There is by no means a shortage of khao soi available in Chaing Mai, unfortunately not all of it’s good. This is a real shame on account of most of the khao soi sold outside the northern half of this great country is already “meh”. I’m not talking Seattle or London here, you’d be hard pressed to find a good bowl as close as Bangkok. Ask around, make a Thai friend, or keep reading this hipster doffus’ food blog and you’ll be sure to find The Good Stuff.
I’ve written about Khao Soy Mae Sai, Mae Manee, and Lung Prakit Kaat Gorm before to highlight what makes a good bowl. However, what they are serving up at Khao Soi Lam Duan Fa Ham is up there with the very best in Chiang Mai. and if it’s in the conversation for best in Chiang Mai subsequently it’s in the conversation for best anywhere.
Like any khao soi spot worth going to Lam Duan is closed before dinner, will cost you less than 60 baht, and primarily serves khao soi. I don’t even think about ordering a bowl unless these three criteria are met (ok, a little wiggle room on those hour). And after stepping underneath that all too common corrugated tin roof, these things become all too evident.
The actual place is nothing special, which is usually a good sign that you’ll be able to find something special. Imagine if your high school cafeteria were also someone’s living room, and you’ll get the general feel. There is a heavy Thai slant here, but it’s not uncommon to see farang of both the fair-skinned and fair-skinned Chinese persuasion. English easily understood.
The food is cooked up front and you’ll have to pass by a team of synchronized workers pumping out some serious volume as you make your way to the back. The food is served from large cauldrons in plain sight and seeing the cascading liquid engulf the waiting noodles is a nice warm up act for your appetite. Even if the place is packed you’ll be eating within a few minutes because of how fine tuned their operation is.
If I had to choose one highlight for the khao soi here, it would need to be the noodles. More often than not they are a bit over cooked for my liking. But here they have a great bouncy texture and are as far from the word mushy as khao soi noodles get.
While they don’t make them in house (I’ve actually yet to come across a place that does) they are packed fresh in flour and only sit around for a few minutes, at most, before finding there way to a bowl in queue for its curry deluge. The color transformation they undergo from a quick blanch is astounding, and an acclaim to the level of egg yolk present in their preparation.
As if the price and hours weren’t already a good enough indication for the quality here, they also add the hot coconut milk just before serving. This serves a few culinary purposes. First of which is just mitigating waste. If you premix the curry and milk, then don’t end up selling the whole lot before closing it can go bad faster. Although, this isn’t much of an issue here as they are continually making new batches throughout the day.
Secondly, it allows you as the customer to customize the bowl’s creaminess to suit your pallet. And as khao soi is a great example of the Thai concept of “personal taste altering” (see that plate of limes and shallots next to the bottle of fish sauce) it’s inline with the cuisine. You will have to speak better Thai than me to accomplish this, but I tend to think they know better than me when it comes to their own product – so I never really bother.
Lastly, it makes the dish look damn sexy. That ripple of white intermingling with the orange curry and spotted red fat floating on top – ugggggh, gets me at half mast just thinking about it. The color scheme for my icon was actually inspired by this conglomeration, that’s how much I like it. Besides it looking nice, the segregated milk adds a nice coconut-y fragrance. And seeing how Thai cuisine is one you eat with your eyes first and taken in by your nose second, the gesture of this last minute alabaster cascade ranks highly in my book.
If you peer behind the coils of sai ua you’ll see that there are two separate but equal pots of simmering goodness. This is because they have different broths for both the beef and chicken versions sold here. They are both delicious and you’ll be happy ordering from either. The chicken is lighter in color and cleaner in taste. While the beef is more on the rich and heavy side. Imagine the difference between a clean chicken stock and a dark beef one. I prefer the beef.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous Lam Duan also offers the sister curry noodle soup to Khao Soi. Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiao is the name of the soup and the noodles just kanom jeen. While it’s not as famous (outside of Thailand that is) as khao soi, it’s just as good and probably more culturally significant.
This is the dish that Thai people yearn for if abroad and and missing Lanna life. Kanom jeen is quite a bit softer than other noodles, made from fermented rice, and is the only noodle native to Thailand. You can thank Southern China for most any other noodle you see in Siam. As such, Nam Ngiao is more often than not the the food they will be serving during festivals and other holidays. I know this is where I’ve eaten the majority it.
Comprising a not too thick not too thin tomato dominate broth and cubes of congealed blood, it’s a little challenging for the “new to Thai food” crowd. However, it is very much worth eating, and Lam Duan is a great place to give it a go. I know I said it was next to impossible to get a good bowl of khao Soi outside of Northern Thailand, but good luck finding even a passable bowl of Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiao anywhere south of Phrae.
The people here are just as special as the khao soi. With nothing more than a simple (and poorly executed) question in Thai I was allowed to get in the thick of things to get these great shots. They were nice enough to not acknowledge how in the way I was. Even went as far as to lie to me about how good my Thai is (this is a nice game that all people from all cultures should partake in) and have a nice chat about our respective mothers. If they made even an acceptable khao soi I’d still eat here. Luckily theirs is one of the best, if not the best you’ll ever eat.
Khao Soi Lam Duan Fa Ham
Price: A bowl of khao soi or kanom jeen will run between 40-60 baht depending on size and meat selection.
Open: 09:00-16:00 Everyday
The Good Stuff Chiang Mai