One of the terrific things about Chiang Mai is the great food. We found some of the best food in the markets and various street vendors around the city.
In the mood for something cool and sweet? How about a bag of fresh pineapple for a quarter?
Ready for something more substantial? Try the noodle soup with pork balls or the Pad Thai - either for around $1 USD.
In the evening, don't miss out on the great crepes. We found a vendor who set up each evening on Tha Phae, just a few blocks from the moat (toward the night market) and made delicious crepes. I always opted for the banana chocolate crepe. A crispy crepe wrapped around a fried banana, drizzled in Hershey's chocolate. I'd have been willing to pay a lot more than $.50 for this treat!
We tried a variety of food from the various vendors, watching for freshness and cleanliness. We never got sick and walked off the extra calories - what could be better?
Do you ever wonder why there are so many Thai restaurants and food stalls in Chiangmai? I did, and my Thai wife explains it like this. Why stay home and cook when you can get ready-to-eat food that is cheaper than cooking at home?
Most Thais do not cook at home unless they have a big family. By the time you go to the market for fresh ingredients, prepare and cook and eat the food, hours have been wasted. Most of the ingredients last only a day or so, so much gets thrown out. The price of cooking gas just to cook for two persons is not worth it. So Thais get their food from vendors to take home or go to a restaurant. If you look into a refrigerator in a Thai home you would probably find only water and drinks.
I would like to explain how to find and choose very good Thai restaurants or food vendor so you don't get sick or ill. Once you have been in Thailand a while, your body will adjust and you will be able to eat almost anything, anywhere. Even my Thai wife gets stomach problems from eating bad food at times and she admits she is not as picky as I when it comes to choosing a food vendor or restaurant but she’s learning.
When choosing a good Thai restaurant, the first thing we think about is taste. During the lunch hour or dinnertime, we look for a restaurant that is full of Thai people. If the restaurant is full of tourists and no Thai people, we know the food is prepared for the foreigner’s taste buds and not real Thai food.
Is the food prepared fresh or is it sitting out like a buffet? Is meat hanging in a glass box or in a covered heated pot? Next I look at the tables and floor - are they clean with no flies? Are paper napkins thrown all over the floor? This is where most people get stomach problems. The food looks great sitting out, but how long has it been there? If the food has been prepared an hour or more ahead of time, you can get very ill. If it is not prepared fresh, stay away from it.
Favorite Dish: Service at a small Thai restaurant or food stall is much different than what most foreigners are used to. Many places do not have a menu and specialize in a certain type food. Some may just serve noodle dishes and some just rice dishes. Their menu will be written on a poster on the wall.
After you have told your waiter or waitress your order they will probably repeat it back to you and ask the question "One". This means do I have the order correctly not the number one. You will also notice that they do not write your order down but just tell the cook.
As you eat your food and drink your drinks you will notice that they do not remove empty plates or bottles from your table even if you order a second helping or additional dishes.
This does not mean they are lazy. Because they don't write your order down on paper they need to keep all the dishes and drink bottles at your table. When it is time to pay your bill the staff will count the plates and bottles on your table and add the total.
Pay attention as they do this so you don't get over charged. That happens very rarely but it does happen. They will then tell you the total price. Please don't split up the table order and say "I am only paying for my food" not his or hers or theirs. This is very confusing for the Thais and takes up a lot of their time and change for larger bills. In Thailand one person pays for everyone and they figure it out who owes who how much latter.
Another thing is tipping. If you plan to come back to this restaurant it is a good idea to leave a nice tip. My wife and I always leave at least a 20 baht for a simple lunch. Everytime we return we are well taken care of and first.
One important thing to remember is that ice that is round with a hole in it is OK. Stay away from shaved or block ice. I have seen many people sitting drinking hot bottled water or soft drink when they didn't have to because they don't trust the ice.
If I have to pick one favourite Northern Thai dish, it would have to be Som Tam or Green Papaya Salad. It's widely available on the streets and for a grand price of 20B, a hawker would provide an interesting side show for you. He'll peel the papaya, throw in some ingredients and pound the salad in a huge wooden pestle for you. I love watching the hawker do this and the results are always delicious. Nothing beats the crunch of the shredded green fruit, spiced with fiery chillies, roasted peanuts and salty fish sauce. Look for this dish while you're on the streets in Chiang Mai and make sure it's made on the spot. If you're feeling icky eating this on the streets, you can try this delicious salad at Si Phen Restaurant for 30B.
Should the craving strike at home, you can try the recipe at home.
Recipe for Som Tam
1 dark green papaya
4 garlic cloves
6 Thai chilies (the small fiery kind)
2 tomatoes ( I prefer cherry tomatoes)
1/2 cup chopped long green beans
2 tablespoons fish sauce ( nam pla )
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) lime juice
1.Peel the papaya skin.
2.Remove the seeds and shred the flesh with a grater.
4.Place the garlic cloves and chillies in a mortar and pound with a pestle until the juice is released.
5.Add the papaya and the remaining ingredients. Pound with the pestle and a spoon. Serve at room temperature.
Ah, Fried Chicken Wings, the love for this dish is universal, isn't it? I think most of you would agree that the perfect wing has to be crisp on the outside, moist on the inside and SALTY. Well, at least the ones sold in Asia are. Almost every Asian city has a key ingredient for fried chicken wings that is guaranteed to spike your blood pressure. Singaporeans baste theirs with salty shrimp paste, Tokyoites coat theirs with soy sauce and Chiang Maians marinate theirs in fermented fish sauce (naam plaa). In case you're wondering what naam plaa is, it's actually a salty liquid derived from fermented salted anchovies. Yes, the muck ferments about a year before producing a clear liquid that becomes a familiar condiment in every Thai kitchen. I doubt you can find anything in Thailand that does not have nam plaa in it. What more their wings? Despite the ick factor, nam plaa does give the wings the salty kick that it needs. And it is delicious, take my word for it. You can purchase the anyway, they're a a popular street snack, so they're sold at almost every alternate street stall.
