Chiang Mai is especially famous for its Khao Soi, a Thai noodle soup dish, very similar in style to the Burmese Ohno Khao Swe, and I was looking forward to exploring the very best the city had to offer when I visited recently. It is believed that the Khao Soi was introduced to Thailand by Chinese or Burmese Muslim traders, owing to the use of Indian spices like Turmeric, as well as cardamom, and the fact that it is made with chicken or beef as opposed to pork which is more prevalent in Northern Thai dishes.
Here are the 3 best Khao Soi that I tried whilst I was in Chiang Mai, I should point out that local experts Andy Ricker and Austin Bush recommend Prince Khao Soi as one of their top picks but it has recently moved locations and is a fair drive out of town. I searched for it, unsuccessfully, for over 30 minutes aided by a local tuk tuk driver who stopped and asked most people we saw. One to find next trip for sure!
Khao Soi Jay May
My first Khao Soi of the trip and definitely the most surprising! Generous quantities of succulent bone-in chicken and a wonderfully fragrant but mild coconut milk soup. The crispy egg noodles on the top were freshly fried and in just the right quantity, as were the fresh herbs. The standard chilli, lime, onion and pickle garnish are served on the side so you can adjust the flavour to your liking, I tried it as it was served first but I was craving a chilli kick, so I added a good spoonful of the chilli to enhance the flavour further. This was much lighter on the tumeric than any of the Khao Soi I have tried previously, and probably had the most in common with Ohno Khao Swe of the ones that I ate on this trip.
Cost per bowl – 50 THB
Just off Charon Prathet 13, that runs between Soi Chang Klan and Thanon Charon Prathet.
Khao Soi Islam
Whereas Khao Soi Jay May is a small Khao Soi stall, almost single handedly run by the owner, Khao Soi Islam is a far larger restaurant with numerous chefs and waiting staff and was doing an absolutely roaring business when I arrived there mid morning.
They are one of the most famous places in Chiang Mai for Khao Soi and are supposed to serve one of the most “true to the original” versions that you will find.
The Khao Soi here was much heavier on the turmeric than the Khao Soi Jay May version, although the broth was again mild and fragrant, although slightly less tart. Again, I tried the chicken version as opposed to the beef and was impressed with the tenderness of the chicken which was again mostly served bone-in to lock in the juiciness. My criticism here was that the fried noodles on top were not the freshest and I would have liked some more fresh herbs too. The roasted chilli sauce served on the side was once again much needed to up the spice factor a bit for me, fragrant as the coconut soup was. Whilst on the whole I was impressed with Khao Soi Islam, I got the impression that service was a bit more “mechanical” here which makes sense given the disparity in restaurant size from Khao Soi Jay May.
There are lots of other dishes on the menu but I was only there to try the Khao Soi. I have heard however that the Biriyani is where they really shine, so I would recommend trying that as well assuming you aren’t dining solo like I was!
Cost Per Bowl – 30 – 50 THB
Thanon Charoenprathet Soi 1, Chiang Mai, Thailand
10 am – 6 pm from Saturday – Thursday, closed on Friday
Khao Soi Samoe Chai (Khao Soi Samer Jai)
Located in a sort of hawker centre on the east side of the river, to the north of the old town, Khao Soi Samoe Chai was to be the last Khao Soi that I tried in Chiang Mai and narrowly beat out Khao Soi Jay May to be crowned my favourite Khao Soi of the trip.
They seemed to use a slightly thicker egg noodle than i have seen elsewhere, more akin to a linguine than a spaghetti and there was a deeper intensity to the spicing of the coconut soup which I really liked. You can also see that they also used more turmeric than the other two versions I tried as well. The fried noodles were fresh and crunchy and again, the use of bone-in chicken meant that the meat stayed succulent throughout. I could really taste the toasted spices here and needed only a little chilli to perk it up a bit more to get my required chilli kick.
Cost Per Bowl – 50 THB
Next to Wat Fah Haam, Charoen Ras Road, close to Fa Ham Temple
+66 81 950 9067
Have you been to Chiang Mai? Do you agree or disagree with my choices and where would you recommend for Khao Soi for the next time I visit?