Aside from the incredible people, weather, and scenery, the delectable food is one of the best reasons to visit Thailand.
One of the most common and least expensive street foods in Thailand is also one of the most delicious and refreshing. Som tum is a dish with a base of shredded green, unripe papayas pounded in a mortar with lime juice, long beans (which look similar to green beans, but have a denser texture), roasted peanuts, dried shrimp, and various other fruits and seasonings. It has a surprisingly savory flavor and is filling for a nearly vegetarian salad.
Pad Krapow Kai
This dish (pronounced pad ka-pow guy) can be as spicy or as mild as you want it to be, but we think the spicier the better. Thai holy basil is stir-fried with finely minced chicken or pork and spicy Thai chilies. It’s a pretty simple and excellent dish, particularly over rice and accompanied by a fried egg.
The most well known Thai dish in America, Phad Thai is common in Thai restaurants and street food stalls as well. A Chinese-influenced stir fry with rice noodles, peanuts, egg, tofu/other protein, tamarind and other spices, it’s a well rounded dish that’s a strong standby meal for any occasion.
A dish with Burmese influence, Khao Soi is a great northern Thai curry. It’s a complex soup with both boiled and crispy noodles, chicken (usually on the bone), swimming in a broth of thinner-than-usual coconut curry and served with optional toppings of chopped shallots, lime juice, and pickled cabbage.
Thai Fried Fish with Chili Sauce
A whole fish, breaded and deep fried, served with vegetables or a salad and incredibly spicy chili-lime and cilantro sauce. Filling, bony, delicious.
Fried Quail Egg Dumpling
We didn’t run into this tasty treat many places, but we were sure to get them whenever we spotted them. Hard boiled quail eggs are wrapped in a thin dough, then deep fried and served with a sweet Thai chili sauce.
Red Curry with King Prawns
Spicy red Thai curry with king prawns, eggplants, and other veggies. An excellent curry seems to be one of the main dishes to separate a great restaurant from a mediocre one. This was an excellent curry and a great restaurant: Nest 2 in Chiang Dao
Another superb coconut milk-based curry, flavored with kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemongrass and chilies. Our favorite version had plenty of vegetables and tiny bitter eggplant for an extra kick.
Pork Noodle Soup
Our favorite lunch for the past several weeks, this soup is a simple but scrumptious meal. Rice noodles, bean sprouts, and cabbage are briefly boiled, then topped with pork balls, a meaty pork bone, and slices of pork loin in a flavorful pork-based broth. It’s finished off with bits of deep fried pork fat and garlic, and crunchy wontons.
Favorite Fruit Shake
We realize these might not look like anything special to the casual observer. But the casual observer would be wrong. There are an abundance of fruit shakes in Chiang Mai, with every ingredient available: pineapples, strawberries, passion fruit, dragon fruit, oranges, apples, carrots… The list goes on. Our favorite fruit shake is made with ripe avocado, juicy mango, and fragrant banana, with ice, honey, and sweetened condensed milk for good measure. The avocado may sound like a strange addition at first, but ripe avocado is so creamy, and that’s what puts this fruit shake over the top. Here’s our shake-barista from Kalare Night Bazaar food market, hers is the stall to look for:
Thai Fried Bananas
Another street food dish, these taste like a banana inside of a donut. It’s not just breading, but a thick, spongy sesame seed batter that coats these bananas. Sweet and frighteningly good.
While lattes are not particularly Thai, this one was too delicious not to share. Crema Café has become one of our favorite spots to relax, thanks to their delicious coffee, friendly owners, and serene setting. The lattes we had there were some of the best-made coffee we’ve had in Thailand, and our only complaint is that we finished them too quickly!
Well, there you have it: our favorite local Chiang Mai dishes to cap off our time in this wonderful city. We’ve had the most enjoyable time living in Thailand, but we head off tomorrow on a train to Bangkok to our next destination of Indonesia. Can’t wait to see what excitement this change will bring!