So what exactly is Khao Soi? The origin of the quintessential Asian street food dish, Khao Soi, has long been subject to debate.
In the mid 1800s, the Panthay Rebellion was an ethnic war fought between Chinese Muslims (Yunnanese) and China’s Qing Dynasty. For decades, tensions leading up to the rebellion were building. Unlike a religious war, Yunnanese revolted in part over class and ethnic mistreatment. War raged for nearly 17 years and left over a million people dead. Subsequently, caravans of Yunnanese poured over the border into what was then known as Burma. Safely across the border, these refugees established a new village called Panglong, in North East Burma. With inspiration from their homeland and the resources of their new village, ‘Ohn no khao swè’ became a staple meal. Coconut milk thickened with chickpeas, wheat noodles, and curried chicken primarily make up the base of the dish. Additionally, condiments like hard boiled eggs, fried noodles, cilantro, fish sauce, and limes add flavor.
Following years of exile in Burma, many Yunnanese began migrating to Northern Thailand and Laos. Unlike the “Ohn no khao swè” of Burma, the dish evolved with each location. In Northern Thailand, the dish began incorporating deep fried egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, and chilies. Similarly, in Laos, the dish incorporated wide rice noodles, bean sprouts, cilantro, and shallots.
Because of it’s rich flavor, the Laos version is the one I often make for my family. It’s surprisingly easy to make and is most certainly a crowd pleaser! Clearly, this delicious dish has earned a rightful spot on food carts and stands throughout Asia.
The most important part of this recipe is the Khao Soi paste. Just like a roux for gumbo, the paste gives the soup complex flavors to build upon.
Khao Soi Paste
4 large dried New Mexico or guajillo chiles, stemmed, halved, seeded
2 medium shallots, halved
1 – 2″ piece ginger, peeled, sliced
¼ cup chopped cilantro stems
1 tablespoon ground coriander
8 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 tablespoons Peanut oil
2 14-oz. cans unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup Thai coconut broth (or vegetable stock)
1 cup chicken stock
1½ lb skinless, boneless chicken breast
1lb rice noodles
3 tablespoons (or more) fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 tablespoon (packed) palm sugar or light brown sugar
Sliced red onion, bean sprouts, cilantro sprigs, crispy fried onions or shallots, chili oil, and lime wedges (for serving)
Khao Soi Paste Directions
Place chiles in a small heatproof bowl, add boiling water to cover, and let soak until softened, 25–30 minutes. Following that, drain chiles, reserving soaking liquid. Purée chiles, shallots, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems, coriander, turmeric, curry powder, and 2 Tbsp. of soaking liquid in a food processor, adding more soaking liquid by tablespoonfuls, if needed, until smooth.
Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add khao soi paste; cook, stirring constantly, until slightly darkened, 4–6 minutes. Add coconut milk and broth/stock. Bring to a boil; add chicken. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is fork-tender, 20–25 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool slightly; shred meat.
Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions. (Watch noodles constantly as they will overcook and get mushy very quickly. Once done, strain under cold running water. Once cooled to stop cooking, coat in peanut oil to keep them from sticking together.)
Add chicken, 3 Tbsp. fish sauce, and sugar to soup. Additionally season with salt or more fish sauce, if needed. Keep noodles and soup separate until serving. Finally, top your Khao Soi with the condiments of your choice and enjoy!