Khao Suey, sometimes also spelled Khow Suey (both pronounced “cow sway”) is a Burmese coconut chicken noodle soup that is not very well-known in the vast and wonderful world of Southeast Asian soup recipes. It is said to be the ancestor of Khao Soi, the more famed classic northern Thai soup, with which it shares many similarities.
Technically speaking, the real name of Burmese Khao Suey is Ohn No Khao Swe. I’ve seen other similar but different spellings as well. Translating the tonal languages of Asia into English can create quite a variety of confusing spellings! So for simplicity’s sake, let’s just stick with Khao Suey. Or Khow Suey.
Simply calling Khao Suey a Burmese coconut chicken noodle soup does not come close to describing it. There’s so much more to it than that. Onions, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and paprika (or cayenne for a spicier version) are first simmered in oil, which in turn, flavor and infuse chicken broth that’s enriched with coconut milk, thickened chickpea flour, and seasoned with fish sauce. Hard-boiled or soft-boiled eggs are often included too.
Khao Suey is served with a variety of toppings and condiments including raw sliced onions or shallots, fried garlic, lime wedges, cilantro, some form of dried chiles, fried noodles, and on rare occasions, avocado slices.
It’s a deeply satisfying rich and creamy soup with many similarities to other coconut chicken noodle soup recipes from neighboring countries. But many say that Khao Suey is the origin of all of them.
The coconut chicken noodle soup that is probably the most popular worldwide is Khao Soi which stems from northern Thailand. The soups are quite similar and some claim that Khao Soi evolved from Khao Suey via Burmese immigrants moving to Chiang Mai from Burma (now called Myanmar). I’m sure the Thai people would disagree.
Cloudy history aside, while there are dozens of interpretations of each noodle soup, there are a few main differences between them. First, the broth of Khao Suey tends to be a little thicker than Khao Soi due to the chickpea flour. Second, Khao Soi tends to use a more complex curry paste with more ingredients (though not always).
Third, Khao Soi tends to be a little spicier than Khao Suey. Thai chiles are a common addition to Khao Soi (and sometimes Khow Suey too but not always). Fourth, Khao Soi always has a whole chicken leg piece included in the soup whereas Khao Suey has cut-up chicken pieces. Personally, I prefer chicken pieces as cutting into a whole chicken piece in a soup can be awkward and messy.
And finally, Khao Suey typically has more condiments and garnishes served on the side, though Khao Soi will have its fair share too.
I stumbled across Khao Suey in a small Yangon cafe when I was in Burma many years ago. This was before I started this food blog, before I published cookbooks, and before cell phones. Oh the pictures and videos I would’ve taken!
I still have a vivid memory of the first time I had it. Immediately I thought of Khao Soi, as I’d been to Thailand previously, but I could tell it was different — richer, less spicy, and without a whole chicken leg swimming in the bowl (my least favorite part of Khao Soi recipes).
I loved it immediately.
I only had it a few more times as I had become obsessed with Mohinga, which was easier to find on the streets, and which I pursued every morning like a drug addict. Nevertheless, Khow Suey left a lasting impression. Years later, after I started my food blog with its emphasis on bone broth, I began revisiting the many Southeast Asian noodle soup recipes from my travels. So I decided to make Khao Suey at home. Here’s a pic of my homemade version…
The results were fantastic. Unlike, say Mohinga, or other Southeast Asian noodle soups, I found recreating Khao Suey to be quite easy. I even included a recipe in the Asian Noodle Soups chapter of my cookbook, Fearless Broths and Soups.
My Khao Suey recipe sticks with a straightforward and simple approach, meant for home cooks everywhere. As you can see in the list that follows, there are no exotic or hard-to-find ingredients. In fact, everything is pretty accessible in most major supermarkets.
Seasonings and Garnishes
Southeast Asian soup recipes that are chicken based always include a homemade chicken broth. No matter where you go in Southeast Asia, you’ll see big vats of broth simmering away right on the street.
maybe a pic
So try to make your own chicken broth. It’s quite easy. If you use a whole chicken or whole chicken parts, you’ll also cook your chicken meat in the process.
There are some good store-bought chicken broth products too. Just make sure to purchase a good quality, organic brand with minimal (or better yet, none) chemical flavorings.
White meat, dark meat, breast meat, leg meat, thigh meat, it doesn’t matter. Slice it up any way you want, into strips or chunks.
Meaning, it also goes by a bunch of different names. Chickpea flour is also called garbanzo bean flour, besan flour, and gram flour. Yup, all the same stuff. Just be aware of that when you go to purchase chickpea flour.
There’s just something about a soft, ooey gooey egg yolk that works so much magic in so many Southeast Asian soup recipes. Khao Suey is definitely one of them. I can’t recommend it enough!
But you can sub any type of noodles you’d like. Rice noodles are a great choice too. Even Udon noodles would work well here. Fresh noodles are great, if you can find them. Asian markets will often have them in refrigerated sections.
Personally, I love all of the accompaniments but the one I would HIGHLY recommend is some avocado slices. The Burmese Khow Suey that I had in Yangon came with some on the side and I’ll never forget that. I’ve never seen avocado served with Khao Suey except on that one occasion. My guess is that it was because the avocados were in season during my trip.
It was actually one of my many lasting impressions of Burmese food. You would not believe the size of Burmese avocados. I kid you not, they were the size of softballs. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ll never be able to look at a wimpy Haas avocado the same way ever again. Whatever avocados you can find, slice them up and add them on top of the soup. They’re a perfect complement to the rich, seasoned coconut milk broth.
Classic southeast Asian herbs and spices combined with coconut milk and chicken broth gives this soup a deeply satisfying earthy sweetness.
Saute the onion (or shallots) in coconut oil for about 5 to 7 minutes until browned but not charred. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Careful not to burn.
Next, add the turmeric and paprika, mix well, and saute for aother minute or two.
Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Ladle out a few cups of the broth into a separate bowl, add the chickpea flour and mix well until smooth. Drizzle the mixture into the soup, stirring to prevent clumps. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes. Taste and add more turmeric or paprika, if needed.
While broth is simmering, prepare the noodles according to package directions.
Add the coconut milk and stir. Add the chicken and simmer a few minutes. Season to taste with fish sauce.
Place a generous handful of noodles in individual soup bowls and ladle the soup over the noodles. Add any toppings and seasonings, to taste. I recommend as many as possible!
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.