Tasty food is one of the major draws of taking a holiday in Thailand. Dishes like tom yam gung (spicy prawn soup), geng keow wan gai (chicken in green curry sauce) and kuay tiew (noodle soup) are served up in every corner of Thailand. Chiang Mai eateries offer all the Thai culinary specialities in addition to signature dishes typically found only in the olden Lanna regions of Northern Thailand.
Visitors wishing to sample the tastes of traditional Northern Thai food will find the offerings are varied. Curried noodles, vermicelli style noodle soups, chilli-paste dips, spiced sausage and a Burma influenced curry are musts for foodies when in Chiang Mai. The following recommendations are for the tastiest Northern Thai food specials and the best Chiang Mai restaurants to eat them at.
Last Updated: November 2018
TRADITIONAL NORTHERN THAI FOOD
Khao Soi Curry Noodle Soup
Khao soi is egg noodles in a soup created from curry paste and coconut milk. Most of the Chiang Mai eateries which serve this provide a choice of a chicken drumstick, beef or meatballs plus some crispy noodles to go with the soup. Shallots, squeezed lime, pickled cabbage and chilli paste are provided as condiments to adjust the dish to taste. The chilli paste is invariably spicy.
Geng Hang Lay
A Burma and India influenced curry, geng hang lay has been adapted to suit the Thai palate. The paste used to make this curry sauce is masala and the main ingredient is pork. The genuine article is spiced up with tamarind, ginger, peanuts and sugar-cane. The finished geng hang lay is a little spicy yet salty and sweet while the pork should be tender if cooked long enough.
Nam prik ong and nam prik noom are two chilli-based dips typically eaten with sticky rice and fresh vegetables. Nam prik ong also usually comes with kep moo (deep fried pork skin). Nam prik ong is made from minced pork, tomatoes, chillies, garlic, shallots, tamarind sauce and soya-bean biscuits. Nam prik ong is not as spicy as nam prik noom. Nam prik noom is created by barbecuing fresh chillies, shallots and garlic. These are then pounded with a pestle and mortar. Chefs generally add fish sauce before serving.
Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiaw
An exciting fusion of tastes, kanom jeen nam ngiaw is noodles with soup. The noodles are a kind of rice vermicelli and the soup’s core ingredients are pork, chunks of hardened chicken blood, sliced tomatoes, dried chillies, shallots and garlic. Kanom jeen nam ngiaw should come with a selection of raw bean sprouts, chopped cabbage and coriander.
Sai ua, pronounced sai oo-a, is a sausage-like delicacy native to Northern Thailand. They are made with pig intestines. These are then stuffed with a mix of finely minced pork, a little fat, lemongrass, kaffir-lime leaves, shallots and curry paste. The best sai ua are grilled. They can be eaten as an appetizer or with nam prik dips, sticky rice and fresh vegetables.
THE BEST RESTAURANTS TO TRY NORTHERN THAI FOOD
Huen Jai Yong is rated one of the top choices to sample Northern Thai dishes in the Chiang Mai area. The restaurant is housed in traditional Lanna buildings and offers a full range of dishes including nam prik, sticky rice, sausages, kanom jeen, geng hang lay and fresh coconut. More often than not, there is a queue for a table at Huen Jai Yong. The nicely kept gardens or onsite coffee shop are ideal spots to pass the time in. Huen Jai Yong is located beside the highway to San Kamphaeng Hot Springs and 15kms from Chiang Mai.
Huen Jai Yong: #64 M. 4, T. Buak Khang, A. San Kamphaeng, Chiang Mai 50130 | Open: 10:00-16:00 (Tue-Sun) | Tel: +66 86 671 8710, +66 86 730 2673
Conveniently located close to the northwest corner of the Old City, Huen Muan Jai offers superior dining experiences in an open-sided timber pavilion. A full selection of Northern Thai food is on the menu here. Curries, nam prik, fish and khao soi are among the favourites guaranteed to satisfy even the pickiest of foodies.
Huen Muan Jai: #24, Ratchapruek Rd., T. Chang Phuak, A. Muang, Chiang Mai 50300 | Open: 10:00-22:00 (Closed Mondays) | Tel: +66 53 404 998, +66 89 701 2894 | Website | Facebook
The Ruen Come In Hotel and Restaurant complex is a cluster of traditional teakwood structures across from Wat Chet Yot. The restaurant is teak and an ambient spot to feast on traditional culinary delights from Northern Thailand. Sai ua, nam prik and all the other Thai dishes on the menu are prepared using recipes handed down through the generations. Fresh fruit plus juices concocted from local herbs and fruits are the ideal balance for the flavours of the food.
Ruen Come In: #79/3 Sirithorn Rd., T. Chang Phuak, A. Muang, Chiang Mai 50300 | Open: 11:00-22:00 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 212 516, +66 84 664 1532 | Website
As its name implies, the Khao Soi Samer Jai Restaurant is best known for its delicious khao soi. This comes as beef, chicken or vegetarian. The soup at this establishment is rated the finest in Chiang Mai. Among other popular Northern Thai food items on the menu here are geng hang lay and sai ua. Khao Soi Samer Jai opens during the daytime and is on the east bank of the River Ping about two kilometres north of Warorot Market.
Khao Soi Samer Jai: – Faham Rd., Chiang Mai 50000 | Open: 08:00-15:00 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 242 928
Khao Soi Lam Duan is on the same street as Khao Soi Samer Jai and likewise is a basic no frills restaurant. Bowls of khao soi along with barbecued satay are the house specials. This restaurant is daytime only too and can get really busy between midday and 13:00.
Khao Soi Lam Duan (Faham) : – Faham Rd., T. Wat Ket, A. Muang, Chiang Mai 50000 | Open: 09:00-16:30 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 243 519