Despite the amazing diversity of food in this country, much of the street food in Thailand is actually quite homogeneous; the same brand of bamee (wheat and egg noodles), Chai Sii, can be found in just about any town or city; central Thai dishes such as phat thai or phat sii iw are prepared at the farthest extremities of the country; and it’s become the exception rather than the norm to find regional dishes at night markets. Luckily, when I was recently in Mae Sai, Thailand’s northernmost town, I encountered the exception in khao soi noi, a Shan dish that, according to the incredibly detailed information on the cart (I didn’t manage to read all of it), has its origins in neighbouring Chiang Saen district. Although the name might suggest the famous northern curry noodle dish, it’s entirely different, and is probably more similar to bánh cuốn, the Vietnamese freshly-steamed noodle.
The first step involves spreading a dab of rice flour batter on a small tin, which is then steamed so it solidifies in a thin layer. When this was done, the vendor then handed me the warm tin and asked me to add whatever seasonings I liked. With her help, I think I managed to add just about her entire arsenal: ground sesame, ground peanuts, lime juice, garlic oil, soy sauce, MSG, three kinds of chili paste and dried chili powder. She took my custom mixture, added a bit more rice flour batter, mixed the entire mess once more and topped it with an egg:
A pinch of vegetables (thinly-sliced cabbage and fresh chilies) was sprinkled on top before putting the tray back in the steam. It’s worth pointing out that rather than somehow elevating it over steam as one would normally do, she simply let the dish float on rapidly boiling water:
It took about four minutes to steam each dish, and as seen above, her ‘steamer’ can only hold one dish at a time. This meant some very slow going, which I mentioned to her. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘you have to be patient to eat this dish!’
Eventually my khao soi noi was deemed ready and was served by folding it over on itself and topping it with a bit more of the cabbage mixture:
The result was something like a spicy Burmese pancake–eaten with chopsticks. I quite enjoyed it, particularly because I was aware that it was only in this particular town that I could eat this dish.
Khao Soi Noi
Street vendor, Th Phahonyothin, Mae Sai, Chiang Rai