Come December in Chiang Mai , the weather will be cool and dry and strawberries will be in season. The berries over here are smaller than your average Californian variety so they are drenched in sugar syrup to tame the tart taste. They're are sold in little plastic cups in the steets. Grab one cup, eat the berries and watch Chiang Mai go by.
Here's my own recipe for the sugar drenched strawberries. Since the I prefer the big, ripe berries from California, there's no need to put sugar since they are naturally sweet.
Soak Strawberries in Apple Cider Vinegar. Steep the berries for one hour at least in the fridge. Scoop contents in cup and Enjoy!
Look out for this odd, tear-dropped shaped fruit the next time you're in Chiang Mai. It's called "dien taw" and it's sold for 60B a kilo. It's definitely not catered for the mass market as it has an acquired taste - the orangey flesh is sweet but dry and starchy. I did some research after I went back and I got a shock when I found out that that the fruit had a South American origin. It's known as the lucuma and it is described as one of the last crops of the Incas. Interesting! It still makes me wonder though, how an Incan fruit could make its way to South East Asia.
What's crunchy, salty and goes well with your Beer Chang? Why, Water beetles of course. These little critters live in the wet rice fields of Chiang Mai and are harvested for beer snacks. They're spiced well, salted, deep fried and sold in bags in the market. To eat, break one open, discard for the exoskeleton and suck in the juicy goo. It's a tad salty but high in vitamins, protein, vitamin B2 and niacin compared to the other creepy crawlie snacks.
I love dips, in particular spicy thai dips. I'll tease the dip out from the bowl with a crisp silver of vegetable or piece of pork rind(khaeb muu) like Homer Simpson. In Chiang Mai, you can buy bags of dips in the street. In this picture, you can see the lady bagging a glob of Nam phrik num. Nam Phrik Num is made from grilled green eggplants (makhuea yao) that have been pounded with chilies, fermented fish (plaa raa) and oil.
I come here not by chance but my passion for good food lead me to this street restaurant. When I passed by I saw the huge wok fire when the cook preparing the dishes I knew that I have come to the right place for diner. No doubt, true to my instinct and feeling. The surrounding has nothing special it just a open space in front of a Chinese temple.
Favorite Dish: Best Tom Yam I ever tried. No doubt, true to my instinct and feeling. Having tried many Tom Yam in many places & countries, I dare say this is the best, even the one that was recommend in the web in Bangkok which was very popular but not to this stall standard.
The others dish I tried was also satisfy my taste, I never come across a seafood restaurant serving such a good variety of Salt Fish with Vege. I even ask how and where they acquired this variety of salt fish and they told me that they specially order from a village very far away. Others dishes I tried was Spicy with special thai herb with prawn, stir fried clams with roasted chilly paste
It's may be a backpackers thing but it's universally accepted, that the best tasting food can be found on the streets.
Coming back to the guesthouses during late afternoons after my massage classes, I am totally dead-beat exhausted and I just want to take a shower and doze-off. But am starving so, I always pass by this rolling street food vendor near the guesthouse where I always order food cooked in front of you, sauteed meals with rice put in a styro-pack complete with condiments and plastic spoon.
Really delicious reminds me of mom's real home cooking, and so cheap at 30baht/meal.
Street food is a must to try when your in Chiang Mai (or Thailand), it's a local and tourist's favorite.
They vary from padthais and other noodles, to fried rice meal, to sauteed vegetables with either seafood or poultry meat or both.
Market food on the other hand are obviously inside or within the market or night market, same meals or maybe also considered as streetfood but sometimes their a bit costlier than the regular streetfood.
Anusarn Marketlocated within the radius of the NIght Bazaar is one famous market food place.
Favorite Dish: padthai, khao soi, and other sauteed meals.
Didn't I tell ya I love roti?! Anyway, this particular roti guy can be found setting up shop across from the Chiang Mai Plaza Hotel in the evening, but later on in the night he moves his cart to the night market.
After getting walking around for the morning you'll find yourself parched beyond belief. Keep an eye out for these little soda cart vendors for a refreshing treat to pick up your spirits.
Favorite Dish: Pick your poison and the vendor will pour it into a bag with fresh, crushed ice. Yummy!
We've never had a problem with these "bags o' soda" so I imagine the ice is made with filtered water but you'll have to make your own call.
Chiang Mai, like many asian countries have a lot of hawker style or street food vendors. There are a tremendous amount of variety from the red and green curries, sticky rice, seafood, noodles, etc. You name it, they will have something similar. They even have fried insects and fried flowers if that takes your fancy. Street vendors can be found at anytime of the day so you will never go hungry. Although there is the notion that street food is not as clean because of being exposed to the elements sometimes, I found Chiang Mai's street food to be quite clean and very appetising. Its a great experience to sit out along the road and eat just like the locals and enjoy their company.
Favorite Dish: I tried all sort of stuff - curries, salads, desserts etc. I do have to mention the flavoured rotis though....these are just devine....try the banana roti and milk roti, you'll love it!
There is a open market near Thae Pae Gate. I saw this stand with urns and bamboo containers and couldn't resist it.
I know, we aren't supposed to be drinking street drinks for we may not be immune to the bacterria insde but part of the fun traveling is taking measured risks. And this particular stand does not look too bad anyway.
The only English sign there was "Coconut Juice." and I had no idea what I was drinking but it certainly tastes great. I believe each urn contains different kind of drinks. The one I had was sort of a sweeten herbal drink, sort of like Lemon Grass Tea. And it cost 10 or 15 Baht each. Good deal!