Northern Thai Food – Chiang Mai and Beyond

The north of Thailand is very different from the rest of the country. It has a cooler climate and shares borders with Burma to the west and Laos to the east. The North has always had a really strong regional identity which differs considerably from south and central Thailand. As a result, northern Thai food is quite a bit different from other parts of Thailand.

There are still lots of hill tribes in Northern Thailand. You can see them farming the hillsides, growing corn and rice. Some even still grow poppies to use in opium production although the government has tried to convince them otherwise!

With the cooler climate of the hills, many types of European fruit grow well here. It’s not uncommon to see peaches, apples and strawberries growing alongside lychees. Vegetables such as asparagus, mangetout and corn are also farmed in the region.

Lychees From Northern Thailand
Lychees From Northern Thailand

What Makes Northern Thai Food Different?

Northern Thai food has a distinct flavour which is quite far removed from what most people associate with central Thai food. Food from central Thailand is what most people think of when referring to Thai food. Things like green curry and Pad Thai!

Curries in the north have obvious Burmese influences. They are made Without coconut milk and they are thinner in consistency as a result. In fact, coconut milk is hardly used at all in Northern cooking. If you have a look around in the north you’ll actually be able to count the number of coconut trees you see on one hand!

Gaeng Hang Leh Mu

Gaeng Hang Leh Mu which means ‘Chiang Mai pork curry’ is one of the most well-known curries in the north.

Naam phrik (chilli dips) are also a popular food. They are often served with vegetables and crunchy deep-fried pork rind.

Northern Thai Curry
Gaeng Hang Leh Mu

As you may be starting to gather, pork is much more popular in the north. Fermented sausages made With pork rind and sticky rice are a local delicacy, and so are the sausages made with pork and chillies. Some people say that the abundance of sausages in northern cuisine is one of the primary influences that American soldiers had on the area. They were stationed in the area during the Vietnam War.

Sticky Rice Wrapped in Banana Skins

Sticky rice is popular in the north and is often sold ready-cooked and wrapped in banana leaves. Regular Jasmine rice is quite possibly just as popular though. There is an abundance of noodle dishes in the north. Their popularity is down to the large numbers of Chinese and Burmese people who live in the region.

Today Banana Leaves Are Still Commonly Used For Wrapping Rice

Khao Sawy

Khao sawy, which are flat egg noodles served with curry, are definitely a speciality of Chiang Mai and you should definitely try them if you have the chance. Rice noodles and mung bean noodles are also popular.

Traditional Northern Thai Dish -  Khao Sawy
Khao Sawy

Eating in Chiang Mai?

If you’re going to the north of Thailand then you will almost certainly visit Chiang Mai. Just like the rest of Thailand, there are so many places to eat. One place that I recommend you visit is Warorot Market (ตลาดวโรรส).

Warorot Market - Best Place For Northern Thai Food
Warorot Market (ตลาดวโรรส) – Best Place For Northern Thai Food

You’ll notice that most of the people here are Thai. So you can be sure you’re getting the real experience. It’s open day and night but I suggest a visit in the evening when it’s a bit cooler. Make sure you’re hungry because the amount of food on offer here is incredible.

How to Get to Warorot Market

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