Chiang Mai Food Guide: 7 Local Delicacies to Try!

Chiang Mai Food Guide: 7 Local Delicacies to Try!

Bangkok might be skyscraper-central and Phuket may appeal to beach bums, but Chiang Mai is for the green at heart. This can be seen not just in its vibrant landscape, nature parks and limestone caves but also in its food!

Just as how the food of Northern Vietnam varies in taste with the rest of the country, the same goes for Thailand. Chiang Mai lies on the Northern end of Thailand and features a distinctive style of cuisine called “Lanna Cuisine”, Lanna being the name of the Ancient Kingdom where Chiang Mai sits now.

Lanna cuisine captures the essence of Chiang Mai in its more natural flavours. The food here features less coconut milk and focuses more on the clearer, natural flavours of the ingredients. More herbs, more wild vegetables and sticky rice in place of regular jasmine rice give travellers just a small taste of what Thailand’s “Rose of the North” has to offer.

1. Khao Soi (Curry Egg Noodles)

Image credit: Laughlin Elkind.

The dish that no traveller leaves Chiang Mai without trying is undoubtedly Khao Soi. The spicy coconut-based curry is paired with flat egg noodles, chicken and topped with those same egg noodles, but deep-fried! The result? Textural contrast like none other.

Image credit: Alpha

Khao Soi is almost always served with a small side of lime wedges, raw shallots and pickled mustard greens. Simply squeeze in a little of the citrus and add in the shallots and pickles for a zesty yet creamy curry, unlike most other curry noodle soups you’ll find elsewhere in Thailand!

2. Laab Khua (Minced Pork Salad)

Image credit: Krista

Bid goodbye to the usual image that comes to mind when you think of the infamous Thai dish Laab (or Larb). The usual dish of minced pork and ground-up toasted rice cooked in a medley of spices like lime, fish sauce and fresh herbs is what you’d normally find in other parts of Thailand. But here in the Northern region, it looks entirely different!

Image credit: Shari Chankhamma

Laab Khua in Chiang Mai is usually found to be made of not only pork, but offal as well. The refreshing, zingy flavors are replaced with deep smoky ones thanks to the use of dried chillies for that extra oomph.

3. Nam Prik Ong (Spicy Tomato Pork Sauce)

Image credit: Kirk K

Northern Thais are huge fans of their fresh vegetables. And the best way to eat those crunchy fresh veggies is with a hearty dipping sauce called Nam Prik Ong. Ground pork is simmered in fresh tomatoes, shrimp paste and chilli to make a savoury dip worthy of being a dish unto itself.

Image credit: cyclonebill

Sounds familiar? That’s right! Nam Prik Ong is similar to a bolognese sauce, but made with pork and much spicier with the quintessential pungent Thai flavours. You’ll find it served with raw vegetables like cucumbers and cabbage leaves, as well as crispy pork rinds which pair beautifully with the spicy dip.

4. Miang Kham (Betel Leaf Salad Wraps)

Image credit: Li Tsin Soon

You might be familiar with this unique dish thanks to its popularity throughout not just Chiang Mai but throughout the rest of Thailand too. Maybe you’ve even tried the Miang Kham-flavoured Lays potato chips!

Image credit: Fitri Agung

Miang Kham provides an interactive hands-on dining experience. Diners place fresh betel leaves in their palms and fill the middle with sliced shallots, peanuts, salted dried shrimp, raw ginger, roasted coconut and diced limes (pith and all!). A sweet, pungent sauce is dolloped on and the entire thing is wrapped up to form a flavourful little parcel.

5. Sai Ua (Spicy Pork Sausage)

Image credit: Kirk K

Take a gander down any street in Chiang Mai and you’re bound to come across coils or skewers of a sausage called Sai Ua. Make sure you don’t pass it by! This vibrantly flavoured sausage includes the addition of dried chillies, fresh turmeric, shallots, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves…the list of aromatics goes on.

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Sellers present the sausages in coils and measure it out according to how much you want. One bite into this flavorful sausage and you’re instantly hit by the heady fragrance of lemongrass and the spice of the intense chillies. Fun fact? The curry paste used to make sai ua is derived from the same paste used to make khao soi!

6. Khao Kha Moo (Braised Pork Trotter)

Image credit: Charles Haynes

Comfort food in Chiang Mai comes in the form of slow-cooked, salty pork trotter served over rice. Fall off the bone tender pork legs are chopped into bite-sized pieces then served over rice. Boiled eggs, bird’s eye chillies and raw garlic complement the dish and if you’d like, pair it with those pickled mustard greens so ubiquitous throughout Chiang Mai help cut through the fattiness.

Image credit: Alpha

As simple as it seems, this dish was what propelled Chiang Mai towards becoming a foodie destination. Thanks to a certain late visionary and a woman in a cowboy hat, this dish has become one of the top things travelers seek out upon landing in Chiang Mai.

7. Gaeng Hung Lay (Myanmar-inspired Pork Curry)

Image credit: Aaron T. Goodman

Due to Chiang Mai’s proximity to Myanmar, much of its cuisine takes inspiration from there as well. One such dish is Gaeng Hung Lay, a hearty pork curry dish. Myanmar’s food has influences from India as well, which explains why this curry uses garam masala as the base curry powder!

But Thai Northerners have different taste buds and thus tweaked the recipe to their liking. You’ll taste the distinct Thai element of sourness from tamarind pulp and in some cases cherry tomatoes or crushed pineapple in the curry!

So, if you’re a regular visitor to Bangkok and it is your first time visiting Chiang Mai, don’t be too surprised to find out how different the cuisine from these two Thai cities are!

About Author

Shen Lee Ng
Shen Lee Ng

A world record holding powerlifter and wannabe patissiere, Shen currently spends her days as a social media manager, English teacher and content (the fun stuff) and copywriter (the drab stuff). Her only goal before she starts the treacherous journey that is college is to inspire those around her and to eat as many as opera cakes as possible.


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