After living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for almost a year now, I’ve had the opportunity to try so many different dishes of Thai food.
It’s been a unique experience that I’ve really treasured. You can get Thai food in the US, sure. But the quality, authenticity, and variety can’t be matched compared to what you’ll get here.
No matter where in this world you decide to live, enjoying the local cuisine is pretty much necessary.
I don’t think I’d like my time here in Thailand nearly as much if I didn’t enjoy Thai food. My life here is greatly aided and shaped by the food. The food is in and of itself a major part of the culture. The people here are constantly talking about, taking pictures of, cooking, sharing, and eating food. And when the food is this good, cheap, and accessible, it’s no surprise.
What’s even better is how well my body has responded to eating Thai food about 90% of the time – I’ve lost quite a bit of weight since relocating here, and I’m currently in the best shape of my life. I wasn’t expecting this at all, but it’s been an awesome side effect.
After a lot of eating, I’d like to take some time today to share my five favorite food dishes here in Chiang Mai.
Now, there are so many fabulous things to eat here. This list is far from exhaustive.
This is rather just a short list of some of my personal favorites.
Pretty much everything you see below can be had at a small market/stall, or even a food court at one of the big malls (which are very popular for Thais and foreigners alike). So we’re talking $1 to $2 per dish. Of course, local restaurants will also offer this food, but you’re typically going to be paying a little more for the ambiance and what not.
(Keep in mind that these pictures aren’t polished. They’re taken straight from my old iPhone 4S. And I shot the pictures as the food was served to me. Nothing is gussied up. So these are genuine looks at what the food actually looks like.)
Pad Kra Pao
I eat this almost every day for lunch (except for when the market that serves it closes). It’s far and away my favorite dish thus far.
This is a stir-fried dish that features holy basil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, chilies, and garlic. I get pad kra pao with moo krob (crispy pork). Of course, it always comes with rice.
The sauce is thin, sweet, spicy, smoky, salty. Umami is off the charts. It’s probably loaded with MSG, but I’d rather not know. It’s a unique flavor profile that I absolutely fell in love with the first moment I tasted it. I can’t get enough of it, even though I’ve eaten it hundreds of times since I got here. I’m like a kid every time I get it, as if it’s the first time I’m eating it.
Pad Prik Gaeng
I really love this dish. I eat it for dinner pretty frequently.
This dish uses Thai red curry paste for its base. And then it’s generally served with kaffir lime leaves and Chinese long beans. I get this dish with moo krob, too.
The paste has a heavy, almost meaty quality to it. It’s definitely spicy. But instead of being overtly sweet like a lot of Thai food, I find this one to be a bit more on the salty side. The heavy sauce holds up really well when mixed with rice.
A classic northern Thai dish. It’s served almost everywhere around Chiang Mai.
I’m actually not a fan of soup at all. So I didn’t think I’d like this very much, as it’s a broth-based dish. But I’ve come to really love it. If I had to eat just one “soup” for the rest of my life, this would be it. I generally get this with moo (pork). The place I eat it most often from, which is a small market called Khao Soi Mae Sai, serves it with two kinds of pork simultaneously: minced pork and sliced pork. Yes!
The broth has an intense spicy flavor that is balanced by a coconut smoothness that I can’t fully describe. There’s nothing else quite like it. And then you get these egg noodles and fried noodles on top that complete the package and allow you to kind of mellow out the spice while also filling you up. It’s great stuff.
Americans think they know what they’re doing with meat. Well, the Thai people really know how to roast, cook, and barbecue meat. No doubt about it.
Exhibit A: kai yang is probably the best chicken you’ll ever have in your life. It’s roasted chicken that’s served with the skin extra crispy. And then they give you this tamarind sauce on the side. Get it with sticky rice!
There’s a spot here in Chiang Mai called Cherng Doi Roast Chicken that does this dish famously well. The best $2 you’ll ever spend for sure. I try to eat this as much as I can. It’s kind of a mission of mine in life. I’m doing pretty well with it.
Khao Kha Moo
This is an awesome dish. The fact that it’s relegated to fifth on my list simply speaks to how amazing the cuisine is here. Just so much breadth and variety.
This dish literally translates to “pork leg on rice”. They basically keep this meat stewing over this broth that’s probably been sitting in the pot for, like, 50 years. You get this super tender pork chopped up over rice, then they pour that juicy broth on top. It’s almost always served with a soft-boiled egg.
There’s a woman here in Chiang Mai who’s become a bit of a local celebrity after she was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show a while back. Wearing her trademark cowboy hat, she has a rather large stall at the Chang Phueak Market (north gate). To her credit, it’s the best khao kha moo I’ve yet to eat in Chiang Mai. So her celeb cred is earned.
There’s so much amazing food in Chiang Mai. And Chiang Mai is but one city in Thailand. Each area of the country has regional specialties, and I’m super interested in trying most/all of them over time.
These are my five favorite dishes here in Chiang Mai, but I can honestly say that there’s almost nothing I’ve eaten thus far that has turned me off. You could just about randomly pick food from any street vendor, serve it to me, and I’d probably thoroughly enjoy it.
Americans might not be super familiar with this food, so I hope it opened your eyes to a few new dishes to try wherever you are. Give them a shot!
What do you think? Do you have favorite Thai dishes you really enjoy?
Thanks for reading.
P.S. If you’re interested in becoming financially free, which could allow you to live abroad and try all kinds of unique food for yourself, check out some fantastic resources that helped me become financially free at 33!