Thailand is well known for its fabulous street food culture and the northern city of Chiang Mai is no exception, giving the capital Bangkok a run for its money. When I visited the province earlier this year, I was blown away by the wonderful food on offer but, being on a whirlwind press trip that took us to one fabulous restaurant after another, I didn’t have the opportunity to explore the Chiang Mai street food scene. I’ll be sharing more about the restaurants I visited in a coming post but, in the meantime, let this mini guide from travel blogger, Nathan Aguilera, the Foodie Flashpacker, take you on a taste bud tantalising mini-tour of the city’s best-loved street food.
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Where to find the best street food in Chiang Mai
All over Chiang Mai you can find stalls run by friendly locals, making a variety of enticing dishes. The ladies pictured above worked the cart right outside my apartment and were always so happy and friendly, despite having arrived at 5:30 am each morning to begin frying chicken and preparing food for people on their way to work. You could get a decent breakfast of chicken fried rice or grilled pork over rice with a fried egg for about 50 cents (USD).
Here’s my mini guide to the best street food Chiang Mai has to offer.
Probably the most famous of all Thai dishes, it can be made with pork, chicken, seafood or simply vegetables for a vegetarian option. My favorite is Chicken Pad Thai, made without the small dried shrimp that are usually added, as I find them so salty that they overpower the entire dish. There are stands all over the city selling this dish and most cost around $1 USD.
I initially thought this was such a Western dish that maybe Thai people don’t eat it much themselves, but my Thai friends love it!
Moo Dad Deaw
I also love some of the lesser-known dishes such as Moo Dad Deaw, a treat I recently discovered. Strips of pork meat are seasoned and then sun-dried before being either grilled or fried, and are served with a dipping sauce and sometimes sticky rice. It is almost like a Thai jerky – the consistency is very chewy but it’s full of flavour. I can’t pass a stand selling this without grabbing an order!
Khao Kha Muu
Khao Kha Muu, or Thai-style roasted pork leg, was made famous by American chef, Anthony Bourdain, when he visited the city. The dish is simple – stewed pork meat served over rice with a hardboiled egg. Accompaniments include whole cloves of garlic and chilies.
While you can find this dish all over Chiang Mai, and likely all over Thailand, Anthony Bourdain has made one stall holder in particular famous. Known as the ‘Cowboy Hat Lady’, you can find her across the road from Chang Phuek Gate. She’s easy to find, as she’s always wearing her signature cowboy hat and her stall has the longest queue.
Khoa Soi is a dish that is more typical of northern Chiang Mai. It’s a moreish curry-based soup that is influenced by Burmese cuisine. The soup has two types of noodles – standard rice, or egg soup noodles with crunchy fried noodles used as a topping. Coconut milk and chicken is added to the curry broth. Served with a side of chilies, shallots, pickled greens and lime, you’re able to customise the bowl to your liking. I’ve also seen versions using pork instead of chicken.
It is a dish people still talk about months after they have visited the city.
For a quick snack, nearly every Chiang Mai street food area will have someone selling skewers of grilled meat, usually pork.
Chaing Mai Gate Street Food Market
Although you can find stalls all over the city, my favourite street food is found at Chiang Mai Gate. It is especially busy in the mornings and evenings as most vendors choose to go home during the midday heat.
In the morning, the market serves as a type of farmers market, with trucks full of produce coming in from villages found in the nearby mountains. There’s also a huge onsite meat market.
You can find all kinds of local and Western dishes at this popular market, there’s truly something for everyone, but the more adventurous eater should try the roasted snails…
… or even the spicy raw ant egg salad, which is surprisingly delicious!
This salad is bursting with the flavours of lemongrass, chilies, spring onion and yes, ant eggs. I don’t see it as an everyday option, but it is particularly popular during festivals, especially Songkran, the Thai New Year.
So, as you can see, Chiang Mai not only has a distinct street food culture, it can also hold its own against Bangkok!
Author: Nathan Aguilera left his home in Oklahoma City for what he thought was going to be a six-month trip around South East Asia. Now, nearly four years later, he’s travelled to more than fifty countries across four different continents and counting.
His food-focused travel blog sends him exploring new areas by trying to find the best local dishes. Follow along to see where he goes and what he eats next at FoodieFlashpacker.com. Follow Nathan on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
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