In Search of Palette Perfection: Chiang Mai’s Legendary Khao Soi

FinishedProductThai food is legendary for its ability to frame and showcase an ingredient in the midst of very few others. Clever and time-tested usage of prevalent Thai plants combine with human distillations to create wonderful combinations of flavor with surprisingly few ingredients.

Coaxing a dish toward one end of the flavor spectrum is usually accomplished with one ingredient, palm sugar for sweetness, fish sauce to add salt, various leaves such as bai makok attribute bitterness, and so on. While many of these ingredients do little to change the color or texture of a dish, they can send it swingy wildly in one direction or the other in terms of flavor perception.

As a family with young kids, our favorites are obviously sweet and salty, two flavors that can be drawn out of just about any common Thai dish.

In steps khao soi, a uniquely common dish in the Chiang Mai province of northern Thailand. It’s believed that the prevalence of the dish in northern Thailand can be attributed to the large population of Chinese muslims in this part of the country, a fact bolstered by the common inclusion of a chicken wing or beef strips in the dish.

No matter where it originated from, it’s here to stay in Chiang Mai and street food vendors compete in an unspoken battle for supremacy at the very popular walking markets throughout the week which come to a full boil on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. We’ve been in Chiang Mai about a week now and have already spent hours seeking out, consuming, or practicing the creation of khao soi.

For lovers of sweet and sultry flavor combinations, and judging by the popularity of the highly esteemed peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that would be many of you, khao soi may just be the perfect dish to conjure up when time is sparse on a busy weeknight. While more than one of its ingredients might require a trip to your local Asian market, its traditional preparation involves no chopping or prep work whatsoever, unless you wish to substitute the chicken leg for diced chicken breast. All told a pot full for a family of four can be prepared from start to finish in less than 10 minutes if you’ve got the foresight to pick up a couple of ingredients ahead of time.

Here’s our family’s current abomination that you can try for yourself at home. Enjoy!

 INGREDIENTS (Based on one serving. Multiply by the number of servings required.)


  •  1/2 teaspoon red curry paste
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons palm sugar (or white sugar)
  • 3 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cooking oil
  • 1 raw chicken leg (or 1/2 small chicken breast, diced)
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 1 cup boiled egg noodles (see photo, not the American variety)
  • 1/2 cup fried egg noodles
  • Sweet pickled cabbage
  • Chili powder
  • 1 lime


1. Add coconut milk, water, curry paste, and oil to a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.


2. While soup mixture is boiling, add palm sugar and fish sauce to taste until desired balance of sweet and sultry are achieved.


3. After approximately 4 minutes of boiling and reducing the soup mixture, add chicken leg.


4.Continue boiling until chicken is cooked thoroughly.

5. When chicken is cooked, add boiled egg noodles and shallot and cook for one more minute.


6. Remove from heat and pour into large soup bowl.


7. Top with pickled cabbage, fried egg noodles, lime, and chili powder and serve.


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4 Responses to “In Search of Palette Perfection: Chiang Mai’s Legendary Khao Soi”

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  1. Alana says:

    This sounds fantastic! I can't wait to give it a try. Are you boiling the noodles in the soup mixture or adding noodles that were boiled separately in water?

    • Nate Johnson says:

      Hi Alana,

      Thanks for reading! The reduction can actually be quite long, so we've been boiling them separately so that they don't overcook if the soup mixture needs to cook for a while.



    • Nate Johnson says:

      @Vanessa, after using it almost daily here, I'm not sure we'll be able to live without it. We're already prepping a bag to take with us of curries and spices that would be difficult to find at home.

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