The food of Chiang Mai is completely different from the rest of Thailand – balanced, less bracing than the food further south without losing any of its integrity and charm, and most importantly, so darn tasty. Here at IDEAL we’re huge fans of Andy Ricker. He is the chef and owner of Pok Pok in the US. He knows about Thai food and is an expert in the cusine of Chiang Mai. So we followed his advice on what to eat in Chiang Mai and have narrowed it down to these 7 must try dishes:
This could possibly be the best chicken we’ve ever tasted. The chickens are brined, marinated, stuffed with an aromatic filling of lemon grass and garlic and cooked over charcoal. Order it with papaya salad and sticky rice – the holy trinity of Issan cooking.
Eat at: SP Chicken.
TOP TIP: SP Chicken closes at 5pm every day. If you really fancy chicken and can’t make it to SP on time, Cherng Doi does a good grilled chicken.
With origins in Burma, this is one of Northern Thailand’s most iconic dishes. It’s a deep, sweet, salty and fragrant curried noodle soup that uses coconut milk and is topped with crispy noodles. It’s hard to describe the flavour of this, it’s familiar yet unlike anything we’ve ever tasted before. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll want to eat it again and again
Eat at: The best place by far to grab a bowl is the famed Khao Soi Lam Duan Fah Ham.
There are two really distinct varieties of larb: one from Issan and one from Chiang Mai. While we love both, the Chiang Mai version is the best. Larb is best described as a minced meat salad; enthusiastically spiced, beautifully balanced and eaten with lots of fresh herbs. Chiang Mai’s larb is punchy and has a pleasing depth and bitterness, with our preferred variants being pork (sometimes eaten raw) or catfish. If you can stomach it, the raw larb is delicious.
Eat at: Sorn Chai, opposite Thapae Gate does the best larb in town. However, if you fancy trying the raw larb go to Laap Kao Cham Cha.
KHAO KHA MU (PORK KNUCKLE OVER RICE)
This is a curious but utterly delicious Chinese / German via Thailand mash-up. It involves slow cooked pork knuckle, a wonderfully gelatinous broth and a cured and creamy boiled egg, all over a bed of rice. It’s deep, moreish and a textural delight. Sweeter and less spicy than most dishes found in Thailand, it provides relief when you just can’t eat another curry. This dish is quite sweet, so a dash of the homemade relish, a few cloves of garlic and some of the chillies adorning the tables compliment it well.
Eat at: The cowboy lady at Chang Puak Gate Night Market.
KAENG HUNG LEH (BURMESE PORK CURRY)
Our favourite dish in the world. Kaeng Hung Leh is a beguiling balance of sweet, salty, sour and spicy. Drawing influences from Burma, the dish uses a good heft of turmeric not so commonly found in regional Thai cuisine. Each restaurant offers a slightly different interpretation of the dish but commonly pork belly and shoulder, as well as green beans, form its backbone, with fried shallots and tiny pickled garlic cloves giving crunch. The real highlight, though, is the broth. It is deep, rich, fragrant and heady. Mop it up with handfuls of sticky rice and you’re as close to food heaven as we’ve ever found.
Eat at: Sorn Chai, Huen Muan Jai or Huen Phen.
SAI UA (NORTHERN THAI SAUSAGE)
Forget bratwurst, salami, cumberland and chorizo – our favourite sausage in the world hails from the North of Thailand and is found all over Chiang Mai. The sausage contains numerous herbs and has the pleasing sour tang of a gentle ferment. The exterior is usually crisped up over an open flame, offering contrast to the softer middle. This interior reveals a kaleidoscope of colours provided by turmeric, red and green chillies lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and more. The taste is every bit as complex, aromatic and delicious as this list of ingredients suggests.
Eat: This sausage is ubiquitous, you can find it at nearly every street food stall/ night market.
Food in Chiang Mai needen’t always be meat focused. Nahm Phrik is a delicious dipping sauce served with a handful of fresh vegetables to scoop it up with. There are many varieites of Nahm Phrik, all unique and sometimes very spicy.
Eat at: Everywhere.