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Food in Chiang Mai

Thai cuisine - an indigenous tradition that has been enriched by Arab, Indian, Malay and Chinese influences - has become world famous. Yet for the Thais, the heart of food is the simple, plain rice. Without rice, many Thais will feel that they have not eaten.

Rice and food - khao in Thai - are synonymous, and Thais often refer to plain rice as 'beautiful rice' or 'noble rice'. A common greeting in Thai with the force of "How are you?" translates as "Have you eaten yet (kin khao laew ru yang)? "

The dishes that provide the nutrients and flavors which complement the rice are referred as kap khao, which means "with rice". 

Thai Food

Bamboo Shoot, Chiang Mai, Thailand Key ingredients in Thai cooking come daily from the fresh markets, which become busy in the pre-dawn hours. Thai cooking requires the vigorous use of a variety of herbs. The most common are garlic, shallots, and fresh coriander. The hot soups and curry pastes require lemon grass, galanga (Siamese ginger), and the leaves of the kaffir lime (you are not expected to eat the chunks of herb when they are served in the famous hot soups - tom yam). Other commonly used fresh herbs include mint and three kinds of basil. The herbs and spices provide the pungent and bitter range of flavors in Thai dishes. Seasonings are used to add salty, sour and sweet flavors; fish sauce and shrimp paste provide the salty tastes, lime and tamarind the sour, and coconut and palm sugar the sweet.

In preparation of dishes, ingredients are chopped into small pieces. This requires longer preparation of ingredients, but allows for shorter cooking times; it also makes the use of knives at the table unnecessary.

At the table the bulk of a meal consists of rice, which Thais flavor by taking small helpings (two or three mouthfuls) from the central dishes. They use central serving spoons to serve the small portions onto their own plates, from which they eat. Serving themselves from one dish at a time, Thais usually finish each small portion before returning to a different dish for another; thus the full flavor of each dish may be savored in an equable atmosphere. In times of past hardships, this natural manner of sharing food also allowed a small amount of spicy flavoring to go a long way with plain rice.

You can find a collection of Thai dishes and Thai Cooking Classes at the following page: Thai Cottage Home Cookery School Chiang Mai


In Chiang Mai restaurants are numerous. You can find good food in plain basic shop-houses as much as in elegant garden restaurants. Some of the better and more expensive restaurants are located in the major hotels. Enjoying food is also very much part of a night out in the city, andseveral "pubs" serve good food. Food in small food and noodle stalls is often better than the food in hotel restaurants. A general rule is: Do not eat in restaurants or food stalls where there are no other people at lunch or dinner time! The others usually know why they do not eat there.

Northern Thai Food & Restaurants

Sticky rice, khao nieow, is commonly eaten with northern dishes. It is first soaked for several hours and then steamed, together with some herbs, in a conical basket of woven bamboo. This reduces the stickiness as well as the sweetness of the rice. It keeps well after cooking and may be kept in baskets for a long time. It is usually eaten by taking a small lump and pressing it with the fingers to form a hard ball. Then the ball is dipped (by hand) into some spicy flavoring and eaten. The ingredients used to flavor rice were originally those that came from hunting, foraging and fishing.

Older Northern Thais may wistfully tell you about the flavor of venison in their youth, but most wild meat has been hunted to extinction. The more adventurous visitor may, perhaps, like to sample the various dishes that use innards and the seasonal dishes that feature insects.

The herbs and spices for flavoring are those commonly used in all Thai cooking, but northern Thai dishes have been influenced by Burmese and Shan cooking and use less coconut than those of central Thai cuisine.

Dishes served with sticky rice are of several kinds: nam phrik - hot dips served in small bowls along with fresh or lightly steamed vegetables and crispy pork skin: kaeng - curries (dry or watery); yam - vegetables and meat mixed with a variety of herbs and spices.

A Khantoke Dinner usually consists of a whole range of northern Thai dishes.

Make a Khantoke Dinner reservation

Street and Market Food

Eating at street stalls is both enjoyable and cheap and usually clean.

Ordering at food stalls is a bit of a problem for non- Thai speakers.

In Chiang Mai two markets cater to visitors and have English menus. These are Anusarn Market (Chang Khlan Road near the Night Bazaar) and Sompet Market (Moon Muang Road a little north of Thapae Gate).

Anusarn Market

This market is part of the Night Bazaar area. A large open air terrace with many stalls offer a wide choice. Prices are only slightly above regular market prices elsewhere.

In the morning there are two good food stalls offering very tasty steamed chicken on rice and knuckle of pork Thai style at regular market prices. Hrs. 06:00 till food is finished (ca. 13:00 - 14:00 hr.).

Anusarn Market also has several restaurants, but these do not serve food at budget prices. The market is home to restaurants serving fresh prawn (priced by the kilo). One of the best restaurant is 'Ouan Heha' (Anusarn Market. Hrs. 17:00- 24:00, Tel: 818441), where dishes are cooked at an extraordinary speed. Several restaurants in the Anusarn Market area operate till the early morning.

Food Centers(coupon system)

Both the Airport Plaza (basement floor) and Kad Suan Kaew (south wing, 3rd floor south) have food centers for shopper's convenience (Location Airport Plaza, Kad Suan Kaew). The Airport Plaza is the better of the two.

The Galare Food Center (Chang Khlan Road, Night Bazaar) serves a wide variety of food and offers free shows of traditional dancing and Thai boxing (19:00-22:30).

Lunch-time on Inthawororot Road

A fine Thai food experience can be enjoyed at the eastern end of Inthawororot Road near the Three Kings Monument (mornings and lunch-time only). Several good food shops operate there, including some excellent noodle shops. Well-known for steamed chicken on rice is "Kiat Ocha" (Hrs. 06:00 - 13:00 or when the chicken runs out). The popularity of the area at lunch-time attracts local vendors who sell an array of tasty delicacies and desserts from carts in front of the shops.


Noodles make a simple, inexpensive meal that can be enjoyed anytime. Thai noodles are amongst the best in Southeast Asia and no visit to Thailand is complete without trying them at least once. The current price for a bowl from a street stall is 20 to 25 THB. The price of a bowl of noodles is a good yardstick for a quick measurement of inflation. In 1975 the price was 5 THB.

Noodle shops are usually only open in the daytime until mid or late afternoon. Prices are inexpensive.

Market and Vendor Tips

In the cold season, hot soya milk and a couple of fried butter rolls known as pa tong ko can keep the chill out. This, along with instant coffee, is also served in the evening at the main markets.

If you have a sweet tooth and want to sample Thai desserts, go to one of the markets (Sompet market on Moon Muang Road is good). Stalls sell desserts in plastic bags for just a few THB.

The markets also provide the best opportunity to sample some of Thailand's fruits. Amongst the best are mango, which is especially good when eaten with sticky rice, longan, mangosteen, sapodilla and lychee.
See also: Fruits in Chiang Mai

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