If you haven’t been to Northern Thailand, you probably haven’t even heard of it. Shame. Khao soi is without a doubt the most iconic dish hailing from Chiang Mai. Rich, spicy, and complex, it’s also one of the most fun foods I’ve recently eaten. That’s because khao soi isn’t just a meal… it’s an art form.
This dish is Northern Thai via Burma via South China. The details are murky. Whatever the more distant history, khao soi arrived to the Chiang Mai area through Yunnanese Muslim immigrants. Originally, rice would be ground, boiled, dried, and then sliced into the long noodles, giving the dish it’s characteristic name… “khao soi” translates as “cut rice.”
Now, khao soi is served with a visually appealing and texturally exciting double-layer of noodle goodness. Soft noodles swim in the broth below, topped with crispy deep-fried noodles balanced on top. And that’s what this bowl is all about, really: balance.
For our first exploration, we did the one thing I never do… we went to a pretty sterilized restaurant with lots of shiny English menus and other Westerners. I know, I know. I’m already asking for it on this one. But here’s the thing. You don’t just eat khao soy. I knew we were going to need a little help here, if we were going to avoid looking like total farang ding dong.
Not convinced? Then take a look at this roadmap:
We started by picking our meat (we both went with free-range chicken on the bone), spice level, and type of noodles. All of that comes served up and simmered in a soupy deep red curry and coconut sauce. OMG.
That’s not all. At Just Khao Soy, each bowl is appropriately brought to the table on an artist’s palette, surrounded by decadent little dishes to help you get the balance just right for your tastes. From fresh bananas and extra coconut milk to my favorites, shallots and pickled cabbage, we really got to play around with the essential flavors of Thai food–sweet, salty, sour and spicy.
Maybe it takes a little bit of everything to make a masterpiece, but when it’s done right, it’s done right. Delicious.
- Just Khao Soy
108/2 Th Charoen Prathet
(pretty much just a hop, skip, and a jump from the riverside)
- Expect to pay about 100-200 baht/bowl
- If you’re like me and are used to eating street food (read, for Thais), beware. This was one of those places where the waiter thinks it’s funny that you order it spicy and so makes it extra spicy and sniggers in the background when your nose barely runs. Miraculously, I’m not dying, and funnily enough, I do see you over there!