Though longstanding regional rivalries make it painful for me to admit, of all Malaysia’s neighbours, Thailand is undoubtedly our closest culinary contender when it comes to claiming the crown of being South East Asia’s greatest food destination.
Arguably the other great S.E. Asian powerhouse of complex flavours, Thai food may be geographically akin to Malaysia, yet the two cuisines remain fiercely distinct. Of course, it will shock no one to know that, for me, Malaysian food comes out tops over our Northern neighbour every time, even though it’s a closer run race than you’d imagine! What ultimately clinches it for Malaysia is it’s diversity. Of course there are many regional Thai dishes that reflect the local communities, but for the most part Thai food is represented as a unified national cuisine, unlike the wonderfully muddled menagerie that is Malaysian food.
Of course, one thing the two have in common, are noodles.
A self-professed noodle-eating fiend, I wholeheartedly believe that noodles make good cuisines great, and Thailand is responsible for some of the best noodles out there: Pad See Ew and Pad Kee Mao are personal favourites, and I’m even partial to wolfing down a decent Pad Thai. But aside from the famous wok-fried varieties, heartier and soupier Thai noodles seem more elusive than you’d expect. Thankfully, Khao Soi (or Chiang Mai Noodles), pick up the slack rather nicely.
Arguably Thailand’s most famous soup noodles, Khao Soi is also one of the easiest Thai dishes to make at home. Hailing from the country’s Northern region, versions of this wonderful dish can also be found in neighbouring Lao and Myanmar. Whilst most of the ingredients are accessible to anyone with a local Asian Supermarket, Khao Soi‘s laksa-like broth is nevertheless a heady brew of aromatics and depth. Makrut (Thai) lime takes centre stage here, adding a vibrancy to an otherwise rich coconut broth. As such, fresh Makrut Lime Leaves are essential, though the Makrut lime zest is easily replaced with regular lime.
Another ingredient not to be omitted are the fried wonton skins – of course these add some crunch, but ultimately when soaked in the spicy broth, they are transformed into deep-fried nuggets of joy – pure yumminess.
As I said previously, with dishes like Khao Soi, sometimes Thai food really does give us Malaysians a run for our money!
Khao Soi Gai / Chiang Mai Noodles
Time: 45 minutes
600g fresh egg noodles
400g chicken thighs, cut into strips
4 cups chicken stock (or water + 1 TBSP chicken bouillon)
4 TBSP cooking oil
2 tins coconut milk
3 – 4 TBSP fish sauce
1 TBSP finely shaved palm sugar (or brown sugar)
½ tsp ground white pepper
2 fresh Makrut Lime leaves, torn
1 stalk phak phai (Vietnamese coriander/Laksa Leaves/daun kesom), optional
Juice of 1 lime
Thai Red Curry Spice Paste:
4 to 10 dried long red chillies (soaked in hot water till soft), deseed and chopped
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 lemongrass stalk, white part bruised and finely chopped
4cm ginger, peeled, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp shrimp paste
Zest of 1 Makrut/Thai lime (or regular lime)
4 Makrut/Thai lime leaves, de-stemmed, finely chopped
2 tsp ground paprika
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
¼ cup fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
2 limes, quartered
4 wonton skins, cut into 1cm strips and deep-fried till crispy
½ red onion, thinly sliced
Chilli paste or sambal oelek
4 TBSP finely chopped Chinese pickled mustard greens (optional)
- For the spice paste, place all the ingredients (except for the ground spices and salt) into a food processor. Add a splash of cooking oil then pulse till smooth. Decant into a bowl, then mix in the ground spices and salt. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.
- In a large pot, add the cooking oil and spice paste – place on a medium heat. Sauté the spice paste till aromatic and the oil separates.
- Add the strips of chicken and continue to sauté until the chicken takes on some colour.
- Pour in the coconut milk, followed by the chicken stock (or water mixed with chicken bouillon). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a steady simmer. Add half the fish sauce, sugar, and white pepper. Toss in the torn lime leaves and phak phai. Simmer for 20 minutes with the pot partially covered.
- Add the lime juice and test for seasoning, adding the rest of the fish sauce if necessary.
- Cook the egg noodles, divide between serving bowls.
- Ladle the simmering broth over the noodles (be generous).
- Top with some chicken strips and garnishes.
- Serve immediately.