Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Ever Elusive Khao Soi

The Khao Soi has always been the elusive item at Samsen, even for many who came to this popular Thai noodles joint at Stone Nullah Lane in Wanchai regularly. This northern Thai-style chicken noodles never appeared on its menu and only showed up occasionally and unannounced as an off-menu special whanever Chef Adam felt like and they were in limited supply on first come first served basis. But a few friends who tried that before swore by this is the best bowl of Thai noodles in all of Hong Kong.



Our friend V made a request to Chef Adam for Khao Soi special on one Saturday and invited us to join. We arrived at the restaurant some 30 minutes before it opened for lunch service, just to make sure we could beat the rest of the crowd to the few tables available at the restaurant. The waiting line soon got to 20 people deep (in addition to our group of 12) even before they opened the door (and it kept growing even after, which showed how popular the place has become) As we were lining up outside, we got a peek at Adam's mis-en-place of all the condiments for the noodles, with the enticing aroma coming from the soup base in the kitchen.

We got our bowl of Khao Soi noodles soon after we settled down at our table. First thing that struck me was the number of ingredients that went in to the bowl. The soup showed some resemblance to the curry laksa but appeared to be thicker and richer. The noodles looked more like the type used in Cantonese noodle soup (the flat wide egg noodles) instead of the types used for typical laksa or Thai boat noodles (which was often made with rice flour) Crispy noodles, herbs and chilies were placed on top as garnishes, with additional condiments (chopped shallots, lime and pickled cabbage) served in a small bowl on the side.

I took one sip of the soup and kind of understood what the fuss was about this Khao Soi. It was so complex and well-balanced. Strong turmeric taste was there for sure as part of the curry paste, but then there's also a hint of ginger, shallots and more herbs with a nutty flavor. Unlike laksa where fish and shrimps were often involved, khao soi soup base was mainly chicken so you got a different type of umami flavor and a much smoother taste. Coconut milk was also added but wasn't overwhelming, just provided that kick of creaminess and refreshing after-taste. The chilies were there but overall it wasn't that spicy - just enough for the taste.

Also inside the bowl was a piece of chicken leg and one boiled egg. The chicken meat was cooked for so long that it fell off the bone but it did retain some original flavor despite the slow-cooking plus taking in more from the soup base. The egg was not the kind of gooey yolk like what you would see in a bowl of Japanese ramen, but nonetheless that's more consistent with the authentic street-food style and it went well with the soup. On the side in a small bowl was some additional condiments, like chopped shallots and pickled cabbage (similar to those Chinese ja zai pickles made with cabbage bulbs) They gave a good contrast to the soup and noodles, and also tame the spiciness with the acidity. And the crispy noodles on top gave some crunchy texture as well, making it more interesting.


The bowl of noodles didn't look particularly big but certainly filling - definitely more than enough for me as a satisfying lunch. Nonetheless Adam sent us a few dishes to our table - including the marinated pork collar and a bowl of sautéed morning glory vegetables. I felt bad for not able to finish them all (after the noodles) but they were both delicious. We ordered a pair of desserts at the end too - the milk tea icecream with the rich Thai flavor, and the coconut icecream served in the young coconut shell with shaved coconuts, plus bits of peanuts and corn kernels.

We didn't have much time to explore the street food scene while we were in Thailand the weekend before, but this bowl has more than made up for it amid thousands of miles away and in a totally different setting. We must come back more often, and hopefully, we will run into Khao Soi day at Samsen again soon.

When? July 22 2017
Where? Samsen, 68 Stone Nullah Lane, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Khao Soi



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