What is Khao Soi?
“After a night of getting drowned with booze, all I need is just a bowl of Khao Soi” I was surprised to hear this from a man who came from the other side of the world. Being Thai, I didn’t really know that Khao Soi has become this popular! Some of my expat friends even have their own Khao Soi itineraries around Chiang Mai and Lamphun. A question that they usually ask ask is “When I ordered Khao Soi in some places, why do I get a flat rice noodle instead of egg noodles and sometimes no coconut milk?” or “Why did I get these rice sticks in coconut milk curry?” To answer these questions we need to know the meaning of Khao Soi and its variations. “Khao” means rice and “Soi” is to cut, so our fave dish literally translates to “cut rice”. The previous version of Khao Soi was “Papa”, made from sticky rice dough, kneaded and cut in a french fry shape, cooked in boiling water, which then clear beef soup is added.
Khao Soi originated from a minority group called Chine Ho or Haw, the Muslim Chinese who emigrated from Southern China to Northern Thailand. After the Thai Civil War they settled in Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, and Chiang Mai in 1953. Their settlements in Chiang Mai are in Baan Nong Hor, Chang Klan and Wat Ket. Therefore we could find Khao Soi easily around this area. Nowadays, Khao Soi has slightly changed from its original version that of rice sticks, mince beef and broth. After World War II, beef was so scarce, that another version of Khao Soi was created by Lung Pan, a Khao Soi shop owner on Kam Paeng Din Road. His Khao Soi used pork for the first time in Khao Soi history! He also put some variety in to it by putting homemade egg noodles and coconut milk.
His version became a hit all over Chiang Mai and the surrounding regions. Not to be confused with the Khao Soi of Chiang Rai, which employs rice noodles served with minced pork in a soup. Today, in Chiang Mai,we can divided Khao Soi into two groups: Khao Soi Hor (or Muslim Khao Soi) and Khao Soi Konmuang. Here are some recommendations for your own Khao Soi selections, which might not be the ones you are familiar with in the more touristy areas.
Khao Soi Mae Manee
If you tasted Khao Soi prepared by Mae Manee once, you would never want to eat any other Khao Soi! Over the past 30 years, Mae Manee has been cooking Khao Soi, using only charcoal, and choosing only the best quality ingredients. As a result of her slow cook recipe, the beef completely melts-in-your-mouth. Her soup is also quite rich and creamy with a bit of fumé aroma into it. Homemade cabbaged pickles and fresh spring shallots make the dish even more delightful.
Recommendations: Beef khaosoi, Pig’s Ear Khao Soi (I know it’s a bit gross but trust me, it’s great) and Chicken khaosoi
Khao Soi Baan Yang in Fang
One of my favorite Khao Soi is Khao Soi Baan Yang. It is the freshly home-made egg noodles in an aromatic soup with tender beef that really makes my day every time I taste it! This favorite Baan Yang can be easily located in Fang, where the population is mainly Haw. They are reputable for their freshly home-made egg noodles and a very special hot pot. The best Khao Soi is on the way to the First Royal Factory. Naturally, the shop is called Khao Soi Baan Yang. You might think the service is slow, but it is because the owner and the cook make each dish one by one, which you don’t often see. Warning: Khao Soi Baan Yang doesn’t make a lot of noodles each day, so if you arrived at noon there is a good chance there will be no more Khao Soi left.
Khaosoi Baan Yang in Town
Khao Soi Baan Yang Chiang Mai Land in Town is the same Khao Soi as in Fang (both shop owners are siblings!), the only difference is in presentation.
Papa Soi of Jae Mei (Sister Mei)
Khao Soi Jae Mei, is one of the oldest Khao Soi shops in all of Chiang Mai. The owner, Jae Mei or sister Mei, has been cooking original Khao Soi (Papa) for many years. Sister Mei separates the beef stew and the coconut milk. The way she cooks is that; after cooking freshly made papa, followed by thick beef stew, coconut milk, soup and a splash of black soy sauce.
Remember, since papa is made from sticky rice, Khao Soi–and especially THIS one–will leave you full, happy, and ready to sleep!
Khao Soi Mae Sai
Hiding in a small alley near YMCA, Khao Soi Mae Sai is always busy. I give the credit to this shop because the taste of their Khao Soi reminds me to my experience of Khao Soi when I was young, it tastes exactly the same! It would be better if they slow cook the meat in the coconut milk rather than using steamed meat but that’s ok anyway since the soup is quite tasty.
Bua Loy Khao Soi Kuay Tiew