The Origins and Evolution of Khao Soi, an Iconic Northern Thai Dish

Tara Abhasakun

23 Apr 2024

The origins and evolution of Khao Soi, a famous northern Thai dish.

THE ORIGINS AND EVOLUTION OF THAI FOOD: In this weekly column, we will explore the international origins and evolution of dishes that many think are classically Thai.

Khao Soi is one of Thailand’s most famous dishes. It features noodles cooked in a rich, creamy coconut milk based red curry with either chicken or beef. The dish is topped with crispy noodles, lime, shallots, chilis, and pickled cabbage. The spice levels of Khao Soi vary based on how much curry paste is added. It is known as an integral part of northern Thailand cuisine.

But where did this dish originate from, and what’s its significance now?

The Roots of Khao Soi

Khao Soi means cut rice, even though the dish is made with noodles.

Khao Soi is believed to have been brought to Thailand by Chinese traders from Yunnan province who plied the spice route through Burma and Laos before arriving in northern Thailand most likely in the 19th century. Although Roy Cavanagh, a blogger on Thai food, says that Khao Soi’s origins come from a mix of influences dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries.

The mostly Muslim background of these traders is thought to be the reason why the dish is usually not made with pork.

Khao Soi has some similarities with a Burmese dish called Ohn No Khao Swe. This dish also features noodles, chicken, and coconut milk curry.

An Award-Winning Dish

In 2022, TasteAtlas declared Khao Soi the world’s best soup out of a list of “50 Best Soups in the World.” The foodie website gave the dish 4.9 points out of 5, describing it as a, “delicious coconut soup in which numerous regional influences were combined to create a truly spectacular dish.”

A Feature of Northern Thailand

Even though plenty of restaurants in Bangkok and other cities serve Khao Soi, the dish is more commonly available in Chiang Mai, and other parts of northern Thailand. Many tourists who visit the region make a point to eat the dish while there, and there are numerous travel blogs with lists of restaurants which people believe make the best Khao Soi.

If you are in Chang Mai try Khao Soi at Ginger Farm Kitchen, as featured in Thailand’s Favourite Restaurants by Koktail 2024 edition.