While magnificent natural scenery and historic cultural significance may be the top draws for many visitors to the northern Thai capital, Chiang Mai’s culinary prowess is undeniably a heavyweight in its own right. In a country known for its distinct, delicious cooking, this relatively small city of varied cultural influences delivers plenty of new and exotic flavors, including local favorites khao soi (fried noodles in coconut milk curry), sai ua (spiced pork known in English as “Chiang Mai Sausage”) and kaeb moo (deep-fried pork rinds). Salivating yet? Good. Then let’s get down to business.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, street-eats are where it’s at in Thailand, and Chiang Mai is no exception. There’s no shame in this casual form of dining, as even locals will tell you it’s where you’ll likely encounter the most succulent morsels the city has to offer. Start with the markets like Warorot and Sompet, and around major attractions like Wat Chedi Luang and the Three Kings’ Monument. Here you’ll consistently find food carts and stalls whipping up all sorts of delicious local dishes on the cheap. You can also find a couple of locally renowned khao soi joints on the unassuming Charoenraj Road along the Ping River northeast of old city.
If restaurants are a prerequisite, keep in mind you’ll likely be paying more for food that often pales in comparison to the taste of humbly-served street fare. That said, there is a large scattering of trendy restaurants, ice cream parlors and the like in the youthful Nimmanhaemin neighborhood located near the university. Along the Ping River to the east you’ll find a selection of waterfront eateries that specialize in live music and quaint views: a favorite of the tourist crowd. There are also ubiquitous places to sit and eat in heavily trafficked areas like Tha Phae Gate and Ratvithi Road, including an unfortunate assortment of fast-food joints. Trust us, though: you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you confine your munching to establishments only. Push the boundaries of your palate and you never know what unique and delectable flavors may delight your taste buds. It’s northern Thailand, after all. Live a little.