• Molly

Vegan Khao Soi Recipe

Updated: Oct 30, 2021

khao soi

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Khao Soi (or kao soi) is a curry noodle soup from Northern Thailand and is often recommended as one of the key dishes visitors must try when traveling to Chiang Mai. It is heavily influenced by neighboring China and Myanmar, featuring ginger and soy sauce (China) as well as black cardamom and fresh turmeric (Myanmar). Northern Thai food is the mildest in Thailand which makes this a great dish for kids and those of us who are more spice averse.

This dish lends itself well to veganization because it doesn't rely on fish sauce for seasoning, and instead calls for soy sauce. This is a big help, as the fish sauce in Thai curries is a really tricky ingredient to replace. You can make a swap for a very light soy sauce in a red curry for example, but it will taste quite different from the standard recipe using fish sauce.

This recipe employs a bit of a shortcut. I've developed it using a store bought curry paste, because I think it's a great idea to find new ways to use a red curry paste beyond a simple red curry. The most common size for a tub of Thai curry paste is 14oz, which yields around 50+ servings. So once you've used a paste for a recipe, you'll have to freeze the remaining paste for future use. You can definitely make red curry 50 more times, but wouldn't it be fun to make other dishes with the past in your freezer? In any case, this recipe translates beautifully for vegans, so let's get into it!

Special Ingredients for This Curry

black cardamom pods

Black Cardamom

To me, black cardamom smells exactly like BBQ sauce - indistinguishable! For Khao Soi, it's perhaps the most important spice in the recipe. The smoky aroma permeates the dish and sets it apart from any Thai curry you've had before. Needless to say, black cardamom it is essential and unfortunately can't simply be substituted for its green counterpart. Green cardamom lacks a smokey aroma, so it doesn't do the trick on its own. If you twisted my arm, I'd guess you could substitute with a 50% reduced amount of green cardamom plus a drop or 2 of liquid smoke might get you there. But black cardamom isn't impossible to find, so do try to seek it out! I bought mine from Oaktown Spice shop, and have also seen it at 99 Ranch and even on Amazon. The Spruce Eats wrote a lovely comprehensive article on black cardamom, which I highly recommend reading!.

ginger, black cardamom and fresh turmeric root


Fresh or dry powder turmeric is another key and somewhat unique ingredient in this curry. The traditional recipe calls for fresh, but I've had a lot of success using dry.


Ginger is quite a unique recipe in a Thai curry. Traditionally the fresh root is pounded into the paste, but I've also had success simmering slices of fresh ginger in the soup to infuse it's flavor and aroma, when I'm doctoring up a store bought paste.

Soy Sauce

Soy Sauce is the salty seasoning traditionally called for in this recipe, which is why it's so easily made vegan compared to other Thai curries which rely on fish sauce for salt. Use a Thai soy sauce when you can. They are much lighter in flavor and aroma compared to Chinese and Japanese soy sauces. If you can't find Thai brands, use a low sodium variety from Kikomon. See my Thai ingredients post for more on which soy sauce to choose for Thai cooking.

rice noodles


Noodles in this dish show up in two ways. They are boiled in salted water and then added to individual bowls for serving, and they're also deep fried and used as a crispy topping. I've elected not to deep fry the noodles in my recipe mainly because I don't like to deep fry and I think the dish is delicious without them.

Sourcing noodles for the dish is pretty flexible. Today in Thailand you will find Khao Soi served with fresh egg noodles (aka wonton noodles) which are easy to find in Asian / Chinese grocery stores. I've actually had success using flat dried Italian pasta like linguini (don't tell my Thai friends!), and you could use fresh linguini as well. As the name would suggest, Khao Soi originally used rice noodles, as khao soi is the Burmese phrase for cut rice. So a medium sized flat rice noodle is a perfectly fine, and maybe even more traditional choice than the wonton style egg noodles used in Thailand today.

If you want to be super restaurant style authentic, and fry some of your noodles for a crispy topping, it's easiest to use a fresh egg noodle or a rice vermicelli as you can fry them straight from the package. If you're using a dried pasta, you will have to boil and thoroughly dry the cooked pasta before frying. Here's a post about frying Thai vermicelli and another about frying egg noodles.

How do you make Khao Soi Vegan?

There are two places where animal products need to be removed from this recipe. The first place is the protein (normally chicken) used to make the broth of the soup, and as the main protein in the soup. This was an easy swap as my famous chickpea broth is an excellent substitute for chicken stock. Instead of chicken meat in the soup, we're using chickpeas and some nice fat chunks of tofu.

The second place only applies when you're using a store bought curry paste as your base, rather than making the paste from scratch and that is to ensure you have a curry paste made without shrimp paste. After reading the ingredients on the Aroy D curry pastes, I noticed that their pastes generally don't contain shrimp paste. So for vegan recipes, Aroy D is the curry paste to go with! It is available on Amazon, and I've found it at 99 Ranch, but it will depend on your store, your local Asian market might sell the Mae Ploy brand which aren't vegan. It will come in 14 oz tubs (freeze after opening!), but sometimes you can find it in 50g packs, which are great for single recipe use.

vegan Khao soi

Vegan Khao Soi Ingredients

Curry Paste

40-50 grams / 4 T Aroy D Red Curry Paste

1 T turmeric powder OR 2 T fresh turmeric paste (microplane or mortar and pestle)

3 large black cardamom pods

2 t whole coriander seed

10 slices of ginger root (peeled)

1 t sea salt


4 cups water

1/2 cup dried chickpeas (must be dried - this is how we build the broth)

1 T Thai soy sauce


1 T cooking oil

1.5 cup Aroy D Coconut Milk (boxed if you can)

1 cup tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes


Chili Crisp

Sliced shallots


Pickled Mustard Greens or (quick sub - sautéed greens seasoned with vinegar)

Khao Soi Recipe Method