Mealtimes in Chiang Mai are often among the highlights of a trip. Like its art, language and cultural heritage, Chiang Mai food is distinct from its cousins to the south and east. A much more pronounced influence from Burma and China is evident in northern cuisine, resulting in milder curries and the heavier use of ginger and turmeric. Khao niao (sticky rice), instead of steamed rice, is the main staple at every meal and goes very well with a range of nam prik (chili dips) unique to northern cuisine.

    1

    Khao soi

    Egg noodle curry

    Khao soi is a rich and savory yellow curry noodle soup, served with green onions, pickled cabbage and slices of lime. The egg noodles are of the flat variety, with a small handful of deep-fried noodles added on top and also crushed into the broth for a toothsome texture. Choose from chicken, pork, or beef khao soi. Usually, the portion is quite small, so you might end up ordering another bowl to fill up your stomach.

    2

    Khan toke platter

    Khan toke is not a single dish but a signature Lanna dining experience. Served in a low teak tray that doubles as a table, the khan toke comprises a range of northern-style side dishes and a basket of sticky rice. Diners sit on the floor and dig in with one hand. The modern version of khan toke is accompanied by a series of cultural performances such as folk music, finger-nail dance and tribal dances.

    3

    Sai oua

    Broiled herb sausage

    Sai oua is a fiery starter dish in the form of a northern-style sausage made from ground pork, dried chilies, garlic, shallots and a range of pungent herbs and spices. It looks very similar to northeastern-style sausage when seen on a charcoal broil but tastes drastically different – sai oua is more meaty and rich with herbal aromas as well as chilies.

    4

    Nam prik ong / nam prik nume

    Red/green chili dip

    This green and red chili dip duo are the most well-known among all the northern-style chili dips. Made with roasted spur peppers, the green chili dip (nam prik nume), is fiery and will leave your tongue burning after only the first bite. The red chili dip (nam prik ong) tastes slightly milder, with a tomato-based paste mixed with ground pork, chopped cilantro, green onion and dried bird’s eye chilies. Both are usually eaten with crispy pork skin, steamed vegetables, or sticky rice.

    5

    Gaeng hang lay

    Burmese-style sweet curry

    Gaeng hang lay is a yellow curry with a tamarind-based soup, pork chunks, shallots and shrimp paste. Its origins are in Burma, but the adapted northern Thai version uses less oil. With no coconut cream included, the texture is less thick than green curry and rich with spices. Some might find gaeng hang lay an acquired taste, but, for us, it's a real winner.

    6

    Kanom jeen nam hgeow

    Rice vermicelli with soybean curry

    Kanom jeen nam hgeow is Perhaps the most exotic looking among all the kanom jeen (spaghetti-like noodles). This popular northern dish consists of the kanom jeen in a pork-soybean curry (nam ngeow), served with fresh vegetables, kaeb moo (crispy pork skin), dried bird’s eye chilies and a range of local condiments. The soup tastes rather light and refreshing, unlike other rich, coconut cream versions found in other regional kanom jeen dishes.

    7

    Miang kham

    Bite-sized wrapped snacks

    Miang kham is a traditional finger food and a fun, do-it-yourself starter dish. One serving consists of fresh betel leaves for wrapping, sweet syrup and a variety of fillings, usually sliced shallots, fresh red or green chilies, diced ginger, diced garlic, diced lime, dried small shrimp and roasted grated coconut. One bite can have all or some of the fillings – it’s totally up to you.

    8

    Tam khanun

    Young jackfruit salad

    Tam khanun is refreshingly spicy, nutty and flavoursome. This healthy northern dish will wake you up from any slumber. The young, green jackfruit is boiled until tender, then shredded and stir-fried with a garlic-dried chilli-shrimp paste base and a handful of herbs. Take one bite and the rich, sweet, sour, salty and nutty tastes will explode in your mouth.

    9

    Larb kua

    Pan-fried spicy meat salad

    Larb in northern Thai cuisine has more spices in it than the northeastern version. Beef, fish, pork or chicken meat is chopped up together with blood chunks and innards, then given a quick stir in heated cooking oil (oil roasting), along with dried chilies, larb curry, blood chunks and a handful of herbs and spices. The dish goes best with warm sticky rice.

    10

    Gaeng hoh

    Mixed curry

    Gaeng hoh means "all mixed up" and that’s what this dry curry dish is all about. Traditionally fashioned from kitchen leftovers, gaeng hoh today is usually made from fresh ingredients. Fermented bamboo shoot, red curry paste, hang lay curry paste and kae curry paste combine to make the base ingredients. These then are mixed with a good variety of herbs and vegetables, pork belly meat, glass noodle, shrimp paste and chilies.

    Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveler

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