29 March 2010


A friend on Chowhound asked for a Lao khao soi recipe.  A pork and fermented bean paste sauce served over khao/kao soi.  l learned it, a couple of years ago, from the owner of a wonderful khao soi shop in L. Namtha.  Her place is just off the main drag (near the ATM)  behind the shake shop!

General Info: Kao Soi is a the local breakfast specialty of Luang Namtha. "Kao" means rice and "Soi" means to cut as with scissors. A large round noodle crepe is made with rice flour and then rolled up and cut using scissors.  Another distinguishing feature of Kao Soi is the sauce spooned on the top is made with fermented soy beans (like miso or shoyu), chili and pork.
Declaration: I am not a recipe writer. This breakfast recipe was created for a friend. If your are "purist" or need lots of exact details then this recipe will not interest you.  I cook it like a pasta sauce and  never use exact measurements. I learned to cook it over a fire so I give no temperature setting for stoves. But one can easily figure out the right heat level.

Final Note: I deliberately wrote it using general food item words. Example: red chilies means "whatever red chilies one can find where ever they live". I added pictures to serve as a visual guide.

1.8kg (4lb)pork steak ground
450g (1lb)pork fat ground
10 peeled shallots and chopped
2 heads of peeled garlic
1 Tbsp oil
200g (8oz)  fermented red soybean paste (red color)
20-25 red chilies 
Last but not least a dash of MSG
(if allergic; leave it out)

The owner
and her son

Puree chilies in a blender with some water

 Use mortar and pestle the garlic and shallots
(the mush in the bowl is it)

 Fry the pork fat garlic and shallot mixture stir 5-10 min
After 5 minutes; fat firms up before it starting to melt

The pork fat after cooking 10 min 

Fermented bean paste and the chili puree added 
3 mins later (picture).
Ground pork meat is added 15 min later. 
Then water is added as the sauce thickens. Roughly 3 cups.

Simmer until done
30-45 min after meat was put in.
It can be served as a soup or pasta dish:  For pasta, pour 1/2 cup of sauce over cooked rice noodles, as seen in the picture. For the soup, put noodles and 1/2 cup of sauce in a bowl and top with 1-2 cups of hot water.  Serve with a side of fresh herbs, green onions, green beans, Lao fish sauce, pork paste and dry crushed chilies. You can use any rice noodles but the fresher the better.  

Otherwise you can try to make your own. The ingredients for namtha rice noodles are basically two types rice flour and water.  I could not find anyone willing to teach me how to make it. I was told that getting the correct ratio of reg-to-sticky flour is the most difficult part. Those who have perfected it, guard their recipes. I can't blame them.
So, I am learning by "feeling" my way through (heavy trial & error). I'm almost out of the experimental stage; just fine tuning the mixture and testing different fine mesh materials.
I know I could just go out and buy some fresh-made noodles, but where is the fun in that?

For those who are interested, the process is roughly as follows (in challenged english):

Cover one side of a metal cylinder with a fine mesh (like making a drum out of a tall sided spring-form pan collar). Place mesh-top drum  in a large pot with filled with a few cm of boiling water. The mesh must "float" itself well above the water line and also just below the top rim. It makes removing the rice crepes a lot easier.  Prepare the mixture. Use a ladle to scoop of 50g/ 2oz  mixture on to the mesh (like you would tomato sauce on pizza dough). Cover pot for 1-2 mins. Then use a moistened wooden roller to help the crepe release itself without sticking to the roller. Last step is to roll up the crepe and cut into strips.