Thailand is quite well known for its food scene and for most people the first thing that comes to their mind when it comes to Thai food is tom yum soup or pad thai. There are also other equally good Thai foods like this crab omelette that has won a Michelin star.

However, in northern Thailand the specialty isn’t tom yum or pad thai. But its a noodle dish called khao soi. Here, egg noodles are served with a thick spicy curry broth with either chicken, pork or beef. Vegetable garnish includes pickled mustard greens, shallots and lime slices. It is then topped with fried egg noodles to give a different texture and crunch. If you think this sounds delicious, khao soi was voted as the best soup dish in TasteAtlas, an online food site.

I would say that khao soi is similar in style to several other South East Asian noodle dishes that I’ve tried, like laksa (Singapore/Malaysia), mohinga (Myanmar) and mi quang (Central Vietnam). For my recent trip to Chiangmai, I made it a point to try one of the more famous khao soi stalls in the city. I also then went on to try khao soi from different places and price points. So here’s a look at the different versions of this dish.

Traditional Street Food

I made my way in the morning heat to Khao Soi Khun Yai. Located along the ancient northern city wall of Chiangmai, you will find this well known street food shop. I had no problem getting a Grab ride and keying in the name of the place as my destination.

Despite what the sign says, don’t come at 2.00 pm because their khao soi gets sold out way before closing time. I was here at 11.30 am and it was already packed.
The sitting area is quite small, and you will have to wait for a seat. There’s no queuing system, so you have to grab whatever seats are available.
The counter where you order your food, pay and then take a number. You can do this first then wait for a seat, or like me, do it the Singapore way – claim a vacant seat with your bag/tissue paper and then go order your food.
I got my number and I thought it would be a short wait. After all how long would they take to boil noodles and pour broth over it? Well, I waited almost one hour for my food to be served.
So after about an hour’s wait, my khao soi with pork meat arrived. How did it taste? Read on below.

I must say my expectations were very high as this place is reputed to sell the best khao soi in Chiangmai and is recommended by many food critics and bloggers. During my 1 hour wait, people around me were slurping up their khao soi happily, it must be good. Well, my mind wasn’t blown away, but it was close. The pork was tender and the noodles were firm. The curry broth was tasty and mildly spicy, but I found it to be a bit thin to my liking. Overall, a very tasty and inexpensive meal. The portions may be a bit small for big eaters though but its just fine for Asian appetites. I paid 85 baht for the khao soi and my longan drink which is extremely affordable.

Michelin Rated Restaurant

I was staying at the Nimman area through a recommendation and was looking for a place to have lunch. I must say that Nimman is the newest and trendiest place in Chiangmai right now. You will find an eclectic mix of shops, pubs, restaurants and a night market here. So I happened to walk past this particular restaurant with nice décor and a good crowd the night before, and I decided to try it for lunch.

The restaurant is called Ginger Farm Kitchen and serves organic farm to table food. I noticed the Michelin Bib Gourmand award at their front entrance when I walked in, so their food does have high standards.

I wasn’t intending to order khao soi again but after looking through their very extensive menu, I picked khao soi with chicken for familiarity and a side dish of roasted pork belly. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity try some roasted pork bellies which Thailand is also very well known for.

So this is their version of khao soi. The chicken meat is in the form of a large drumstick that is hidden under the fried egg noodles.

This version of khao soi had a much thicker curry broth which made it quite filling. The serving size was also larger. I wasn’t too keen on the chicken drumstick as I felt it was distracting to eat noodles with chopsticks and then use your fingers to handle the drumstick. Using shredded chicken meat would have been a better choice. Of course the price here was more expensive. I think I paid more than 200 baht for this bowl of khao soi.

The crackling pork belly was a delight, though I think they could have sliced the pieces thinner.

Shan Style

My third encounter with khao soi was in Pai. You can read my previous post on Pai and what to do when you are there. After finding myself in the middle of a Loy Krathong festival parade and celebration, I hopped into one of the restaurants along the night walking street to have my dinner. I was lucky to get a table as other tourists were also coming into the restaurant from the parade outside.

Seated at my table and watching the parade pass by outside.

A guy came to take my order. He looked like he was the head waiter or owner of the restaurant. I decided to try my luck and ask him what their specialty dish was that would be representative of Pai, and you guessed it, he’s answer was khao soi. The choice was made, I just had to see how the Pai version of khao soi would turn out.

Visually, the Pai’s version of khao soi had a much darker broth compared to the ones I had in Chiangmai. While the colour of the broth in Chiangmai is lighter because of turmeric, this one was dark like rendang curry.

Their khao soi was only available with beef. The curry broth had a strong taste of coconut and I could taste the beefiness in the broth. I’m quite certain the broth was cooked with beef stock. Overall, the taste was very different from the khao soi I had in Chiangmai. After all, Pai’s version has its influence from the Shan tribes of Myanmar.

High End Fusion

I stayed in a boutique hotel for 2 nights in Chiangmai after getting back from Pai. This is an unique hotel called the Inside House. Its located inside the old city walls and boasts a turn of the century Lanna colonial architecture.

It feels like you have time travelled back to colonial times, and the Bodhi tree in the courtyard adds a certain charm to the place.

As usual, breakfast was included in the room’s price and I thought it will be a standard buffet type of meal. Instead, I could choose different courses to try each day. On my second day, I decided to try the khao soi for breakfast.

Fusion style khao soi with an onsen egg on top of it. The curry broth had been rendered into a sauce which coated the noodles. This was something really different from the traditional khao soi but still keeping with the original taste.

So the next time you have a choice of breakfast, just don’t go for the usual eggs, ham and cheese. Try something different and indulge in the local cuisine.

The other part of my breakfast which included matcha yoghurt, coffee and a berries shake.

So here you have khao soi served 4 different ways, all the way from traditional street food to Michelin grade and fusion, but the main ingredients are all the same. We have the usual egg noodles and the fried ones, the all important curry broth, meat which is either chicken, pork or beef, and the garnishing of mustard green, shallots and lime. They all come together to give this dish its particular look and taste.


6 thoughts on “Khao Soi

  1. Ah the memories. We had several versions in different places in Thailand in 2020. The best one? Absolutely without doubt was from a market stall in Chiang Mai… I think it was in a market behind “Silver Street” but the memory is a bit vague. The food, though, was utterly delicious.

  2. It’s great that you tried the same dish at different places because that way we can get a better idea of what the dish is really about. Although the first khao soi does look appetizing, the hour-long wait would probably too much for me to handle, especially in an empty stomach.

  3. This is a great idea ~ have a famous, staple dish such as khao soi at different areas and different at a scale (street to high end). All four photos look very appetizing, with the atmosphere of the first place winning out because even with the wait it would be great to take in the scene. The last khao soi with egg sure beats the cold cereal I have having for breakfast today 🙂

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