I’ve eaten a bowl of Khao Soi a day for the past week. That’s weird because Khao Soi isn’t a dish that I eat regularly when I’m in Thailand. But to prepare for a trip to Chiang Mai, I had to understand this northern dish inside out. My road to discovery began when my friend’s mom taught me how to make this delicious noodle dish the night before my trip. Her recipe called for coconut cream, curry paste, palm sugar, light soy sauce and (to my surprise) mung beans. In this particular recipe the mung beans help thicken the curry. After a delicious dinner with family and friends I was prepared to embark on my quest for the best bowl of Khao Soi that the north has to offer. On my first day, I got together with a local friend who knew exactly just where to take me. To put it simply for those of you who are unfamiliar with Khao Soi, it’s a dish of flat egg noodles in a curry, also known as “Kaeng Ped,”and is then topped with crispy fried egg noodles. Back in the day, the yellow egg noodles were actually made out of gluttonous rice that got it’s yellow color from turmeric. Today, egg noodles are have replaced the rice noodles.
The first place my friend recommended was “Khao Soi Sam Er Jai,” which is one of the the most loved Khao Soi places in Chiang Mai. The casual road side shop looks a little bit like an outdoors food court selling local delicacies like jack fruit salad and northern style sausage. After walking around a little bit I went straight to the bubbling pot of curry and ordered myself a bowl of Khao Soi. I wanted to catch any secrets behind making this dish so I watch closely as the dish was put together. The chef started by tossing flat egg noodles into the bottom of a bowl, along with two cooked drum sticks. She then ladled the hot and concentrated curry over the noodles…
then she topped it off with crispy fried egg noodles and then…
she added coconut cream to the dish!
She told me that the coconut cream is added to round out all the flavors and also adds a little sweetness to the curry.
Khao Soi is eaten with four condiments: shallots, lime, pickled cabbage and chili fried in oil
What I loved most about this dish is how thick and rich the curry was. Packed with flavors, sweet and spicy, this Khao Soi was the best I’ve had yet. Was my search for the best bowl of Khao Soi already was over? Just after finishing his bowl of noodles, my friend told me that he had another place to show me. “Lam Duan” is the name of the shop just down the road from “Sa Mer Jai”, by the way it’s also where the Thai royals prefer to dine.
The next day we walked into Lam Duan’s modest and simple road side shop. Lam Duan has been open for 70 years and has an impressive history worth bragging about. First, it is one of two original Khao Soi shops and has been opened since World War II. Second, in the old days they use to serve their Khao Soi in the royal palace which is why the royals have remained loyal to them. They even have a special chair for the princess for when she dines there. I was eager to find out if I liked my noodles the way the princess of Thailand does and sat down to try some after chatting with the owner. She told me that her curry is pure curry paste, coconut milk and seasoning. I asked her about mung beans and she told me that she doesn’t use it, her thickening agent is time. She starts cooking the curry at 6:00am every morning which gives the curry enough time to reduce and it’s flavors to intensify. She also told me that she uses a lot of turmeric in her curry for extra flavor.
My verdict on Lam Duan’s Khao Soi is that the curry was a little more watery and was not as flavorful as Sa Mer Jai’s. I personally prefer the creamy broth I had at Sa Mer Jai’s and must say that they will be the ones I would go back to. I guess how you like your Khao Soi is as personal as how you like your eggs cooked- it all depends on your preference. In this case, I like Sa Mer Jai’s Khao Soi while the princess of Thailand likes Lam Duan’s.
Sa Mer Jai
Near Wat Fa Ham, 391 Mu. 2 , Charoenrat Road, Tambon Fa Ham, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai
Khao Soi Lam Duan
352/22 Charoenraj Road | near Wat Fa Ham Temple, Chang Phueak, Chiang Mai