Thai food is famous for its spiciness, but in northern Thailand, especially in the district of Chiang Mai, influences from Burma and China are distinct. This results to milder curries and a more pronounced use of other ingredients such as ginger and turmeric. This may not sound appealing to some, but I tell you: it’s sinfully goooooood.
Travelling to this ‘Rose of the North’ last October, surely I wouldn’t pass on the chance of going on a food trip. Especially since Chiang Mai (and Thailand in general) is praised for its rich and flavorful dishes, especially those that you find on the streets and public markets.
Now, there are a lot of night bazaars and market avenues in Chiang Mai and it could get really dizzying; but you can go to this post to see a list of popular places for food and shopping in this city.
After you sort that out, continue down to this list to see the top 10 street food dishes that you should absolutely try and not miss out:
#1: Khao Soi (Egg Noodle Curry)
Big bowl: ฿40 baht ($1.25)
You can choose from beef, chicken, or pork khao soi; obviously, I took chicken for this one.
A Burmese-influenced dish, though its name translates to ‘cut rice’, it is actually made up of deep-fried crispy egg noodles dipped in a coconut milk curry soup. It is always accompanied with a dish of shallots, cilantro, lime, pickled mustard, ginger, and chili paste.
This was rich and flavorful wherein the taste of the soup was akin to that of yellow curry; but of a thinner consistency and not so spicy. Apparently, khao sois come in different types: some serve it in curdled blood, rice noodles, etc. but this one that we ate was a Traditional Lanna Style type of khao soi.
Khao sois are available in every food place, but we recommend you to try out a local favorite of Thais: Khao Soi Samerjai located at 91 Charernras, Fahharm, Mueang Chiangmai (beside restaurant Wat Fa Ham). In here, they also offer other various Thai dishes that if you fancy, you could absolutely try!
#2: Khanom Jeen or Khanom Chin
Only ฿20 baht! (Less than $1!)
While we were strolling around Warorot Market, we saw a LOT of these small dimly-lit sections in which a lot of Thai people are eating dinner. One thing we noticed distinctly is that they were mixing a lot of stuff from the veggies that were laid out in their tables. We wondered what it was, and here we discovered khanom jeen or khanom cheen, a very common and CHEAP but filling street food.
It first starts with you, choosing the kind of soup that you’d like. It could be (1) chicken in coconut curry soup, (2) fish balls in curry soup, or (3) pork blood soup. This will then be mixed with white noodles which are thin fermented rice vermicelli (it’s like spaghetti, but thinner).
They will put this in a bowl, and then when you sit down, there are free vegetable ‘toppings‘ for you to use: raw string beans (I was surprised to see them eating this raw! I’m not used eating it raw…), basil, beansprouts, pickled mustard greens, shredded cabbage, and chili. Sometimes they include fried pork grind and eggs, but these eggs are not part of the free ‘toppings’ as this will cost you ฿8 baht for one.
Now I could not believe that I only paid ฿20 baht for this. I was already very full and yet it was only less than a dollar! Plus: it tasted VERY good too! It was insane, that you should just try it for yourself!
#3: Sai Oua (Grilled Spicy Herb Sausage)
Around ฿40 baht for one coil
A lot of street vendors sell different meat balls or pieces on a stick and usually, beside those sticks are these ‘Northern Style’ sausages that are coiled around in a shape that reminds me of… poo. Haha!
This can be piping hot and spicy since after taking a bite from it, it first gave me a tinge of herbs but then it was quickly followed by a sudden rush of chili! It was fiery! But still delicious and rich in its own way.
Made from ground pork, this is filled with spices such as lemongrass, cilantro, shallots, pepper, galangal, and dried chilies. As if that wasn’t enough, they mix in chili paste too! Haha! Sounds scary, right? But it’s worth the try!
Apparently, to mellow down the burst of spice, this is best paired with…
#4: Sticky Rice
฿10 baht (Usually in packs of 2)
This was a JOY to eat. We have sticky rice back at home, but not in a way that’s prepared like this: mixed with sweet stuff!
There are different kinds of sticky or glutinous rice in Thailand (they’re usually wrapped around in banana leaves). Some are mixed with fruits (hence the famed Thai mango sticky rice), with coconut, with violet rice, with beans, or with egg custard.
For me, I loved the egg custard the most! (It’s the far right one above in the photo). You can usually buy sticky rice on the streets in packs of 2 for ฿10 baht.
#5: Pad Thai
I bet you’ve seen this coming :P
Aside from sampling curries across Thailand, pad thai is another dish that you shouldn’t skip on. As what you may already know, it’s a stir-fried rice noodle often with different toppings and sauces.
