I was crestfallen upon returning to Chiang Mai, to find my favourite Khao Soi place shut down. However, with two weeks budgeted and no plans, I had ample time to discover the best Khao Soi in town. Hours/Days were spent riddled with multiple tabs open reading everything from Culturetrip, vice articles, local food blogs, "best of" lists and watching hours of video's of random strangers eating bowls, trying to guage if the broth looked to my liking, or their reactions gave off clues. The result of that awakened fortnight of coconut broth excess was documented here, so this post is a singular homage to the creme de la coconut creme: Khao Soi Khun Yai.
Propped up at a local bar the night before with a friend of mine from Oslo, I suffered the consequences of exhuberance and found the morning tough going. Opening my eyes was trouble enough, walking to the fridge to loosen a cold bottle of water from it's perch seemed tantamount to moses parting the red sea. It took every atom of self-worth to shower and press clean clothes onto skeletal remains. I met my friend again, tailed by two locals who professed a deep suspicion for Khao Soi muttering: "I never eat it".
Eager to change their minds, despite having never tried the place we were headed to, I twisted their arms and we marched into the pale oblivion of northern sunlight.
Turning the corner, I was greeted with my worst nightmare. A full house. Not one table available, and a group of infinitely loud Americans screaming as if being stabbed by a forklift truck: "I love burgers man, who doesn't? Burgers ruuuule man, burgers RUUUUUULE". Now, whilst I have no issue with Americans and count many of them as dear friends, anyone who knows them know's they are not the subtlest guests at the best of times, and hangovers and shrill voices go hand in hand like arsenic and ice-cream.
We were told the wait would be around 20 minutes so we escaped to a kind tree offering shade from the impenetrable wrath from yonder clouds. Sweat dripped like a thousand pilgrims fleeing a poisonous vessel. The breeze was as refreshing as opening the door of a woodfire oven. Sanity aside, who on earth would eat a steaming bowl of noodle soup on a day like today? Well, I would.
Finally summoned to commandeer a tiny plastic stool, bowls were ordered, our two local friends suspicious as thieves, yet partially shocked at how they didn't know of this place that seemed so popular (not only with Americans, I should add).
My feet started that annoying tapping. The "get the bowl here now" tap. After at least 30 minutes of seated penance, an old woman carried four bowls of Khao Soi and began handing them out. First glance, wow!. This looked exactly like the consistency and colour I love. Not too thin, not too rich and creamy. Kuba and I dug in and our eyes met a second later in that "union of appreciation" telepathy.
It was faultless. The broth was decadent, rich, packed with flavour, the meat tender, the noodles on top perfectly crispy, the one's beneath textured, the hits of coriander an oral joy to behold. Praise began to bellow out of my frail corpse. I turned to our two local friends Lan and Arisara, both of them speaking hastily in Thai.... "Oh, this is so good. I never liked Khao Soi before, but this is amazing". Happiness flooded into every receptive corner of my body. I savoured every bite knowing that life won't be this good, ever again.
As with all good things, the bowl was scraped dry, and with it the anticipations of bliss. For now a full stomach would be the only proof of what was shared under that tin roof, during unspeakable furnace conditions, learning that the neighbouring table REALLY loved burgers. At least, as is not so often the case with me, I had three other people to share the moment with, to prove to me that it did happen, that it wasn't just some feverous dream.
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.
"Sadness is tempered by umami, grief by the motion of slurping, hope restored by the ladling of glistening, fatty broth"