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. (Chiang Mai Street food).
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, more so for those that you find on the streets and public markets.
Now, there are a lot of night bazaars and market avenues in the city 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.
#1 – Khao Soi (Egg Noodle Curry)
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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 soi comes 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.
For this type of Chiang Mai street food, it is 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
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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 Chiang Mai street food made of thin rice noodles.
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 — which makes a lot of people say that this is like Thailand’s version of spaghetti).
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 ฿10 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)
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A lot of street vendors sell different meat balls or pieces on a stick. Usually, beside those sticks are these ‘Northern Style’ sausages that are coiled around in a shape that reminds me of what else but… poo. But don’t let that stop you.
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 sai oua 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! Sounds scary, right? But it’s worth a try!
Apparently, to mellow down the burst of spice, this is best paired with…
#4 – Sticky Rice
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This Chiang Mai street food was a JOY to eat. We have sticky rice back at home in the Philippines, 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 and they’re usually wrapped around in banana leaves. Some are mixed with fruits (hence the famed Thai mango sticky rice as pictured above), with coconut, with violet rice, with beans, or with egg custard. Sometimes they even put artificial colors on the rice!
For me, I loved the egg custard the most! You can usually buy these sticky rice packs on the streets and night markets.
#5 – Pad Thai
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I bet you’ve seen this coming!
Aside from sampling curries across Thailand, pad thai is another dish that you shouldn’t skip on — its huge popularity speaks for itself in the first place! And 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 even better!
#6 – Quail Eggs
Photo from Evgeny Ermakov/Shutterstock
This is another one of those Chiang Mai street food stalls filled with people — so I had to try it out! For this, they are simply fried quail eggs that are mixed with coconut milk; but, there are other types that are mixed rather with fish and soy sauce.
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 or Som Tum (Green Papaya Salad)
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This is basically made up of shredded green papaya. They would first pound the chili, tomatoes, garlic, and long beans into a 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.
So try it too, especially since it’s also one of the very popular Chiang Mai street food dishes.
#8 – Kaeb Moo (Crispy Pork Rinds)
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This is much like chicharon from the Philippines so I was pleasantly surprised that it also exists in Chiang Mai! As such, kaeb moo are simply crispy friend pork rinds often mixed with salt and garlic. (Sometimes even with chili).
To date, it has different variations: (1) curls of just the crunchy skin or rind with a part of fat 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.
#9 – Grilled Pork, Fish, or Chicken
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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 Chiang Mai street food 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!
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Surely, Thailand has its own set of crazy street food too. I ate a cricket before in the Philippines and they had grasshoppers too — however, they were very small and the insects in Chiang Mai were biiiiiig.
I am not putting this on this list for its taste (though some will find it good; but all I taste is fear and crunchiness). 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! Haha, and besides, Bear Grylls did say that these pack a LOT of protein and with no fat! So, why not?
Aside from crickets, there are ant eggs, silkworms, bats, dried lizard, etc. etc. etc.