Business & Economy

Khao soi: the Thai ‘melting pot’ soup that conquered the world

By Nayara Batschke and Sirin Mungcharoen

Bangkok, Sep 30 (EFE).- A traditional delicacy from northern Thailand considered a symbol of local cuisine, has broken boundaries and emerged as the best soup in the world thanks to its complex combination of flavors, textures and multiple cultural influences.

khao soi, originally from the north of the country and with no exact known age, is a coconut milk broth with chicken in which numerous culinary influences were combined, including Chinese and Indian cuisine, to create something “new and unique.”

“Khao soi is completely a mix of things that is a combination of Thailand and many lands of Southeast Asia in general,” with elements from “many parts of Myanmar, Southern China and also Laos,” anthropologist Nattha Chuenwattana, expert in food and culture studies, told EFE in an interview.

Key ingredients for this creamy soup include egg noodles, curry paste, chicken, pork or beef, coconut milk, mustard pickles and crispy noodles, finished with minced salad.

The peculiar combination, which looks to find the perfect balance between spiciness, sourness, bitterness and sweetness, has gained more and more supporters not only in Thailand but throughout the world in recent years.

Recently, khao soi was voted the world’s best soup by the TasteAtlas travel guide, which brings together authentic recipes, food critic reviews and research articles on local ingredients and dishes, beating 99 other dishes with a score of 4.9 out of 5.

Although its origins and age are unclear, evidence suggests the dish’s first versions came from the spice trade in the northern region of Thailand, then part of the Lanna Empire – whose territory extended through some areas of what is now Myanmar, China and Laos – between the 12th and 16th centuries.

“So many goods and spices, other foods, cultures and people passed through there, so that’s why it’s a really good area to make a dish like khao soi happen,” the expert said. “I can see the rise of the khao soi as the best soup in the world is really, for me, the pick of regionalism in Thailand.”

In Northern Thailand, khao soi is part of locals’ daily lives and can be found “in every corner,” which is why it is considered a kind of “comfort food” by natives of the region.

In the last decade, however, the delicacy has expanded to other parts of the country and has also become today’s symbol of “population displacement and globalization.”

“When people from the northern part came to our restaurant, they said our food was like what their mother cooked for them. It’s a comfort food for them,” Kanyarat Thasutam, 71, owner of one of the pioneering and most popular northern food restaurants in Bangkok, told EFE.

In a modest street in the Ekkamai neighborhood of the Thai capital, Hom Duan restaurant, founded in 2011, gradually built its reputation and is considered one of the best places in the city to savor this authentic dish.

“I have been eating khao soi since I was young (…) when I was beginning to sell Khao Soi, I came up with my own family recipe for the chili and spices mix. There are many variations, depending on each person. Here, it’s my own recipe,” she said.

Both the expert and the cook agree that the “secret” for the growing “popularity” of this dish is in the perfect harmony between the fusions of chili and other spices used for the base of this creamy and slightly spicy soup.

“I would say the purest khao soi is located in the north and people there are really loyal and proud of the style of khao soi (…) it’s also really important to their identity as well,” Nattha said. EFE


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