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What and where to eat in Chiang Mai: The best Thai dishes

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Chiang Mai

Joanna Horanin

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Last updated at 20/05/2024, 18:30

Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

Food – that’s what’s the best about Thailand. Thai dishes are full of flavours, spices and aromas. Once you try some of it, you won’t be able to forget the experience. Chiang Mai is the capital of great food. There are plenty of street stalls and restaurants, where you can sample the most amazing dishes. In this article I will tell you all about what to eat in Chiang Mai and advice you on which things to try first.

I’m a big fan of Thai cuisine. It’s one of my favourites and when I visit Thailand, I can’t stop eating! The north is also my favourite region, where dishes are unique and different from what you find in other places. During my trips I got to try really delicious food and here I will introduce you to the best of them.

If you’re going to Chiang Mai, whether it’s for holiday or for longer, trying the food is a must. Here is the most useful information on what and where to eat in Chiang Mai.

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    The northern cuisine – How to eat it?

    Before I tell you what and where to eat in Chiang Mai, I’d like to tell you more about the culture of the north of Thailand and its food traditions.

    First of all, Thai dishes in the north are like Thai tapas. They are small and quite often are shared with other people. It’s good to take your friends and family for a true Thai experience to a local restaurant.

    A lot of Thai people drink beer with ice while eating.

    There are some dishes that you normally don’t share, such as khao soi, or noodle soup. The rest of the soups are served in a big bowl. Everyone gets a smaller bowl and a spoon, with which they can serve themselves.

    Normally, we eat with a spoon and a fork. Noodles are eaten with chopsticks and if you’re eating a noodle soup, you will get chopsticks and a spoon.

    Sticky rice is eaten with fingers. You torn out a piece of rice, make a ball out of it and dip in a sauce. Here the exception is mango sticky rice, which is eaten with a spoon, but this is not a northern dish and is considered to be a generic Thai dish.

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    Thai dishes, which you should try in Chiang Mai

    If you’re wondering what and where to eat in Chiang Mai, look no further. Here’s a full list of the best dishes along with addresses of the restaurants serving them. Enjoy!

    Khao soi

    Thai sausage in a khao soi soup.
    Here we have khao soi with Thai sausage, which is not that common.

    Khao soi is a traditional northern Thai soup, which is made out of curry and noodles. The broth is made out of meat and served with pieces of chicken, beef, pork and even fish. The special ingredient here are crispy noodles.

    The soup is very rich in flavour and served with sour cabbage, shallots and lime. You can add whatever amount you want. Additionally, there is always special mixture of chilli on the table. Just be careful with it because it’s very spicy!

    The best place to eat khao soi in Chiang Mai is Kaho Soi Mea Sai. You also might want to try something totally different, like khao soi with sai ua – Thai sausage. You will find it at Khao Soi Nong Fluke.

    Laarb

    Thai salad - laarb with meat.
    Som tam is full of flavour and aroma.

    Laarb is a Thai salad, traditionally made out of minced meat. However, there are a lot of variations of it, including vegan and vegetarian options.

    The most delicious here is the sauce, which is spicy and sour.

    Normally, this is a dish you share with other people. Put the plate in the middle and everyone can use their own spoon to take some of the salad.

    Eat it with sticky rice – khao niaw. Rip a piece of rice, make a ball and dip it in the sauce.

    I recommend eating laarb at Cherng Doi.

    Som tam

    Som tam with corn. Where to eat in Chiang Mai.
    This salad is really great. Thai people say that it’s healthy, too.

    Do you need more recommendations on what to eat in Chiang Mai? Here is another one!

    Som tam is a Thai salad made out of green papaya. The fruit is grated, some tomatoes are added, lime, fish sauce and (sometimes) little shrimps. The whole thing is then pounded, so it releases juices.

    The salad can be spicy. At street stalls you might be asked how many chillis you want. One or two are good, more is only if you’re tough.

    Som tam is also a dish to share with other people and should be eaten with sticky rice.

    You can get som tam nearly everywhere, but the best places are street stalls that sell only this and nothing else.

    My recommended place is Yumpumajedyod. This restaurant is a bit further away from the city centre, but it’s worth going there for lunch or dinner.

    Sai ua

    Sai ua - thai sausage, chiang mai.
    Sai ua is best eaten in smaller pieces.

    Thai people have their own sausage – sai ua. It’s made out of pork and a lot of herbs and spices. Thais like to grill it and cut it in small pieces.

    You can eat it with sticky rice, too.

    Where is the best place to eat sai ua? Go to Warrort Market and wander around the stalls there. You will find some sellers outside.

    Pad thai

    What to eat in Chiang Mai - pad thai.
    What to eat in Chiang Mai? Pad thai is always a great choice.

    I know that you’ve tried pad thai before. This is the most famous Thai dish. But, have you tried it in Chiang Mai?

    These noodles can be made very well and then one plate won’t be enough. This usually happens to me when I eat at a local restaurant in Santhitam. It’s located just next to Tesco’s on the main road. Order one and I’m sure you’ll be back for more.

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    Pad thai is served with crushed peanuts and some spring onion. You can add some chilli and vinegar that you’ll have on the table. Eat it with chopsticks.

    Chicken satay

    Chicken satay are small pieces of grilled meat served with a peanut based sauce. The combination is delicious!

    You will find it in many places, but if you’re looking for a place to eat in Chiang Mai, go to Khao Soi Islam. Satay is good there. Despite its name, I wouldn’t recommend eating khao soi there.

    Noodle soups

    Soups are very popular in the north of Thailand. In Chiang Mai you can find a lot of places selling noodle soups.

    The broth is made in a big pot and consists of different pieces of meat and noodles. It’s normally served in a ball with some roasted garlic. When you get yours, add some peanuts, sugar, vinegar and chilli – all of them should be on the table.
    Eat your soup with chopsticks and a spoon.

    The best noodle soups can be found at the Chiang Mai Gate Night Market. It’s open every day during the week and the stalls start operating after sunset.

    What to eat in Chiang Mai – Additional information

    What else should you know about eating in Chiang Mai?

    How to find a good restaurant?

    Chiang Mai is famous for its cuisine, but the city has so many restaurants that it’s easy to go somewhere, where the food is not great.
    I usually check the reviews on Google and I also observe the places while I pass them by. If I see that a particular restaurant is full very often, I go there and try it out.
    You can do it, too even if you’re there for a short time. Just go where the locals go. Remember that Thais usually eat out early in the morning and then after sunset, so during the day a lot of stalls and restaurants are closed or empty.

    Food poisonings

    If you eat in Chiang Mai it might happen that you get a stomach bug. Just in case, always have some pills. Pharmacies in Thailand are very well stocked, so you can get your medications there.

    Remember about insurance! I recommend Safetywing, which is very helpful when getting sick abroad.

    Paying for your meal

    If you don’t live in Thailand, you’ll need to pay cash at a lot of places. Small street stalls don’t accept cards. Always carry cash with you.

    Nowadays, you don’t need to exchange your money in a currency exchange point. Having a Revolut account is very helpful and will save you a lot of money, especially when withdrawing cash.

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    More fancy places accept card payments.

    Knowing what and where to eat in Chiang Mai makes every stay much more pleasant and memorable. I hope that thanks to this post you’ll find some great places to dine.
    Don’t forget to write me a comment if you have any questions about Thailand!