How to make Khao Soi meat sauce Tai Neua style

You cannot go to khao soi village Ban Siliheuang in Muang Sing without making the famous pork and fermented bean sauce which is the key ingredient topping Northern Lao khao soi.

Well cooked khao soi meat paste after salt and msg is added
Well cooked khao soi meat paste after salt and msg is added
The family's khao soi meat paste, naturally preserved with oil and chillies
The family’s khao soi meat paste, naturally preserved with oil and chillies

Here is how the Tai Neua make it. Our cookbook shows you how to make this khao soi sauce the traditional way, Luang Namtha (Tai Lue) style. The two ethnic groups have influenced each other over the past 200 years. There is not much difference really, just the type and form of chillies). Both groups insist that soaking and chopping the chillies from scratch gives the best results, but most restaurants and khao soi market stalls in both districts take a short cut by using dried chilli powder and chilli flakes.

Ingredients for the meat and fermented soybean (tua nao) sauce

4 big cloves garlic

1 cup fermented soybean paste (actually 3 heaped Chinese soup spoons)

3 – 4 tablespoons (actually 2 heaped Chinese soup spoons) mild chilli powder, brightly coloured – not from bird’s eye chillies

3 – 4 tablespoons (actually 2 heaped Chinese soup spoons) coarser dried chilli flakes

Mincing pork for the khao soi meat paste
Mincing pork for the khao soi meat paste

750 g fatty pork such as belly pork, minced (3 big handfuls when minced), or a mix of pork and beef which is evidently especially delicious.

1 cup palm oil (or other vegetable oil, but not coconut, mustard or olive oil)

Salt to taste

MSG to personal taste (Tai Neua use a whopping amount in everything)

2 tomatoes, sliced in small wedges

Method for sauce (soup and accompaniments are further down the post)

Put the garlic cloves and ½ teaspoon of salt in a mortar and pound for a minute.

In a hot wok or frying pan, add the cup of oil. When heated, slip in the garlic mixture and fry while moving it about until the garlic is browned. Before it burns (!!), add about 1 cup of tua nao paste and stir to mix. Continue to fry together until the oil returns.

Add the two types of chilli and keep on frying, while moving the sauce around the pan.

Add the tomato slices and stir fry until the moisture comes out. The paste is ready when it smells good and the tomato has started disintegrating.

Adding water to khao soi meat sauce
Adding water to khao soi meat sauce

Add the minced pork, 2 teaspoons more salt (or to taste) and 1 – 2 tablespoons of MSG. (Remember, this is a very concentrated sauce expected to last a few days refrigerated (hence the oil, salt and pork fat) and to serve many people). Keep on frying until the meat is thoroughly cooked then thin with water to a thick Western savory mince consistency. Then, um, add another tablespoon of MSG and stir to mix in. Sai told us “If like to live long time don’t put in water.” After a bit of pondering I figured out he meant the meat sauce, not the person eating it. Continue to cook until the oil returns again and then transfer to a deep bowl to cool. In the cold, the fat in the sauce will solidify. It is the oil, chilli and reduced water content that preserves the sauce.

Sauce finished, we proceeded to make the soup base (there was only one fire). This can be done concurrently if you have two gas rings for example.

Ingredients for the soup base

250 g pork bits (Nang Buawon used slices left over from the pork she minced by hand for the meat sauce)

Half a pot of water (2 – 4 litres depending on how many people you have to feed, ours fed four with plenty left over. Don’t worry about the quantity because all the flavour comes from the sauce and condiments added later. This bland soup is to heat the noodles and cook the pork which is added to the dish when serving.)

Method for soup base

Bring the water to the boil. Add the slices of fatty pork. I saw no salt or MSG added, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some was slipped in while I was not looking. Simmer away while preparing the accompaniments until the meat is cooked.

Accompaniments and garnish

Finely chopped or sliced spring onions and coriander leaves, 1 tablespoon for each bowl being served

Pea or soy bean tendrils (or Chinese flowering cabbage), raw or blanched, to your taste

Lettuce, fresh

Coriander (cilantro), smallest you can get, roots removed, fresh

MSG, Soy sauce (which is also made in Tai Neua villages), lime wedges or juice, and crunchy and feather-light beef rinds, also a village specialty)

About this time Sai disappeared to get some kao soi noodles from another villager while Nang Buawon set the table and sliced some of the pork. When he came back, she put two thirds of a bowl of noodles in each bowl, topped it up with the boiling stock then poured the excess back into the pot. She then added the pork, a good hit of the meat sauce (1 very heaped Chinese spoonful, 3 – 4 level tablespoons) and sprinkled over the chopped spring onion and coriander.
Each bowl was served piping hot and ready for us to doctor with any or all of the condiments and additional spicy meat sauce. (I noticed that Sai added another tablespoonful of MSG to his.) All the ingredients were mixed together and silence interspersed by slurps and grunts of pleasure ensued!

slurping khao soi noodles
Slurping khao soi noodles

The next post will be about the wonderful sweet spicy jeow (chao) made with fermented soybean paste, ginger and garlic which is served with sour fruit from a tree (mak lodt ໝາກລອດ)

© Food From Northern Laos | Galangal Press

10 thoughts on “How to make Khao Soi meat sauce Tai Neua style

  1. So, I picked up these discs of dried tua nao in the market in Luang Prabang was there. I didn’t know how to use them, and then I found this good site. I’ve got a question, though: if I’m using the dried discs of tua nao, how much equates to one cup of un-dried stuff? They’re about 4 inches in diameter.


    1. Hi, Chuck,
      I’d say four or five. The disks are concentrated as the water has been removed. Normally the disks are dry fried or grilled before eating, but I don’t think you’d need to do this making the sauce, just pound them or blat them in a food processor. If it is not strong enough after the meat has been added, grill another couple, pound and add. You may need to add more chilli powder. Trust your taste buds. Dorothy


      1. Awesome, thanks!

        Now I’m curious about what you make with the discs if you grill them first. Do you have a recipe that involves doing that, or maybe a link to one?


      2. Just made the khao soi today and it was great. I’m in South Korea right now, so it ended up kind of a fusion dish based on what I could get. Instead of the greens you listed I subbed in some Korean greens called minari, ssukgat, and kkaennip, and I used some Korean-style noodles called kalguksu. Great stuff, and I’ll be making plenty more with all the sauce I still have.


      3. I’m so happy it turned out well using the soybean disks. I look forward to your reports on using them in other dishes. maybe when I’m back in Laos I will prepare a sheet on how to use the disks so the local traders can use it for visitors, saying what they are used for. They are too good to keep hidden and mysterious in Laos!


  2. Hi Kees and Dorothy,
    I’ve been a fan of the website for some time and finally saw the book the other day (and ate the wonderful bean salad from the cover). Well done it’s a marvellous production. I also loved seeing your photos again Kees, reminding me of selecting the ones for the display at the Lao National Museum.

    Congratulations, both of you.



  3. Hey, hey Missy ET:
    Friend took me to a great little spot offering delish khoi soi on Chou Anou today near the DVD place and Home Ideal. Brilliant food, but the MSG has left a sad after-headache.
    Here’s to noodles.


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