Laos khao soi is one of the best hidden gems in the world of noodle soups. It has a garlicky tomato meat sauce that gives this dish its wonderful flavour and colour. It is also known as “spaghetti pho” because it literally looks like bolognese sauce on top of pho rice noodles. But unlike pho, khao soi is ridiculously simple and cheap to make which is perfect for families and those who want something different but are on a budget.
The first time I laid eyes on this dish was at my mate Danny’s house. I remember asking “mate… what is this?” and he replied its “khao soi” in a tone that suggested that it was as common a boiled rice. At this point in time we had been close friends for over 15 years. I had spent numerous new years, Christmas’s, birthdays and confessions with this guy and not once did he ever pull this recipe out. I couldn’t help but feel like he was hiding it from me.
Before the first spoonful, Steph and I we went in with absolutely no expectations, but were left thinking “Ohhhh dat was GEEEEEWD!” So of course, I really wanted this recipe, but I had to play it cool. I played it so cool that it took me 5 years to ask his wife’s sister Tina for the family recipe. But don’t let my forgetfulness put you off…. trust me, this one is a winner.
The true star of khao soi is the tomato meat sauce. All the flavour, colour and fragrance comes from this sauce which makes it quite powerful when eaten by itself. To counter, the soup is purposely kept light in seasoning to balance out the flavours. The vegetables are optional, but highly recommended – especially the watercress. It gives the noodle soup crunch, colour and surprisingly a lot of flavour.
But the ultimate garnish for “khao soi” is crushed store-bought pork crackling. It is so sinful but I have to admit… it really elevates this soup into the stratosphere! Unfortunately, I only found out about this just recently and didn’t manage to get it in the pictures. But of course, if you are thinking of making this then tailor the garnishes to suit your situation. Availability, affordability, healthiness and time are all important factors when deciding what goes into the dish.
My Tips for Success
- I personally believe that fresh rice noodles are better then dried rice noodles for this dish. However, the dried version will still taste great.
- If the fresh rice noodles have been in the fridge for a long time and has become solid, soften them in the microwave for a few minutes before dunking them in boiling water. This will make it easier to loosen the noodles. If they are not already soft since you will only end up mashing them into small pieces.
- Loosen the rice noodles with boiling water in the serving bowls. This will warm up the noodles and the bowl to keep the noodle soup hot when served.
- Short on time? Use store bought chicken stock and skip the fish sauce. If you are out of everything, then use boiling water instead of chicken stock. You will need a little bit of fish sauce to give the soup more flavour.
- If the soup is not seasoned enough to your taste, you can add more meat sauce or fish sauce.
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Laos Khao Soi - Tomato Meat Sauce Noodle Soup
- 2 to 3 chicken frames / carcasses, washed and cleaned (or 2 L of store-bought chicken stock)
- 2.5 L water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp canola oil
- 6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 onion, diced finely
- 500 gm pork mince
- 1 can crushed tomatoes (400 gm)
- 1 cup soy bean paste
- pepper, (to taste)
- 1 kg fresh rice noodle (banh pho) or 1 packet of dried rice noodles (available at Asian grocers)
- 1 bunch bean sprouts (optional but recommended)
- 1 bunch coriander (optional but recommended)
- 1 bunch watercress (optional but recommended)
- 1 packet pork crackling (optional and available at Asian grocery)
- 3 birds eye chillies, chopped (optional)
- chilli sauce (optional)
- fish sauce (optional)
In a large pot, boil the chicken frames in 2.5 L of water. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes and remove the scum on the surface.
Add salt and sugar to the soup and simmer for 1 hour on medium low.
Remove the chicken bones and add the fish sauce. Put the lid on and set aside.
Meat Sauce (Start when 30 minutes left on the soup)
In a non-stick fry pan on medium heat, heat the canola oil, then sweat the onions and garlic.
Add the pork mince and fry until 80% cooked.
Add the crushed tomatoes, soy bean paste, soy sauce and pepper. Cook for 20 minutes over low heat and stir every 5 minutes.
Assembling the Noodle Bowl
Wash vegetables and serve them on the table with any condiments.
Boil plenty of water in a kettle. Divide the fresh rice noodles into bowls. Just before serving, loosen the noodles by pouring boiling water over the noodles. Swirl the noodles for a few seconds with chopsticks and then strain.
If using dried rice noodles, please prepare as per package instructions.
Heat up the soup until boiling. Ladle the soup over the noodles and spoon the sauce over the top. (Refer to the pictures)
Garnish and then serve. Also, serve a bowl of meat sauce on the table if anyone wants extra.