You might have already tasted it from the Thai restaurants near your hometown, but you should definitely try pad thai that’s from Thailand itself. It’s very tasty and savory! This was the first Thai dish that I actually fell in love with when I first had my taste of ‘Thai’ in a restaurant in Manila; and tasting it here in Chiang Mai was great!
#6: Quail Eggs
฿20 baht – 6 pieces
Another kind of those stalls filled with people and so I had to try it out! They’re simply fried quail eggs that are mixed with coconut milk; but there are other types that are mixed rather with fish and soy sauce.
I think I like this version better though: they weren’t too sweet and they were very scrumptious in every bite. It was the perfect ‘dessert’ to cap one of the nights where we went ‘street food’ shopping in Chiang Mai.
#7: Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)
This is basically made up of shredded green papaya. They would first pound the chili, tomatoes, garlic, and long beans into this red mortar; and then they’ll add the papaya, bruising it well so as to incorporate the flavors of the former set of ingredients. What comes after will be fish sauce, lime, sugar, and some nuts.
I think if you ordered for the special that costs ฿5-10 baht more, they will add seafood to it.
At first I was scared that it would be really spicy—as with any normal initial reaction to a new Thai dish—but gladly enough, it wasn’t! There was a hint of spiciness of course, but everything was so well balanced that I wouldn’t mind having som tam for appetizers from now on! Try it; as it’s also one of the very popular Thai dishes.
#8: Kaeb Moo (Crispy Pork Rinds)
฿25 to 35 baht
This is much like chicharon from the Philippines; apparently, it’s here too in Chiang Mai! These are simply crispy friend pork rinds often mixed with salt and garlic. (Sometimes even with chili).
Kaeb moo has different variations: (1) curls of just the crunchy skin [top] or (2) rind with a part of fat [bottom] for added goodness and cholesterol haha! Obviously, for those into healthy-eating, it’s fine to taste one or a few just to remember how delicious a pig’s fat can be :P
#9: Grilled Pork, Fish, or Chicken
Aside from the variations of small meat stuck on a stick, it’s also great if you could try the bigger portions: grilled fish, grilled pork parts, and grilled chicken.
They can be veeeery tasty! And sometimes, when you order chopped parts of these, it comes along with chili or some other seasoning. I personally think that this is a good fare when you’re about to launch into a night of drinks with your friends. Prices for this vary, but often times, chopped parts of pork or chicken costs around ฿40 to 60 baht.
#10: Exotic Food!
I bet you’ve heard of the Philippines’ balut (chicken embryo), isaw (chicken intestines), and MORE! Surely, Thailand has its own set of crazies too. I ate a cricket before here in Pampanga and they had grasshoppers too but it was very small, yet… THIS grasshopper here in Chiang Mai is biiiiiig.
I am not putting this on this list for its taste (though some will find it good; but all I taste is bland crunchiness) but I’m rather putting this on this list for the experience, as well as for you to have the ‘bragging rights’ of saying that you’ve ate one! And besides, Bear Grylls did say that these pack a LOT of protein and with no fat! So, why not? :P
Aside from this big fella, there are ant eggs, silkworms, bats, VERY BIG bugs, dried lizard, etc. etc. etc. I settled for this grasshopper for the meantime.
Now, other ‘normal’ exotic food would have to be the usual Asian fruits: mangosteen, durian, lanzones, jackfruit, dragonfruit, rambutan, sugar apple, and basically every weird fruit that you see that you normally don’t see in your country. (Make it a challenge among your travelling buddies to make it more fun!).
As per common sense, be mindful that street food is famous for its incredibly poor sanitation and health rating (not all, but some; or okay, most of them) so, proceed at your own risk. But I personally think that it’s fine, as long as it’s on moderation. And besides, it would be such a pity if you skip on these when they’re not only sooooooo yummy, but also incredibly CHEAP.
And surely, finding and spotting these dishes is also very fun!
If you rather want to know the TOP 10 Things To Do (Activities) in Chiang Mai, read my article here.
Before I end this post, here’s a ‘recap’ video of my trip to Chiang Mai! (» SEE: Thailand Travel Guides)
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I am Aileen Adalid. At 21, I quit my corporate job in the Philippines to travel the world. Today, I am a digital nomad (entrepreneur & travel writer) living a sustainable travel lifestyle.
My mission? To show you how it is absolutely possible to create a life of travel, and I will help you achieve that through my detailed travel guides, resources, and tips!
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