Foodie Column: North Thailand Nostalgia

It’s been a wild, action-packed month since we left Chiang Mai, but the spicy-sweet memory of North Thailand still lingers. After a month of tasty-but-somewhat-boring Nepalese Dal Bhat (rice, veggies and lentil soup), I would give just about anything for a freshly BBQ’ed sausage, a sweet Thai curry, or a spicy basil melody of pad kee mao.

Of all the amazing delicacies of North Thailand, one in particular totally stole my heart: Khao Soi! Unless you’re a super-foodie or have spent time around Laos, or North Thailand, you probably haven’t heard of it, so I’ll fill you in. Khao Soi, at least the Thai version of it, lies somewhere in between yellow curry and chicken noodle soup. The dish is made from a base similar to yellow or massaman curry, but is served with egg noodles instead of rice and is garnished with fried noodles, pickled mustard greens and red onion.

Delicious Khao Soi at a cafe in the Khao Soi Ghetto in Chiang Mai!

The dish is so beloved in North Thailand that there’s even a neighborhood in Chiang Mai affectionately deemed the “Khao Soi Ghetto,” where gluttonous food explorers (guilty) can restaurant hop between a handful of world famous Khao Soi cafes to find their favorite. It’s a wonder that the craze hasn’t spread to the rest of Thailand. Seriously. You can really only find the stuff in North Thailand or Laos.

If you live in Portland, Los Angeles or New York, there’s a famous restaurant called Pok Pok where you can get yourself a bowl at a price (never tried it, but I heard it’s pretty good!), but for the unfortunate remainder of you, you’re pretty much outta luck. That is of course, unless you’re not shy in the kitchen. Lucky for you, I learned how to whip up a batch of Khao Soi at home – right down to the curry paste. Give it a shot when you have a free afternoon, because this recipe is pretty involved. I’ve tried to include substitutions for some ingredients you might not find outside of Thailand. Hope you enjoy!
WHAT YOU NEED (1 serving):

For the Curry Paste:

  • 1/2 Tbsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 4 Tbsp. chopped dried red chillies (soaked in hot water for 10 minutes to soften)
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped shallot
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. shrimp paste (can substitute anchovy paste)
  • 1/2 tsp. finely chopped lemongrass (only the bottom 1/3 of the stalk)
  • 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh galangal (can substitute fresh ginger or dried galangal)
  • 1.5 tsp. curry powder
  • (NOTE: If you’re feeling really lazy, you can use 1 Tbsp. red curry paste and 1 Tbsp. yellow curry paste)

For the Curry:

  • 1/4 lb. boneless chicken thigh meat, thinly sliced
  • 4 oz. Thai egg noodles (can substitute chinese egg noodles)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/2 – 1 Tbsp. palm sugar to taste (can substitute coconut sugar or cane sugar)
  • 1/2 – 1 Tbsp. fish sauce to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

For the Garnish:

  • 2 Tbsp. each chopped cilantro and spring onion
  • 2 Tbsp. pickled mustard greens (recipe here; can substitute store bought pickled cabbage or optionally leave out)
  • 2 Tbsp. sliced shallot
  • 1/2 cup fried chow mein noodles
  • 1 Tbsp. cayenne pepper, fried in 1.5 Tbsp. vegetable oil (optional)
  • 1/2 fresh lime


For the Curry Paste:

  1. Roast coriander seeds, cumin seeds and black peppercorn in a pan on high heat for one minute.
  2. Transfer the seeds and pepper to a mortar and grind into a fine powder with a pestle.
  3. Add remaining curry paste ingredients a few at a time and slowly grind until smooth (should take about 10 minutes). Alternatively you can use a food processor to blend into a paste.

For the Curry:

  1. In a pot, boil the egg noodles with a little vegetable oil until al dente. Strain and add to bowl.
  2. In a wok, preheat the vegetable oil on high heat. Add curry paste and curry powder stirring continually.
  3. As the paste fries, slowly add about half the coconut milk a little bit at a time stirring continually and making sure the curry simmers constantly and doesn’t “go flat.”
  4. Add the chicken and stir well until the chicken turns white. Then add the remaining coconut milk.
  5. Let the curry simmer until the chicken is fully cooked, then season with sugar and fish sauce, starting with 1/2 Tbsp. each and then adjusting to taste.
  6. Remove from heat and pour the curry into the bowl already containing the noodles.
  7. Garnish with chow mein noodles, cilantro, spring onion and other garnishes as desired.
Curry paste ingredients chopped and ready for a good pounding.
Chrissy putting her back into it. Making paste like a champ.
Freshly cooked egg noodles ready for curry.
Ingredients clockwise from top: pickled mustard, sliced shallot, lime, spring onion, and curry paste.
Key step: frying the curry paste first.
Slowly add coconut milk to release the aroma. Ready for chicken.
Add the chicken and stir until chicken turns white.
Simmer till chicken is fully cooked.
Add to the bowl, garnish, and dig in!

4 thoughts on “Foodie Column: North Thailand Nostalgia

  1. another one to try that sounds really yummy. now just like the other recipes i’ve printed out from your site i just need to get up off my bummy and start doing some cooking : ) or get into Seattle and hit up the restaurant you talked about !!


  2. My all time favourite and I am always looking for the best Khao Soi I love it! Best so far according to my Thai daughter in law is in Phuket a lady who comes from Chiang Mai only makes it for a fri/sat lunch times and as if it isn’t hot enough already…lol serves a wonderful chilli paste with it if you dare to add it. I am now in Northern Thailand and have found some which come a very close second an amazing dish and like you often wonder why it is not more widely available but I suspect it is because it is more labour intensive unlike the other Thai curries. Good recipe 🙂


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