Ordering a bowl of Khao Soi or Khao Soy in Chiang Mai is like getting an espresso in Milan, Italy. A great glass of wine somewhere on a terrace in the Dordogne in France, or a porterhouse steak in Texas. Thai food is well-known around the globe, but a little known fact is that all the regions in Thailand feature different kinds of foods.
As such, you will occasionally see your Thai friends freak out about a meal they “really want to try”, because it is unique to that region. Or that town. Or that village. Or that particular shed behind that tree. In the past, I’ve made stopovers on my way to other provinces because my Thai friends would insist the noodles at this particular village are second-to-none and we simply had to try them. I always tend to feel a little left out, because I can tell the food is good, I simply miss the years of experience to “benchmark” these culinary expeditions to other restaurants and meals.
KHAO SOI IN CHIANG MAI
Khao Soi is no different, in the sense that it is hard to come by in the Bangkok area, but in Chiang Mai it is considered somewhat of a regional dish. What it comes down to is yellow egg noodles, with rich coconut curry soup, some meat thrown in for good measure (mostly beef or chicken, but you can find pork as well), and to top things off you also get some crispy fried noodles on top. Condiments that come with the dish really differ from restaurant to restaurant, but I’ve come across raw shallots (NOT onions), ground chili flakes, pickles and sour pickled mustard greens.
Khao Soi is almost impossible to find outside of Thailand. Yes, there are many Thai restaurants worldwide, but they usually focus on cuisine from central Thailand, and even though Khao Soi tastes as good as it does, you will be hard-pressed to find it on a menu anywhere else outside of Thailand. Keep that in mind when you are lucky enough to make it out to Chiang Mai, and this incredible dish can be ordered on every street corner.
TIME OUT FOR VEGANS
I happen to know that Chiang Mai is especially popular with people who pursue alternative holiday destinations, with an emphasis on sustainability and organic ingredients. You may ask yourself why I am bringing this up, but you will be amazed at how many vegans make it out to Chiang Mai, and I am guessing they are dying to try a Khao Soi as well. The thing is, you would have to tweak the recipe in a way that gets rid of the egg noodles and the meat. I’ve seen some recipes on the net, but let’s not kid ourselves; it just wouldn’t be the same. Sorry vegans!
Pro tip: Add the shallots for some additional crispiness and structure, and use a little of the ground chili flakes to really fine-tune your Khao Soi to your exact preferences.
THE THREE RULES TO FINDING THE BEST KHAO SOI IN YOUR AREA
There are videos on the net of travelers trying out ten different Khao Soi restaurants in a single day, and they do this on foot. As they have no trouble locating restaurant after restaurant, this should give you some idea of just how common Khao Soi restaurants are in Chiang Mai.
But you don’t want to go to just any joint, and there are a couple of tricks that will help you find the best possible Khao Soi restaurant in your area. Weed out the underperforming ones by applying our patented 3-step selection procedure:
- How many people are sitting at your restaurant?
Let’s say the food stall you picked has eight tables, and six of them are occupied? That’s a pretty good sign. What? They are almost all Thai? It looks like you’ve hit the jackpot! And wait, people are actually queueing up to take home their favorite dish around dinner time as well? These are all indicators of a great restaurant, as the Thai themselves are very particular about the restaurants they frequent.
Pro tip: Try your first Khao Sai with chicken first, and only when that meets your expectations, you should go for the beef Khao Soi recipe. The margin of error is considerably bigger, and someone who can’t cook chicken doesn’t deserve to prepare your beef.
- Fresh egg noodles or factory made?
Let’s assume you picked a weird time of the day and you can’t see how many guests there would normally be at the restaurant of your choice. As I mentioned earlier, the real Khao Soi Chiang Mai recipe has egg noodles in it. So if you find a restaurant that makes its own noodles, you know the cook takes his/her craft serious and this is a great indicator of the quality of the rest of your dining experience.
Likewise, if you catch a cook using regular rice noodles then it is best to move on and find yourself someone who shows a little more culinary dedication to the recipe. Note: In case you stumbled across a vegetarian restaurant, they may use rice noodles as a substitute, and you may give them the benefit of the doubt.
- How many other dishes do they serve?
A restaurant can be like a swiss army knife, or a precision scalpel: very average at lots of things, or extremely effective at doing one simple thing. Many Thai restaurants are famous in their area for serving a single dish only, and they excel at making that particular recipe. That goes for Khao Soi as well. Most of the restaurants we will recommend at the end of this page only serve Khao Soi and most of them even carry the name of the dish in the restaurant, so they certainly know what they are doing.
WHAT SHOULD IT TASTE LIKE?
Of course this is a subjective question, as the additional ingredients you may want to add will really affect the taste of your Khao Soi chiang mai recipe. As a rule of thumb, I like to think that a great Khao Soi broth has a darker color, not a milky one. The egg noodles have a pleasant structure and after a few bites, the broth should coat your mouth with the different spices.
Pro tip: Wearing a white shirt to a Khao Soi restaurant is going to end ugly. As good as it tastes, you are bound to make a mess at some point. So remember that old black Metallica shirt you brought along? Wear that one instead. Have you also noticed how stains just seem to disappear in the patterns of those elephant pants?
WHERE TO EAT KHAO SOI IN CHIANG MAI
There are dozens of places that serve Khao Soi in Chiang Mai, but these are our favourites.
What is your favourite Khao Soi restaurant in Chiang Mai? Any place we should add to this list? Leave your comments in the section below…