Who would ever have thought that a simple bowl of Noodles could be so good that people actually fly all the way to Chiang Mai in Thailand just to eat this. Some greedy people actually fly to Chiang Mai to eat this several times in a few days. Hungry food obsessed loons have even been known to travel all the way there just to eat this 5 times in a single day….. Oh and just for the record , I’m one of those loons. Walk around town and you`ll see that the vast majority of travellers are tucking into big bowls of these Curried Noodles. When I’ve been on the various cookery courses in the city I’ve noticed that everyone wants to make Khao soi as their main course. It`s so popular that it`s probably the number 1 favourite dish in the city of Chiang Mai.
The story says that Khao Soi has its roots in 18th century Burma , Laos , Myanmar and China. Multiple Asian influences all combining over the years to result in a dish dubbed “The Food of the Gods”. The exact origins of the dish aren`t exactly known but in a nutshell, Khao soi consists of a base of Wheat Noodles (The Chinese influence) topped with a spiced creamy Curry (The Muslim influence) sauce of Chilli , Turmeric , Cumin , Coriander , Ginger , Shallots , Cardamom , Coconut , Palm sugar and Fish sauce. Chicken , Beef or Pork are added and this is then topped with Crispy fried Wheat noodles. Accompaniments of Lime , Coriander , Pickled Mustard Greens and Chilli paste then finish off this truly fantastic Northern Thai delight.
So who wins the Gold medal for the `best Khao Soi in Chiang Mai` ? – This question is a pretty hot topic as everyone`s tastes differ wildly. It seems to me that out of the hundreds of places serving Khao Soi that there`s a core of maybe 8 to 10 making `top ranking` , 4 to 6 making the `cream of the crop` and 2 or 3 being the `best of the best`. On my last trip 4 dedicated Khao soi restaurants made my hotlist but sadly I missed out on what many rate the `best of the best` place to eat Khao Soi in Chiang Mai, Khao Soi `Mae Manee` (I’ll definitely get there next time)
My own personal choice of `The best Khao Soi in Chiang Mai` comes from a combination of intense internet research , a few previous trips to the city and also the preferred choices of a few local Thai friends living in Chiang Mai.
KHAO SOI KHUN YAI (probably my Number 2 choice) – Wow , this place is very popular . We arrived by Taxi , got allocated a ticket and awaited out turn. The food took an hour to arrive and also that long to find and squeeze on to a small table. The place is packed with travellers , every seat is taken and its very obviously a `tick in the box` place on most travellers trip plans. There`s no air con and you`ll be sitting on plastic chairs at plastic tables so be warned.
The Khao Soi with chicken is 40 Baht and can also be ordered with pork or beef. The Chicken version is the house favourite and easily the most popular choice. Flavours are balanced very well , the sweet broth is very laden with Coconut milk and definitely a very good overall bowl of Noodles.
Always taste the broth before adding the condiments , this will allow you to experience the basic flavours of the different mother stocks around town. You can then add the condiments – Pickled Mustard Greens , Fresh Lime juice , Thai Chilli paste , Red onion/Shallot and sometimes leaf Coriander. Once all of these have been added you can truly experience the overall taste of this very unique and heavenly dish.
Khao Soi Khun Yai opens from 10 am until 2 pm each day but closes as soon as the Khao soi runs out. The lady closed the gates and turned the sign whilst we were waiting for our food to arrive. There was a few disappointed punters turned away. Sometimes on busy days the Khao Soi runs out well before closing time so it’s best to go there early.
KHAO SOI ISLAM – A popular local Khao Soi restaurant close to the night market and river.Khao Soi is the most popular dish at Khao Soi Islam but other dishes include the Thai Massaman Curry and the Chicken Satay with a thick Peanut sauce.
Khao Soi starts at 50 Baht and dishes are served quickly, although ordering can sometimes take time. Khao Soi Islam‘s recipes are unique, and a little on the mild side. The homemade Chilli paste (Nam Prik Pao) is really good here and if you want your Khao Soi to be totally authentic then just brave the heat and add a spoonful. The Curry broth is quite tame in heat and not as thick as most of the other places but still has a lovely and unique flavour.
Not the best Khao Soi in Chiang Mai but also one not to be missed. If you`re en route for the “5 in a day” then make sure this place is on your list…and a good place to start.
LAMDUON FAHRM KHAO SOI – This is one of the oldest and possibly the first Khao Soi restaurants in Chiang Mai. A family run `institution` which has been around for 50 or so years and served members of the Thai Royal family. This is one of the restaurants that you check out for locals eating there….. “If the locals are eating then it must be good”. The restaurant is really busy during lunchtime but tables change pretty quickly so just be patient.
HUEN PHEN – ( I reckon this has to be my current Number 1 place to eat Khao soi ) This Restaurant has been on the go for over seventy years and apparently the oldest and most authentic Khao soi place in town. When we go to eat here it`s always busy and we end up with a seating number and await our turn. There`s lots of Thais eating here so I take that as a sign that it`s a good place to dine. The main dish served here seems to be the Khao soi but please go here with an empty belly. The menu is large and the food is very authentic Northern Thai. The Khao Soi is very creamy here with quite a lot of Coconut Milk added. Some like it that way whilst others don`t. The Chilli paste here is also rather fiery so be warned. Other dishes to try here are the Khanom jeen Nam Ngiaw and also the Larb.
LEMONGRASS RESTAURANT – I added this place just to make up the 5th Khao Soi of the day . The restaurant is just on the side of the night bazaar beside the Royal Lanna hotel. It`s always busy here with good trip advisor reviews from Farang (foreigners). The Khao soi is “ok” , it`s but really nothing to write home about and certainly doesn`t make it into the frame of the best in town.
NIGHT MARKET – There`s a lot of vendors serving Khao soi inside the market. I`ve sampled a couple and they fill a gap but certainly don`t come anywhere close to the dedicated places in town.
CHIANG MAI COOKING CLASS VERSION – Here`s the very quick and easy simplified Khao soi recipe from my friend Nancy. Nancy runs a Chiang Mai cooking class which is available as a group or a private couples only lesson.
HOME VERSION – I found this recipe from the Lady and Pups website which is as authentic as you`re going to get at home using easily obtainable ingredients. This is the recipe I use every time I make Khao Soi at home. Here`s a link to the recipe. https://ladyandpups.com/2018/09/05/khao-soi-neua-beef/
FUTURE VISITS – Khao Soi Mae Manee is definitely top of the list for my next trip to Chiang Mai. Apparently this will go straight to my number 1 position….Time will tell.
If you want to eat an authentic Khao Soi whilst in Thailand then i would strongly advise you to leave it until you visit Chiang Mai. I ordered Khao Soi in `Nara` Restaurant last time i was in Bangkok and it was a million miles away in flavour from the ones in Chiang Mai.