Seven Foods to Try in Chiang Mai

by Elsa Thomasma

Of course, Thai food is amazing, and of course, it is very spicy. But when you are a newcomer in Thailand it is sometimes overwhelming reading a menu of so many mouth-watering dishes. Not to mention all the Pads and Khaos, that are sure to confuse any non-Thai speaker. Check out this list of Chiang Mai’s top dishes to narrow down your choices, when your growling stomach is overpowering your ability to choose between ordering tasty or delicious.

A variety of local chilies
A variety of local chilies. Photo by Tom Gore

Pad Thai, the most infamous Thai dish in the world

A delicious, heaping serving of thin, flat rice noodles mixed with vegetables and topped with crushed peanuts. At almost any restaurant and street food stand, Pad Thai is served with your choice of meat, seafood, tofu, or eggs. On the street it can cost as little as 30 baht and in a high-end restaurant as much as 500 baht, but a higher price does not always reflect better quality or flavor; so try the 30 baht serving first!

Tom Kha Gai, spicy coconut milk soup

Definitely a rival to the more well-known, Tom Yum Soup, the broth of this soup is the perfect blend of creamy and spicy. As in all Thai dishes, the spices are key and this one is packed with ginger and lemongrass. At most restaurants Tom Kha Gai is served with shrimp or chicken, but mixed seafood or tofu are often available too. (Try Tom Kha Gai at Lemongrass, a delicious restaurant near the Halal Market).

Khao Phat Kraphao, fried rice with basil leaves

Thai basil is entirely different from Italian basil, and can be quite surprising when you try it for the first time. Its sweetness pairs perfectly with the spiciness of most Thai dishes, and it is definitely the “icing on the cake” that is Khao Phat Kraphao. Order it with egg and then pile on the homemade chilies in fish sauce, served in small dishes at almost every restaurant.

Pad Thai

Pad Thai. Photo credit to Sharon Ang

Khao Soi, saucy northern-style noodles

The main noodle dish of Northern Thailand, a more soupy noodle dish, with hints from nearby Burma. Rice noodles, the usual for most Thai noodle dishes, are substituted for egg noodles in most versions of Khao Soi. Despite any alterations to the usual Thai style one thing is for sure, you will still feel the heat of the Thai chilies.

Pad See Ew, wider version of Thai fried noodles 

This dish will definitely surprise you, after hearing so many people rave about Pad Thai. The thicker noodles make for a lot different eating experience, especially for those who are beginner chopstick users because the noodles are much easier to pick up. The flavors are similar to Pad Thai, but with less peanut and more dark sauce that makes it completely unique and completely worth trying more than once.

Barbequed Mushrooms, an unexpectedly flavorful skewer

In Thailand there is quite a range of mushrooms served in various dishes, but BBQ mushroom skewers definitely exemplify the best characteristic of mushrooms, the absorption of flavors. Cooked over an open flame and doused in chili sauce, this cheap food will keep you coming back for more! (Try it at the Walking Market on Saturdays near the Tha Pae Gate)

Quail Eggs, simply fried to perfection

These very small eggs are cooked in what looks like miniature muffin pans atop an open flame, usually without even any seasoning, and they are surprisingly scrumptious. Of course, they are yet another cheap snack food available across the city, and definitely worth sampling.

Thai cuisine

Thai cuisine. Photo credit to Andrea Cameron

Though many people would say “avoid the street food,” street food in Thailand is really quite safe. The only thing to watch out for us meat, since you never know how many hours it has been sitting in the heat. On market day the vendors are overflowing with fresh foods, and you won’t be able to resist trying dish after dish. There is nothing better than stopping in a little (literal) hole-in-the-wall restaurant and watching your food freshly cooked right in front of you. These type of restaurants are located all around Chiang Mai, usually family run and always authentic and affordable!