Khao Soi is a rich curry from Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, characterized by turmeric. It has chewy fried wheat noodles, rather than the usual rice noodles and the toppings of khai soi are also unique from some of the more standard Thai dishes, with fried shallots and pickled vegetables bringing a whole new complexity.
By Amy Endemann
Khao Soi would be my deathbed meal, the meal I would ask for the night before my execution, my desert island meal. It’s a rich curry from Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, characterized by turmeric, which stains the coconut broth a deep gold. It has chewy fried wheat noodles, rather than the usual rice noodles. The toppings of khai soi are also unique from some of the more standard Thai dishes, with fried shallots and pickled vegetables bringing a whole new complexity.
Chiang Mai is just on the border of the Golden Triangle of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, and it has a really distinct culture from the rest of Thailand. I was blown away by Chiang Mai’s sprawling night market, with all kinds of foods I didn’t see anywhere else on my trip. If you ever plan a trip to Southeast Asia, I would put Chiang Mai tops on your list. If anything, to eat your weight in khao soi.
Seriously, once you try khao soi, you’ll crave it. You’ll scour Thai menus and geek out when you finally find a restaurant that has it. And then you’ll be annoyed if they miss the key stuff that makes it khao soi.
The flavors are evocative of what Thai food is all about – the perfect balance of hot, sweet, salty, and sour. We’ve got the hot curry, the sweet coconut milk, the salty fish sauce, and the sour lime and pickled onions, all heightened by the bittersweet fried shallots and crispy noodles.
So when you’re cooking khai soi, taste, taste, taste! It’s all about the balance. Don’t be afraid to tinker, adding more or less of anything to coax all the flavors in line. And don’t get lazy and skip the garnishes, because they really take the dish to the next level.
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1-2 Tbs Thai red curry paste (add more for spicier curry)
- 1 Tbs peanut, vegetable or grapeseed oil
- 2 cans / 28 oz / 800 mL coconut milk, with ½ cup of the thickest cream set aside
- 1.5 lb / 680 g boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 Tbs sugar
- ½ cup / 118 mL water
- 3 Tbs fish sauce
- 1-2 Tbs lime juice
- 8 oz / 225 g dried Chinese egg noodles
- Oil for frying noodles and shallots
- 1-2 limes, quartered
- Handful of cilantro leaves
- 3 shallots, sliced thin
- ½ red onion
- ½ cup / 113 mL white vinegar
- ½ cup / 113 mL water
- 2 Tbs sugar
- First, make the pickled onions: Combine water, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer 3 minutes, til sugar is dissolved. Add onion and remove from heat. Cool for at least an hour. You can store any extra pickled onions in a glass jar in the fridge.
- Next, make the curry: In a small bowl, combine garlic, 1 tsp salt, turmeric and curry paste.
- Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add 1 Tbs oil. Once hot, stir fry the chili paste mixture for 30 seconds, then add the reserved coconut cream. Lower the heat to medium-high. Add the chicken and sugar and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the remaining coconut milk, water, and fish sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook at a simmer for about 30-40 minutes, til chicken is cooked through. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 Tbs lime juice, taste, then add more lime juice, salt and/or fish sauce if necessary. Remove chicken thighs, chop or shred coarsely, and return to pot.
- Meanwhile, make the crispy shallots and noodles: Cook noodles according to pack instructions; drain. Line 2 plates with paper towels.
- In a large skillet, heat about 4 Tbs over medium-high heat. Fry shallots for about 3 minutes, til golden-brown. Drain on paper-towel lined plate.
- Use a fork to create 4-6 little nests with about half the noodles. Reserve remaining noodles. Carefully place the noodle nests in the skillet with the remaining shallot oil, and fry for about 3 minutes, til bottom is very brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels.
- To serve, place some loose noodles plus a noodle nest in the bottom of a wide soup bowl. Ladle over chicken, some broth, and top with fried shallots, pickled onions and cilantro. Serve with a wedge of lime.