Khao Soi Gai – Northern Thai chicken curry
Khao Soi Gai has a literal translation of khao meaning curry, soi meaning street, and gai meaning chicken. This sweet and aromatic curry can be found in early morning markets all around Thailand, but hangs it’s hat in the North, namely Chiang Mai province. There are variations of this dish in Myanmar, by the name of Shwe Gone Noodles. In Malaysia, a similar curry is known as Laksa. There are significant differences in these three examples, but the main structure of a thin yellow curry, crispy noodles, and bright garnishes holds true.
This particular Khao Soi recipe will not win you any awards for being the most authentic, whatever that means, but it is damn delicious! Watch the video and read the recipe thoroughly before embarking on this involved, yet rewarding dish. Because this well-loved and wildly revered curry is so fiercely regional, it is one of those foods scarred by the title of being “authentic” or at worst, “not authentic” by some yuppy who went and partied at in Chiang Mai for a weekend, and now thinks they’re the suburban ambassador on the matter.
No, I am not one of those cooks that completely tosses the word “authentic” out the window, but I believe it is more important to capture the cadence of a dish, rather than photocopy it. It is important to first have a handle on the thing, to learn the composition, before improvising.
Look, it’s complicated, and I’m not the only person who thinks so. Just read Kevin Alexander’s hot take on Why ‘Authentic Food’ Is Bullshit to hear another foodies opinion. While I agree there is an issue of authentic-washing bad preparations, I think there is just as much harm being done by young chefs looking to attempt international cuisine, while their techniques are staying planted firmly in the comfort zone of culinary school. An unwillingness to forget what the French have done long enough to adopt a new skill set is just as damning as continuing an “authentic” recipe that just happens to honk.
The takeaway? Cook good food! First, cook it how someone else has, then if there’s things to improve upon to further satisfy your personal taste buds, or to simplify things without sacrificing flavor, I say go for it! As long as a recipe first comes from a source who deserves to be an authority, I say due diligence has taken place. That being said, just because Thomas Keller is a fantastic chef, doesn’t mean I give a shit how his Thai curries are done, I’d rather shoot rice whiskey with the tuk tuk driver in a Bangkok soup market to learn that! Not everything needs to be “fusion” aka bastardized to avoid being “authentic”, that’s just a cover for lack of proper care and research. No one likes a culture vulture!
Anyways, any way you slice it, or scoop it, this is how I love to cook this dish. As with the many dishes to be featured in the upcoming Thai cooking course, I hope this application gives you the confidence and guidance to make wonderful Thai treats at home. The regional differences in Thailand are one of the powerful elements in the country’s cuisine that had me infatuated in the first place. All I can hope is that my faithful representations bring you joy, and make your guests smile when they take a bite, or a slurp!