My Citizens, many in Thailand feel that the apotheosis of Thai cuisine is found in the northern half of the country, in the province of Chiang Mai. The dish most aficionados feel is the best example of the region’s cuisine is Khao Soi.
Khao soi or khao soy (Lao: ເຂົ້າຊອຍ, Burmese: အုန်းနို့ခေါက်ဆွဲ ) is a Chin Haw dish served widely in Myanmar (known as: ohn no khao swè), Laos and northern Thailand.
The Chin Haw are Chinese people who migrated to Thailand via Burma or Laos. Most of them were originally from Yunnan, the southern province of China and they speak Southwestern Mandarin. Generally, the Chin Haw can be divided into three groups according to the time of their migration.
In the 19th century, the Qing army had sent troops to suppress the rebellion in Yunnan, known as the Panthay Rebellion, which caused up to 1,000,000 lives lost – both civilians and soldiers. During this time, many people fled to the Shan state in Burma, then to the north of Thailand.
The Panthay Chinese merchants who traded between Yunnan, Burma and Lanna from their base in the Wa States. Some of them decided to settle down along this trade route. Lastly, after the Chinese revolution in 1949, the 93rd Corps, which supported the Kuomintang party, fled to Burma and to the north of Thailand.
Khao Soi’s name means “cut rice” in Thai, although it is possible that it is simply a corruption of the Burmese word for noodles which is just ‘khao swè’ which may account for the variations. Traditionally, the dough for the rice noodles is spread out on a cloth stretched over boiling water. After steaming the large sheet noodle is then rolled and cut with scissors. Lao khao soi is still made with the traditional noodles, and in some markets in Luang Namtha and Muang Sing vendors still cut the noodles. These traditionally cut noodles can also be found in several places in northern Thailand.
There are two common versions of khao soi:
Lao khao soi is a soup made with wide rice noodles, coarsely chopped pork, tomatoes, fermented soy beans, chillies, shallots, and garlic, then topped with pork rind, bean sprouts, chopped scallions, and chopped cilantro. Though northern Laotians have a special way of preparing this dish, different versions of it can be found at Lao restaurants.
Northern Thai khao soi is closer to the present day Burmese ohn no khao swè, being a soup-like dish made with a mix of deep-fried crispy egg noodles and boiled egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, ground chilies fried in oil, and meat in a curry-like sauce containing coconut milk. The curry is somewhat similar to that of yellow or massaman curry but of a thinner consistency. It is popular as a street dish eaten by Thai people in northern Thailand, though not frequently served in Thai restaurants abroad.
There is some reason to believe that the Thai version of khao soi was influenced by Chinese Muslim cuisine and was therefore likely served with chicken or beef. Different variants of khao soi that are made without any coconut milk and with rice noodles instead of egg noodles are mainly eaten in the eastern half of northern Thailand. Khao soi is also featured in the cuisine of the Shan people who primarily live in Burma. This version of khao soi, as well as the version in Chiang Rai Province, can contain pieces of curdled blood.
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- For the Curry Paste:
- 9 dried Thai chili peppers soaked in water overnight
- 6 garlic cloves
- 3 kaffir lime leaves
- 3 medium shallots, halved
- One 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced (⅓ cup sliced ginger)
- One 2-inch piece fresh turmeric, peeled and thinly sliced – cut this on a disposable plate with kitchen gloves and with a metal knife – it stains BADLY
- ¼ cup chopped coriander root or 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stems
- 2 tablespoons sliced lemongrass from the base of the stalk
- 1 tablespoon shrimp paste, toasted in foil
- 1½ teaspoons toasted coriander seeds
- 2 ½ teaspoons toasted green cardamom pods, seeds removed and husks discarded
- 2 toasted black cardamom seeds, seeds removed and husks discarded
- For the Chicken Rub (Marinade):
- 1 tablespoon Maharaja curry powder from Penzey’s Spices
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 tsp sea salt
- For the Khao Soi:
- 3 cups Thai coconut milk, divided
- Curry paste
- 3 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
- 1½ pounds chicken legs, drumsticks and thighs separated (4 legs, 8 pieces total)
- 1 ½ cups coconut oil
- 16 ounces thick egg noodles
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar
- Red Boat 40-brand fish sauce to taste
- Black soy sauce to taste – this is NOT regular soy, though it can be substituted
- Cilantro sprigs, pickled mustard greens, shallots, chili oil and lime wedges, for serving
- Wash and dry chicken. Marinate with dry rub and set aside. (Can do this overnight)
- Make the curry paste: Place the dried chiles in a heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and let soak until softened, 20 minutes, or soak overnight in cold water. Drain the chiles, reserving the soaking liquid.
- Toast dry spices in a hot pan until darkened, no oil needed, remove from heat and set aside. Toast remaining paste ingredients until they have a slight char or smoky aroma. Toast shrimp paste in a small foil packet. Remove from heat and put all ingredients in your mortar or blender.
- In a mortar (or food processor), pound garlic, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, ginger, turmeric, coriander root (or cilantro stems), lemongrass, shrimp paste, curry powder, coriander seeds, cardamom seeds, and 2 to 4 tablespoons of coconut milk or the chili soaking liquid (as needed) to make a paste. Makes about 1¼ cups.
- Make the soup: In a large heavy pot, heat 1 cup of the coconut milk over medium-high heat. When the coconut milk begins to simmer, add the curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has thickened and reduced, 5-10 minutes. The oils should start to bubble and separate.
- Add the marinated chicken, browning a little on both sides. Add the chicken stock (covering chicken completely) and bring to a boil. reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender, 40 to 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, fry 4 ounces of egg noodles until golden brown and crisp, about 1 minute. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
- Cook the egg noodles one batch at a time, prepare one pot of boiling water and one ice bath for a 3 step process:
- First: slightly rinse noodles under cold water to remove excess flour
- Second: Submerge into rapid boiling water, just to soften, about 30-40 seconds, remove immediately (too long and they will become gummy and inedible)
- Third: Transfer the noodles immediately from boiling pot to ice bath. This will stop the cooking, retain color and help firm them. Remove after 30 seconds, and place in bowl.
- Stir the palm sugar into the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning with fish and soy sauces. Place noodles and soup among 6 bowls. Lightly drizzle coconut milk over top of soup, (don’t stir!) and serve with cilantro, pickled mustard greens, shallots, fried chili oil and lime wedges.
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