5 Northern Thai Specialties Not to Miss

Having moved to Chiang Mai a month ago, exploring northern Thai cuisine has been a top priority of mine (tough job, right?) and 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 can handle spicy! I was surprised to discover that northern Thai food is so much more than the Thai food I ate at home- pad thai, fried rice, and curry… this is just the tip of the food iceberg! Here are 5 dishes you absolutely must try in northern Thailand to get a taste for the real local cuisine:

Khao Soi Forget what you know about Westernized Thai curry- come to northern Thailand and try their signature version- Khao soi. It uses chicken (or pork) and egg noodles in a coconut curry 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 the ultimate in northern Thai food.

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 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.

Mango Sticky Rice Alright, this one 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 of flavors and textures, the 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!!

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