cold.

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