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5 Specialties of Northern Thailand
I moved to Chiang Mai two months ago, and exploring everything I can about Northern Thai cuisine has been a top priority ever since! Luckily, there is no shortage of opportunities to try all the local specialties at incredibly cheap prices. From food stalls at the street and night markets to lovely garden restaurants, Chiang Mai and northern Thailand have a bounty of flavors to offer- as long as you like spicy! If you are planning your trip to Thailand, make sure to book a hotel in Chiang Mai for a few days at least to enjoy the tasty food around here and of course all the attractions that the city offers. Here are 5 dishes you absolutely must try in northern Thailand to get a taste for the real local cuisine:
Khao Soi It’s similar in some ways to Thai curry- but this is northern Thailand’s signature version. It uses chicken (or pork) and egg noodles in a coconut curry broth/sauce- then topped with shallots, cilantro, fried noodles, chilis and lime. It’s hard to quite explain just how harmoniously these different flavors come together, but when it’s done right, it’s one of the most delicious dishes you’ll find in northern Thailand.
Som Tam This salad made with green papaya may look refreshing, but be warned: it packs a spicy punch! That being said, it’s got such a unique flavor combining lime juice, chilis, fish sauce and peanuts, melding sweet, savory and spicy in a fresh and colorful salad. You can find it at many street stalls and restaurants, usually made with a mortar and pestle so the flavors really shine (the “Tam” literally means “to crush or pound”.)
Sai Ua This is quite a delicious Thai sausage that you’ll find at warming in coils over grills at nearly every street market in Chiang Mai. Sai ua is made with ground pork, herbs and spices and chili paste- though you’ll find that it’s not overwhelmingly spicy. It’s very popular with both foreigners and locals, and can be eaten either over rice or just on its own, cut into slices.
Khao Ka Mu Pork leg on rice is another northern Thai staple that you’ll often find at the night markets. It’s great flavor comes from the pork marinating for hours in broth spiced with garlic, pepper, cinnamon, soy sauce, sugar…the list goes on! Look for it at the street stalls near Chiang Mai or at the weekend night markets- many places give you a little cup of soup on the side, too. Make sure to ask for extra gravy poured over to take the whole thing completely over the top!
Mango Sticky Rice This delicious indulgence might be more general to all of Thailand, but I had to include it because it is personally one of my favorite sweet dishes in Chiang Mai! Simple and a delightful blend of flavors and textures, fresh sticky rice is mixed with sweet coconut cream and topped with tangy, buttery mango. The end result is a perfect contrast of warm and cool, sweet and tangy, chewy coconutty carbohydrate madness!!
Nam Prik Ong This is one you’ll find mainly at restaurants rather than food markets; an appetizer/side dish consisting of a ground pork, tomato, garlic and chili dip often served with cooked vegetables and pork rinds. It brings together all of these flavors quite nicely and is a nice light bite to enjoy as a snack or before a meal. A similar vegetarian dip, Nam Prik Num, is made simply of green chiles and spices.