Memories of Chiang Mai: Khao soi with homemade coconut milk

I spent a good chunk of December in Southeast Asia, specifically Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Hanoi. Needless to say, we had a variety of delicious foods, but one of the dishes that stood out for me the most was the Chiang Mai specialty of khao soi.

Khao soi is part of the continuum of Asian noodle soups, a continuum that includes such renowned dishes as ramen, pho and laksa. It’s a shame that it’s not more widely known, though, because khao soi is at least as good as any of these. It’s reasonably rich, with egg noodles and a broth based on coconut milk and red curry paste. To gild the lily, some of the noodles are fried and scattered over the top of the finished dish, providing great textural contrast; even the humblest khao soi shops we visited in Chiang Mai did this.

I had made khao soi once before going on this trip, using the recipe in Hot Sour Salty Sweet, and when I returned, it wasn’t long before the craving hit. This time, I had some of my homemade red curry paste stashed in the freezer, so I decided to finally try my hand at making my own coconut milk, to up the “homemade” quotient.

It’s kind of an arduous task that involves grating the coconut flesh, mixing it with hot water, then massaging it to extract the milk. The first step can be made easier by using frozen, pre-shredded coconut, which is what I did. I found the resulting coconut milk to be a bit on the thin side, and not as flavourful as I would have liked. Then again, I have heard some cooks complain that canned coconut milk is “pasty,” so perhaps it’s my frame of reference that’s off! Certainly I’ll be interested in trying again, with a different brand of frozen coconut, and tweaking the process – in particular, I think the water may have been too cool the first time.

Either way, the khao soi itself was every bit as delicious as I had hoped. The recipe calls for a mix of coconut milk and water, so my thinner coconut milk worked out just fine. Whether using homemade or canned coconut milk, it’s safe to say that this dish is going to be a regular part of my rotation from now on.

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