Four months ago, an overseas website called Taste Atlas published an article on Thai cuisine. A curry ramen called khao soi, which is a specialty dish in Chiang Mai, was selected as the best soup in the world by international food critics. Famous Thai dishes tom yum goong and thom kha kai were also ranked among their top 20 Thai dishes.
Khao soi may not be terribly familiar to those in the foreign community, but it’s a mouthwatering soup with just the right amount of heat, making it an incredibly accessible Thai dish. When you encounter it for the first time, you’re likely to think of it as a kind of northern Thai curry ramen.
In today’s post, I’ll tell you a little more about khao soi. Knowing more about the kind of dish it is will probably make you enjoy it even more and have more fun eating it.
So what is khao soi?
The first thing that comes to mind when we think about khao soi is northern Thai cuisine—the food that is commonly eaten in the northern part of the country. Here’s a little more history on it.
In the mid-19th century, a group of Chinese Muslims escaped Xishuangbanna in Yunnan Province and took refuge in Thailand in order to trade with northern Thailand and Laos. This is partly why there are Chinese communities in certain areas of northern Thailand and Laos. The Chinese Muslims who settled in Chiang Mai came to be referred to as the Chin Haw. One theory about the origin of khao soi is that it evolved from the noodle dishes that the Chin Haw customarily ate in their home country and later began preparing in Thailand.
There was also a Burmese version of khao soi whose preparation was influenced by Myanmar. The yellow noodles in khao soi are a little wider than the ones used in typical Thai ramen dishes. They’re made by mixing flour and water together with a little sugar and salt, kneading the dough, and then rolling it out to a thickness of about 0.6–1.0 centimeters. It’s then cut into thin strips about 15–20 centimeters long.
The Thai name khao soi is said to be derived from this process, as the word soi means to “slice thin.” When the Chinese Muslims first began making khao soi, they flavored the soup with herbs and spices. But because most Thai people like their food sweet and spicy, they tried adding coconut milk to adapt it to local tastes. The coconut milk mellowed the flavor and resulted in a richer dish, but it apparently wasn’t part of the original recipe.
Noodles and broth alone weren’t quite enough, so meat was added—chicken, beef, or pork. This is still a very popular way to eat khao soi today. The final topping is fried khao soi noodles. People also add other toppings according to their preference—things like red onion, lemon, or green pickles that closely resemble pickled Japanese takana greens.
Every place that sells khao soi actually has their own secret recipe, so you’ll get a slightly different flavor depending on where you eat. It’s fun to go around trying the different options and comparing them.
So where should you go if you want to try some khao soi?
Thai restaurants overseas each have their own menu items, but if you go to a place that is frequented by Thai people, you’re sure to see khao soi on the menu. Try it out! And if you actually visit Thailand, you’ve definitely got to try the khao soi in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Don’t miss it!