I have Robyn to thank for sending us to Lam Duan to get the dish. Farina, Mary and I set out in a tuk tuk to find the place and $3 and a quick ride later we were there. This place is a very very casual restaurant but, as you walk in and look right you see the incredibly clean kitchen and the gorgeous woman who is cooking. We took a seat and were greeted by our server, a 17 year old Thai teenage boy who immediately said "how ya' doing" with flawless teenage-American dialect. We cracked up (turns out he went to 2 years of high school in Boston and Texas). In any case, we each ordered a bowl of their specialty-Khao Soi, one with chicken, one with pork, and one with beef. We also had a side of pork satay with peanut sauce (he asked, 'do you want 10 satay or 20'-the Thai equivalent to our fast food boxes of nuggets!).
Three minutes later the steaming bowls showed up. The deep bowls were full of rich meat and egg noodles bathed in a light coconut curry sauce glowing turmeric yellow. On top was a nest of crispy egg noodles and on the table were condiments galore. In true Thai fashion, this is a dish that each diner finishes to her own tastes. We had chopped shallots, cilantro, lime wedges, pickled vegetables, fish sauce, sugar, and chili paste. The dish was delicious! We ate, with chopsticks and spoons, until our bowls were empty. The flavors came together perfectly-the fresh garnishes balancing out the richness of the coconut milk and the meat just melting in your mouth.
I've been thinking about the dish since I returned home. Naomi told me that she and Jeff had a recipe for Khao Soi in Hot, Sour, Salty Sweet-their amazing book about the flavors of southeast Asia. I took their recipe, played with it a bit and came up with the one below. I loved it! It is a bit like a southern Thai red curry, the kind we're used to eating at U.S. Thai restaurants but, it has a smoother flavor. It isn't traditionally made with a veggie in it but, I liked the addition of zucchini and think you could egg eggplant, mushrooms, cauliflower, or what ever you like.
Khao Soi (adapted from Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid).
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbs red curry paste
1 tbs vegetable oil, plus more for frying noodles
4 cups canned coconut milk, with 1/2 cup of the thick cream set aside
1 pound beef chuck, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 tbs sugar
3 tbs Thai fish sauce
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tbs fresh lime juice
1 pound fresh Chinese egg noodles (easy to find in the refrigerated section of your supermarket)
Garnishes: chopped shallots, cilantro leaves, sliced green onions, lime wedges, chili paste
Rough chop the garlic on a cutting board then sprinkle it with a pinch of salt. Using the back of your chef's knife, smash the garlic and salt together until they form a paste. Mix the garlic paste with the turmeric and curry paste in a small bowl.
In a large pot, heat the tbs of oil over medium high heat. Add the curry paste mixture and saute until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the 1/2 cup of thick coconut cream and mix to combine. Sprinkle the beef with salt and add it to the pan with the sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef is lightly browned. Reduce the heat if the juices in the pan are getting dark to quickly. Once the beef has browned, add the fish sauce, remaining coconut milk, 1 cup of water and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, to release any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. As soon as the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to low so it is cooking at a very gently simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is very tender and the sauce is slightly reduced, 1-2 hours.
While the beef is cooking, fry the noodles for the garnish. Heat 1-inch of vegetable oil in a small deep pot over medium high heat. While it is heating up, take a handful of the noodles and cut them into 1-2 inch pieces. When the oil is hot (test is by adding a bit of noodle-it should sizzle and float to the top). Fry the noodles in the oil, stirring once or twice, until puffed and golden brown, about 1 minute. Transfer them to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside. They will stay crispy for several hours-just hide them or you'll eat the entire plate!
Just before serving, add the zucchini to the Khao Soi and stir to combine. Cook until just tender, 3-4 minutes more then stir in the lime juice. Heat a large pot of salted water over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, add the noodles. Cook until just tender, about 3 minutes, and drain well.
To serve, place a spoonful of noodles into a deep soup bowl. Spoon the Khao Soi over the top-there should be more broth than noodles. Garnish with some of the crispy noodles. At the table, pass the remaining garnishes for the diners to use as they please. Eat with chopsticks and a soup spoon and enjoy.