Take squiggly wheat-and-egg noodles, a rich, fragrant curry-based broth, sides of crunchy pickled greens, sliced shallots and lime, and you have kôw soy (also known as khao soi), a dish that has become virtually synonymous with the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.
Despite the dish's close links with Chiang Mai, it’s most likely a spin on a Burmese dish, one probably introduced by Muslim-Chinese traders. But while its history may be murky, its appeal is obvious, and eating a couple bowls of kôw soy (one is never enough) is part of the Chiang Mai experience. Hungry? Read on for eight great kôw soy restaurants in Chiang Mai to try it for yourself.
Khao Soi Prince
Combining the smooth noodles and coconut milk-richness of Muslim-style kôw soy with the full-flavoured curry paste of the Buddhist school, Khao Soi Prince serves Chiang Mai’s most balanced bowl. A variety of tasty Muslim-Thai dishes, from meaty curries to biryani, is also available.
Located in Chiang Mai's Ban Haw ‘hood, the predominately Muslim area that is allegedly the birthplace of kôw soy, is this longstanding restaurant. The bowls here are satisfyingly mild, with smooth pale noodles and slightly sweet pickled greens – the dictionary definition of Muslim-style kôw soy. In addition to the noodles, it’d be a pity to miss the outstanding mutton biryani.
Khao Soi Lam Duan Fah Ham
One of Chiang Mai’s most legendary locales for kôw soy, Khao Soi Lam Duan serves what are probably the city’s most full-flavoured bowls. Because the restaurant is Buddhist-run, you’ll find a somewhat unusual pork version of the dish, in addition to a short menu of northern Thai specialties.
Khao Soi Fueng Fah
Also located in the Ban Haw neighbourhood, this Muslim-run place does mild, almost milky bowls of kow soy, which come accompanied by house-made, crunchy/sweet pickled greens and an optional smokey, spicy chili condiment.
Khao Soi Samoe Jai
The largest and possibly most famous kôw soy joint in Chiang Mai, Thai-Buddhist-run Kaho Soi Samoe Jai does big, fragrant, flavourful bowls that feature house-made noodles, in addition to a large repertoire of northern Thai staples.
Khao Ngiaw Ta Bun
You won’t find many foreign diners at this open-air restaurant just outside of central Chiang Mai, but you will find a satisfying take on kôw soy, with a fragrant, almost creamy broth.
Yet another Muslim-Chinese vendor, this time in a humble open-air shophouse not far from Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar. Rot Dee does a mild but tasty bowl of kôw soy, as well as more obscure variations on the dish such as pah pah saa, which uses hearty noodles made from brown rice.
Allegedly one of the oldest vendors of kow soy in Chiang Mai is Suthatsinee. Here, hot coconut milk and curry (beef or chicken) are combined to order, resulting in a meaty yet mild bowl that benefits from a bit of additional seasoning.
Kow Soy Siri Soy
Conveniently located in the centre of Chiang Mai’s walled city, this vendor does a slightly sweet kôw soy that’s also heavy on the curry powder.