However, when you look beyond the national dishes, you’ll find delectable and much-loved specialties from the provinces. The northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai may be the country’s cultural capital, but that doesn’t mean you should miss out on the food. Here is a list of the must-eats when you are here.
Khao Soi Gai
One cannot visit Chiang Mai without trying the famed Khao Soi Gai, a noodle dish that combines distinct textures and flavours for a hearty meal. The dish comes with yellow noodles, a thick coconut milk curry topped off with fried noodles that are then garnished with pickled cabbage, shallots and a wedge of lime. What I loved most about this dish is the springy texture of the soft noodle combined with the crispy fried one.
Trust me when I tell you that you’ve never tasted sausage like this. A harmony of spices that is mixed together with minced pork, the sai ua bursts with flavours, thanks to herbs and spices including cilantro, galangal, black pepper, lemongrass, shallot, and chili paste. If the spices intimidate you, I recommend eating it with a bag of sticky rice. I’d say take it like a man (or woman)!
Nam Prik Num
This is a dip of fiery goodness concocted by the Northern Thais, made with young chilies called prik num, hence the name. The chilies are then pounded together with roasted young chilies, garlic, lime juice, shallots, fish sauce and coriander leaves and out comes a thick, moist and fibrous, greenish paste. This is best eaten with steamed and raw vegetables, and also sticky rice. Unlike guacamole or cheese dips where you dip and chuck it into your mouth, I’d recommend you take your time with this one as the heat slowly builds up.
Kalamae is a Thai-Mon dessert that provides the perfect contrast to the spicy food of Thailand. If you have denture or braces, it’s probably best to stay away from this as it has a caramel-like chewiness. Kalamae was traditionally only available during special occasions such as New Year because of the monumental task of mixing its ingredients, which include sticky rice, molasses and coconut milk. Today you can get them in clear cellophane or wrapped in nipa palm leaves, as well as in different flavours including pandanus and durian.
Gaeng Hang Lay
Gaeng Hang Lay Moo or Northern Thai pork belly curry strikes a balance between being sweet, a bit salty and sour. Think of it as the red curry mix used in the Massaman curry of southern Thailand but on spice steroids, and used to cook tender chunks of fatty pork belly and pork shoulder. Eat this dish with steamed rice and you’ll be asking for second helpings much like myself.