Siripha “Lek” Chariton was frustrated. Returning to Thailand last year after 40 years in New York, she still could not find delicious khao soi like she remembered growing up with in the north.
So, despite the COVID-19 lockdown measures which have sent a number of Bangkok eateries to their graves, the 71-year-old retiree is defying the odds to make it herself at a small restaurant in On Nut.
Tucked inside a small soi off Soi Sukhumvit 50, Khao Soi Kitchen opened its doors just before COVID-19 infections in Thailand started to peak in mid-March. In the kitchen since then is Siripha, whose focus now is making the best version of her childhood dish.
Unable to find any khao soi in New York, Lek would return to Chiang Mai or the capital to try any restaurant serving the dish. But they never met her standards. They were not like what she used to taste when she was young.
“So I thought I better cook it myself,” Lek said.
The khao soi advertised as her must-try signature comes in several varieties: the khao soi with chicken is THB80 and khao soi with beef is THB120. Khao soi with vegetables (not vegetarian as the soup contains shrimp paste) is THB80.
The chicken khao soi comes with a bowl that shines with rich yellow and orange curry broth. In it is a drumstick, deep fried shallots, egg noodles, deep fried noodles and more spices for a kick.
The egg noodles are imported from Lampang province, while other ingredients such as shrimp paste, fish sauce and curry powder are flown in from Chiang Mai. The rest, as she explained during a hosted Thursday visit, is from her “secret family recipe.”
“I’m not stingy on coconut milk nor the spices,” Lek said. “I emphasize freshness. I am up at 5:30am every day to ensure the curry is made fresh and beats my highest standard of quality.”
Apart from khao soi, Lek also offers another northern Thai staple khanom jeen nam ngeow (THB60) – spicy noodle soup of the Tai Yai people – and her take on the ubiquitous phad thai (THB80). Some days, Lek offers “special” dishes such as massaman curry (THB145) and sai ua sausages (THB130).
“My friends said, ‘Selling only three dishes can make you rich?’” Lek said, laughing. “But I’m confident that if you do what you love, something good always comes out of it.”
Even though Thailand has lacked tourist arrivals due to the pandemic, Lek’s venue has been getting customers every day from local residents, most of them expats in the area. In April, she expanded to delivery service which is now available via Grab and Lineman.
Lek said she also looks forward to welcoming more customers, especially tourists, when Thailand lifts the lockdown: “I would love to have everyone try my recipe.”
Khao Soi Kitchen is open 10am until 7pm every day. It’s located in Soi Sam Thahan off Soi Sukhumvit 50, just a few minutes’ walk from BTS On Nut.
Khao Soi Kitchen
455, Soi Sukhumvit 50, Phra Khanong, Khlong Toei, Bangkok
Phone: 063 390 3595
BTS On Nut