Originally from Burma, Chicken Khow Suey or Khao Suey is a popular dish among the Memon & Gujrati community of Pakistan. It comprises of noodles in a coconut or yoghurt based curry, with spicy chicken or beef and an array of condiments.
What is the origin of Chicken Khow Suey or Khao Suey in Pakistan?
I first heard about Khow Suey or Khao Suey at my university when I started my Bachelors - an exotic sounding dish that is regularly made among the Memon and Gujrati community. Considering that noodles are always considered foreign and non-Desi, it surprised me to no end that this dish with a noodle base is so popular. Not just among children, but adults and elderly as well.
So I did some research and I found out that the origins of this dish are from Burma, where there used to be a thriving community of people from the sub-continental due to historical trading ties. This of course comprised of Gujrati's and Memon's who are known businessmen, and used to travel across the region as part of their business. Burma itself had a trading port setup by the British at Akyub (present-day Sittwe). In March 1962, when the army overthrew the current government industries were nationalized and foreigners (including South Asians) were discouraged from staying and this led to them coming back settling in present-day India and Pakistan. In coming back, they of course brought their cuisine and recipes back with them and this is the reason why a dish of Burmese origin is super popular in Karachi, Pakistan. The above history is from Burma:Rivers of Flavor - this absolutely brilliant book by Noami Duguid on Burmese cuisine.
What exactly is Chicken Khow suey and how is Chicken Khao Suey made?
Just like the way it's spelled (khow suey, khao suey or khao soi) there are many versions of chicken khow suey out there. There's the Burmese version, the Gujrati version, the Memoni version and of course the fusion version incorporating all three!
At it's very basic khow suey is made of the following components.
- Noodles - this is the base of the dish; the noodles can be egg noodles, wheat noodles or just spaghetti.
- Meat - usually chicken, but beef is quite popular too. Whatever the protein the meat curry / gravy is usually quite thick.
- Curry - this is where the greatest debate in authenticity lies. There's the Burmese version made with coconut milk or coconut powder and the Memoni version which is made with chickpea flour and yoghurt, and the Gujrati version which is a combination of all ingredients.
- Condiments - the list of condiments for khow suey is endless, but the basic ones are some sort of crisps (can be slims or fried roll wrappers), lemon, chili (can be paste, powder or oil), fried garlic and coriander. Other options include boiled eggs, potatoes, spring onions, red chili flakes, fried onion etc.
All the components are laid out separately and then everyone makes their own bowl. They start off with the noodles, add the curry followed by the meat gravy, and then top it off with the condiments. Mix it all up and eat.
I have tried many a version of khow suey (or khao suey) over the years, each having their own distinct flavours based on the cooking techniques and personal preference of the person cooking them. Chicken khow suey, beef khow suey, coconut based curry, yoghurt based curry, few condiments, more than 10 condiments - I have had them all. After trying them all, this is my version of chicken khow suey based on the flavours that I enjoy. I wouldn't call it authentic but I would definitely call it delicious.
Try out more chicken recipes below:
Zeera Chicken Handi (Creamy chicken curry with cumin)
Would love it if you could try out and rate the recipe, and let me know how it was in the comments below!
Chicken Khao Suey
- ½ tablespoon oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic paste
- 1 tablespoon turmeric/haldi powder
- ¾ cup gram flour/besan toasted
- 300 ml coconut milk
- Salt to taste
- 3 cups water
- 4 tablespoon oil divided
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 tomatoes chopped
- 3 green chilies
- 2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon ginger
- 1 tablespoon garlic paste
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric/haldi
- 600 grams boneless chicken sliced
- 3-4 green chilies finely sliced
- ½ cup Fresh coriander chopped
- 2 spring onions sliced thinly
- 3 boiled eggs chopped
- 5-6 cloves garlic thinly sliced and fried
- ½ medium onion thinly sliced and fried
- 2 tablespoon Chili Oil/Paste
- 3 lemons cut into wedges
- 1 ½ cups Fried Slims Crisps or Papri for topping
- 600 grams egg noodles boiled
For the coconut curry:
- Dry roast the gram flour in a small frying pan, making sure it doesn't burn. Set it aside.Heat oil, and saute garlic paste and turmeric for a minute till the raw flavor is removed.
- Add coconut milk, and whisk in the the toasted gram flour/besan making sure there are no lumps. Add salt & water.
- Keep the mixture on medium heat till it comes to a boil, then lower the heat and cook for 30-45 minutes till it thickens to desired consistency. Make sure to stir every few minutes or so to ensure it doesn't burn or lumps aren't formed. Set aside.
For the chicken:
- Heat 2 tablespoon oil, saute onions till light golden.
- Add tomatoes & chili and saute for 2-3 minutes till tomatoes are soft. Pour the onion, tomato & chili mixture into a blender and blend with water to a smooth paste. Set aside.
- Add 2 tablespoon oil into the same pan, and turn to medium heat. Add garlic & ginger paste, along with whole cumin seeds and saute for a minute till the cumin seeds pop.
- Add the blended tomato-chili paste, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add salt, black pepper, coriander powder, cumin powder, red chili powder and turmeric.
- Turn heat to low, and cook for a minute then add sliced chicken. Cook on high heat till chicken changes color from pink to white. Turn heat to low, and add a cup of water. Cook the chicken till meat is tender and oil surfaces. Set it aside.
- Boil the noodles as per packet instructions and place them in a large bowl. Prepare all the condiments as per personal preference, and place them all in small bowls. The variety of condiments is on personal preference, but lemon, crisps & some form of spicy element (whether chili paste, chutney or raw chilis) is necessary to balance flavors.
- Warm up the coconut curry and the chicken and serve them in medium sized bowls. To make a bowl of Khao-suey, first add the noodles in the bowl, then add coconut curry and chicken. Top with your preferred condiments and then mix it up.
- Add lemon & crisps right at the end.