February 14, 2012

Kao soi

Bowl of Kao Soi with chop sticks.

Kao soi (sometimes spelled Khao soi) is a curried noodle and chicken soup from Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

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When I went to Thailand a few years ago as an undergraduate student to do water quality research, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Aside from the amazing research experience, I also met wonderful people and fell in love with the cuisine and culture. 

My absolute favorite new food was Kao soi. We would often eat it for lunch just after doing our morning field work in the rice paddies and before going to the lab. The first time I ate this dish, I was blown away. It seemed so simple - a big bowl of curried broth and noodles along with a chicken drumstick, but the flavors were anything but. And, as with much Thai food, there's a big plate of adornments to add on top: cilantro, thinly sliced onions, lime wedges, chili sauce, and soy bean paste.

A couple of years ago, my Thai friend came here to do a semester exchange, so I got to see her a lot. She brought along with her some special Thai yellow curry so that she could try to teach me to make Kao soi at home. 

Luckily, we have a substantial Asian population in our area, and lots of little Asian markets. So, after we visited a few of these, we gathered up suitable ingredients to attempt to make this dish. It was wonderful! While we were making it, I was making some mental notes and she was writing down a list of ingredients. Since then, I have not tried to replicate Kao soi on my own. Mainly because I felt like I'd be disappointed if I didn't get it "right" and also because I couldn't find the special yellow curry paste.

Recently, I received a copy of the cookbook Thai Food for my birthday. In it, there is a recipe for Kao soi. So I decided to give it a try again, this time all on my own. I went to an Asian grocery and asked if they had a Thai yellow curry paste, and they did - the writing was all in Thai and I never would have known that's what it was... I also found a package of fresh Asian style noodles. With those in hand, the rest of the ingredients are easily available at most large grocery stores. You can find Thai Kitchen brand red curry paste and it's pretty good. 

The result was a success - the smell made me so happy and the taste made me quite ecstatic. It was very close to my memory of eating Kao soi from a small noodle shop in Chaing Mai.

On the the recipe... This is a combination of the cookbook recipe, my friend's recipe, and my memory. Many of the measurements are not exact because of the heat/spice levels -- taste and adjust to your liking. This recipe will make about four servings.

Bowl of Kao Soi before adding toppings. 

Kao soi
1/4 cup thinly sliced ginger root
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon unrefined coconut oil
2 tablespoons yellow curry paste
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 to 1-1/2 lbs chicken drumsticks (you could also mix in some thighs)
2 cans (14.5 oz. each) coconut milk (full fat, please)
1-2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
about 1 pound fresh noodles (flat and long such as a fettuccine, just not rice noodles), divided
vegetable oil for frying 

for serving:
fresh cilantro, leaves picked
thinly sliced shallot
chili or chili-garlic sauce
soy bean paste or soy sauce
lime wedges

First, place the ginger root and boiling water in a bowl and set aside for at least 15 minutes. Stir and push the ginger against the bowl with a fork or spoon to try to squeeze out as much of the flavor as possible.

Warm a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the coconut oil along with the yellow and red curry pastes, stirring until fragrant. Add the chicken. Let the chicken get just slightly golden on all sides.

Pour the ginger-infused water through a fine-mesh strainer and into the skillet. Stir well to pick up all the curry paste. Add the coconut milk to the pan. Use another 1/2-1 cup of water to rinse all the remaining coconut from the cans and add it to the pan. Stir well and let the soup come to a low boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook until the chicken is cooked through and tender, about 20 minutes. Add the sugar to taste.

Meanwhile, cook about 3/4 pound of the noodles to package directions. Drain and then use a fork to twist portions of the noodles into little nests. This is optional, but it is what my Thai friend taught me. Set them aside when finished. 

Plate of cooked noodles divided into portion.

Then, add vegetable oil to a sauce pan until it is about 2-inches deep. Heat until hot. Break the remaining approximately 1/4 pound of noddles in half and cook in the hot oil in batches until crispy and lightly golden. Set on a plate with a paper towel to drain any excess oil. Prepare all the garnishes.

When the soup is hot and slightly thickened, place one or two bundles of noodles into the bottom of a bowl. Add a drumstick and ladle in your desired amount of broth. Top with some crispy noodles. Then allow each person to add their desired amount of the garnishes. Serve hot with a spoon and chopsticks. Breathe in the lovely smell of the soup and enjoy.

Serving bowl of Kao Soi.


  1. Thai food is far and above my FAVORITE cuisine but it's so hard to find authentic recipes! I definitely need to try this. It sounds incredibly tasty!

  2. Mmm, i made some thai chicken soup last week that was amazing. this looks even better, and something i haven't tried :)

  3. I never heard of this before! It sounds amazing with all those spicy flavors! I love when dishes are linked so strongly to memories, it makes them extra special.

  4. The idea of a curry broth does sound so much more flavorful than the standard broth of American chicken soup-yum! It does look fabulous-the vibrant color is so eye catching. Pleasing to the eye and I am sure to the taste buds. Thanks for sharing this one!

  5. The curry broth sounds so much better than the chicken or veggie stock!

  6. This broth sounds amazing. The idea of curry makes the soup much more appealing and a must for my To Do list.

  7. I love that you've been to thailand! I've been wanting to get better at cooking thai food- this looks great!

  8. I have never eaten Thai food before. This sounds like it would be full of flavor.

  9. Oh how I wish we had some decent Asian food where I live. I love all the different flavors of Asian food and Thai food especially. I will have to check out some of the grocery stores the next time I go to Dallas. Your soup looks good and I bet it is really flavorful.

  10. Lucky you to have visited Thailand! It's a country I would really love to see. Your recipe for kao soi looks great!

  11. That looks so scrumptious, I have to try this soon!
    I really like plate you have the little nests of noodles on too.

  12. looks delicious & interesting post...I am following you now & going to check facebook page....


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