Khao Sen (Shan-Style Noodle Soup with Pork and Tomato)

Austin Bush

The Food of Northern Thailand

"This just might be the most beloved dish in Mae Hong Son. Indeed, it's a variation on khanom jiin naam ngiaw, the pork- and tomato-based noodle soup that is one of the most beloved and ubiquitous dishes in northern Thailand. But where the standard northern Thai version boasts a broth that tends toward the meaty and hearty, the Mae Hong Son variant is thin and tart, its bulk stemming from a generous knot of thin rice noodles or ingredients like the crunchy pith of the banana tree.

Note that fresh khanom jiin noodles are generally not available outsdie of Southeast Asia. If cooking in the United states, Andy Ricker of Pok Pok suggests using fine-guage dried bún (Vietnamese rice noodles), following the cooking instructions on the package."—JBF Cookbook Award nominee Austin Bush


For the Soup

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 1/2 ounces shallots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced thinly
  • 10 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon shrimp paste
  • 1/2 can Thai-style mackerel in tomato sauce (such as Three Lady Cooks brand)
  • 50 to 60 halved tart cherry tomatoes
  • 9 ounces cubed pork loin, 3/4-inch cubes
  • 18 ounces pork stock bones (such as back or neck bones)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 1 teaspoon bouillon powder

For Serving

  • 1 1/3 pounds khanom jiin noodles (see note)
  • 2 chopped green onions
  • Crispy garlic and garlic oil
  • 1 small bunch chopped cilantro
  • 7 ounces shredded finely cabbage
  • 4 limes, cut into wedges
  • 1/4 cup table salt
  • 1/4 cup chile powder


Make the soup: heat the oil in a medium stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and garlic and fry until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp paste, stirring until it has disintegrated and become fragrant, another 2 minutes. Add the canned mackerel (including the tomato sauce), and stir until disintegrated, fragrant, and a thin layer of oil emerges, another 5 minutes.

Increase the heat slightly and add the cherry tomatoes. Fry, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes have mostly disintegrated, the mixture has reduced slightly, and the oil reemerges, about 20 minutes.
Add the pork and fry, stirring frequently, until the oil reemerges, about 10 minutes.

Add the pork bones and 2 quarts of water, and increase the heat to high. When the mixture reaches a simmer, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the salt and bouillon powder, and simmer another 10 to 15 minutes. Taste, adjusting the seasoning if necessary; the broth should be relatively thin, and should taste tart, savory, and salty (in that order).

To each shallow serving bowl, add 3 1/2 ounces of khanom jiin noodles and top with 1 cup of the broth (remove stock bones if they are too big to serve). Garnish with green onion, crispy garlic and garlic oil, and cilantro. Serve with shredded cabbage, lime wedges, and small bowls of salt and chili powder.


Khao Sen is excerpted from The Food of Northern Thailand © by 2018 Austin Bush. Photography © 2018 by Austin Bush. Reproduced by permission of Clarkson Potter Publishers. All rights reserved


4 to 6 servings