Last weekend I learnt one thing. There is lovely. Then, there is Asna lovely. Asna is the founder of KHAO, a London based street food company specialising in taste bud revolutionising khow suey. So, not only does Asna put a wonderful spin on friendliness, but she also has her own approach to making this beautiful dish.
Eating khow suey at KHAO is an experience that has you adlibbing throughout. I took my first bite, then thought ‘dayum’, chewed again, then thought ‘homaga’, and it went on until my bowl was sadly empty. As was perfectly stated by Asna, a khow suey is, ‘sort of like a laksa, but also a ramen. It’s tangy, spicy, crunchy. It has the spice from South Asia and the creaminess from Chinese food’. Plus, you can pick from three options: pulled chicken, slow cooked beef or creamy chickpeas! Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Well, it is…a dream you can slurp on :-).
#Flavourofthemonth Interview with Asna from KHAO
Hi Asna! Thanks for being London’s first khow suey joint and adding something new to the street food scene. For those of us who haven’t yet grabbed a bowl, could you please tell us a bit about the dish?
It is a Burmese dish that made its way into Pakistan, and something that’s now very near and dear to a lot of people from Karachi, where I’m from. Post World War 2 there were a lot of families in Burma and when they came back I think this is how it spread across Karachi, where there was a big flux of migrants.
The dish is essentially just noodles with this coconut soup that goes on top, with either beef, chicken or vegetables. The chicken is pulled and the beef is slow cooked, and then there are toppings like garlic, fried onion, crisps and a home-made chilli sauce – so it’s not quite a Laksa, not quite a Ramen bowl, but it’s something totally different and really moreish, and to me, really delicious.
Photo credit: Eden Bokrezion
A lot of people come to the stall and ask me why isn’t this sold with rice. It’s difficult to explain, but this isn’t something weird that I’m trying to do with noodles, it is what the dish is. People in London love to experiment and try new things, so that has been really nice. The majority of people who come to the stall always come back the next day.
What makes the dish special to you, and what inspired your decision to dedicate your stall to khow suey?
I’ve been living away from home for 5 years, and as soon as I go back, this is one of the things that are made. In London you can get a lot of South Asian food, but none of it really tastes like home food. Its either kebab or grilled meat, or curries that are a bit sweet and different to what we eat, so I thought it would be a nice idea to bring something new that’s actually eaten at home.
We have all gone through that frustrating experience of trying to get a recipe just right, and it can usually take a lot of trial and error. What was your process in getting the perfect khow suey recipe together?
It’s quite complicated, especially when you’re getting recipes from your mum. Everything is, as we say andaza, which means, by estimation. It was working out how many onions, or how much salt, or how much chilli to put in, and nobody has a recipe for anything.
Everyone’s khow suey tastes different or they use a different method. Some people mix it all together, and some people have very strong opinions over whether it should be made with beef or chicken. I know that in India, a lot of people have it with just vegetables, and have never tried it with any meat. It has been very difficult measuring and writing out everything into grams, instead of two tomatoes, and two onions. It’s been a painful journey.
Photo credit: Eden Bokrezion
In Pakistan we always use egg noodles, and I was surprised to go in the stores in China Town and find a wide variety of noodles – most of them I hadn’t even heard of. We use udon, but it’s not Japanese udon, its Korean udon, which is more like the one we eat back home. Another thing that we use back home is chilli potato chips, but I’ve had to replace them. I buy crisps and spice them myself.
So, how do you make khow suey?
Everything is cooked separately and it’s not a quick meal to cook. The beef takes about 3 ½ hours to slow cook and it’s like a beef curry because it has the same components, such as ginger paste, garlic paste, onions, tomatoes, and it cooks over time with all the spices. I think Indian food is different because they use a lot more spices, but with Pakistani food, there’s just cumin, coriander, chilli, salt and turmeric that make any Pakistani curry.
Then there’s another curry made from coconut cream, and I prep all the condiments on top. I like to keep all the parts separate in a bowl rather than mixing it up because I think it looks a lot more appetising and pretty. People then have the option to customise their bowls. Some people like it saltier, spicier or drier, and then whatever toppings they want to put on top, we do. It’s like subway, but with noodles.
Where can people find you?
I usually post where we’ll be on social media a week in advance, but watch out for a permanent spot! Customers can make advance orders through my Instagram or Facebook page, and the pickup is quite central by Covent Garden market. They have to be done a day in advance.
I’m really looking forward to more people trying it, because so far it has been a lot of people from Karachi and a few others, but it would be nice for people to come and try something new. You can either hate it or love it, but there’s no loss. I really think people would like this tiny little niche.
IN SHORT: GO GETCHO’ FIX OF SUM KHOW SUEY LUVVIN’!
Slow cooked beef khow suey
Pulled chicken khow suey
Photo credit: Eden Bokrezion