Thailand’s northern cultural capital of Chiang Mai has much to offer – stunning temples, mountain views, massage and language courses and a seemingly endless supply of coffee shops come local art galleries – but its biggest and best contribution must be its infamous local dish, khao soi.
Khao soi is a brothy noodle soup dish of Chinese origin and combining two distinct types of noodles – flat wheat noodles and crispy deep-fried noodles – with chicken, pork or beef and onions in a rich, gravy-like soup basis that sometimes tastes a little like a slightly thinner Japanese katsu curry. It is certainly an assault on the senses – rich and flavoursome with soft, melt-in-the-mouth meat, crunchy noodles and a kick from the onions – with the added assault of chilli paste, more onions and a squeeze of lime on the side.
The dish is available all over Chiang Mai, but two favourite spots to grab it are at Khao Soi Khun Yai (grandma’s khao soi) and Khao Soi Nimman. Khao Soi Khun Yai is an informal and unassuming little restaurant set just off the street and packed with hungry Thais over lunchtime – always a good sign. The cheap-as-chips khao soi is full of flavour and served in good-sized portions; no skimping here. 30 baht gets you a bowl full of tasty noodle soup, with bite-sized pieces of chicken, pork or beef, in a genuinely Thai atmosphere. Other noodle dishes are also available – the restaurant is located between Wat Monthian and Wat Kuam Kama on Sriphum Road.
Khao Soi Nimman, in the fashionable centre of Chiang Mai city, occupies a trendily designed building with concrete tables and chairs set on the lawn outside, and a comfortable, air-con cooled space inside. The extensive menu includes a slightly-pricey-but-worth-every-penny khao soi that comes in chicken or crispy pork varieties, a range of nam prik chilli dips in which to dunk various fresh vegetables, and a selection of other dishes including frog when in season. The only issue with the khao soi here is that the on-the-bone chicken drumstick is difficult to eat with the soup spoon and chopsticks provided; otherwise, it is a good portion of delicious goodness.
Khao Soi Khun Yai, Sriphum Road, Chiang Mai
Khao Soi Nimman, Nimman Soi 7, Chiang Mai