My first memory of having khowsuey is at a restaurant called Pot Pourri in Bandra, in Bombay. The description of the dish had intrigued me and many of the flavours were similar to Indian cuisine. Yet, I had never tasted anything like it before! It was delicious!
We know khowsuey as a Burmese noodle soup, but it wasn’t till years later that I understood exactly what it was and how it should be made. Katherine who has been living and working with us for 8 years, is from Myanmar and is an excellent cook. When she first joined us, I gently asked her if she knew how to make khowsuey. She looked surprised, as I’m sure she didn’t expect me to know about the dish, but she did know how to make it.
Her version was different to what I had eaten at Pot Pourri, but soon became my new favourite. Katherine explained that the word khao swè means noodles in Myanmar. When served with coconut milk, which is the version most of us enjoy, it is called Ohn no khao swè, which literally means coconut milk noodles. This is a curried chicken and coconut milk broth thickened with besan or gram flour.
The noodles used in this dish are typically wheat noodles. But there are a variety of other khowsuey dishes, some made with rice noodles, some fried and not always served with soup, she explained.
So here is Katherine’s recipe for khowsuey. The original recipe is with chicken, but we now make a vegetarian version with tofu.
- 10 Shallots, sliced
- 2 squares of tofu (2 inch x 2 inch each)
- 1 cup besan (gram flour)
- 200 ml Coconut milk
- ¼ tsp Turmeric powder
- ½ tsp Chilli powder
- Onion paste, made from 1 medium onion
- ¾ tsp garlic paste
- ½ tsp ginger paste
- 25 Shallots, soaked in water to make it easier to peel
- 1 litre Vegetable/chicken stock
- 1 tsp fish sauce (or 1 tbsp if you like the taste, or omit completely if you don’t)
- 1 packet of fresh yellow noodles or dried noodles
For the topping:
- 4-5 shallots or small pink onions, sliced
- 1-2 small red chillies
- 1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves
- 5-6 boiled eggs
- 2-3 limes
In a cooking vessel, add 2 tbsp of oil and over a medium heat, fry the 10 sliced shallots till crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oil and put them in a strainer, placed over a bowl and let them oil drip. The shallots will become crisp when they cool down. Do not discard the oil in the vessel, as we will make the soup in the same vessel.
In a saucepan, roast the besan powder till fragrant, but do not let it become red in colour. Remove the besan into a bowl and let it cool down. After the besan is cool, add 1 cup water and mix well. Return this to the saucepan and cook it for 5 mins. Turn off the heat and keep aside.
If using tofu, cut the tofu into strips, marinate with a little salt & black pepper powder and leave for 1-2 mins. Heat 1-2 tbsp oil in a frying pan and fry the tofu till light brown. Remove and keep aside on a plate.
In the vessel that you used to fry the shallots, add 1 tbsp oil. Once the oil is hot, add the turmeric and stir fry for 1 min. Then add the garlic, ginger and onion paste and sauté. Then add the red chilli powder and sauté for another minute.
Now add the shallots and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the shallots cook. Once they are softened, add the besan & water mixture and coconut milk, and then the fish sauce (if using). Stir the mixture well, add 1 tsp of pepper powder and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat, add the tofu slices and adjust for salt. Turn off the heat. Add the fried shallots and mix with the soup. (You can also reserve half the quantity to sprinkle on top of the dish when serving)
If using fresh noodles, insert them in hot water for 30 sec and then strain and keep aside. If using packet noodles, follow the instructions on the packet to cook the noodles separately, then strain and keep aside
Before serving, keep the following ready
- Cut the boiled eggs into half and arrange on a plate/place in a bowl
- Finely slice the shallots and arrange on a plate
- Chop up the limes into wedges
- Finely chop the red chilli and coriander
To serve the khowsuey, use a ladle to serve the soup in a bowl. Now add the noodles and top up with the sliced shallots, red chillies, khowsuey. The soup to noodles ratio is up to you. We usually take an equal ratio to start with, but I know some people prefer more soup to noodles. The quantity of rest of the ingredients is also up to you. Don’t forget to squeeze a good amount of lime though, since that really elevates the dish.