10 Classic Chiang Mai Dishes You Must Try

Open air food market in Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai

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It’s no surprise that Chiang Mai – the northern Thai city that was formerly the capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom – remains a cultural hotbed for northern Thailand, especially its food.

The Lanna are close relations of the Lao, and retain cultural connections with the Burmese and Yunnanese Chinese near its borders. The flavor profiles of their food may have some commonalities with their neighbors, but the Lanna have perfected the use of local ingredients to create something completely their own, and is completely tied to the Chiang Mai tourist experience today.

To get the full Lanna food experience, go through the markets and restaurants of Chiang Mai and try one (or much more) of the dishes on this list!

01 of 10

Khao Soi

overhead view of a bowl of khao soi

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This rich yellow curry noodle soup is perhaps the iconic Chiang Mai dish. It's a signature Lanna meal of flat egg noodles with garnishes of meat, shallots, pickled cabbage, and chilies drowned in a coconut-based curry.

The dish's roots are culturally complicated. It shares a common heritage with Lao khao soi, Burmese ohn no khao swe, and even Malaysian laksa. Food historians say the Chinese Muslims from the Yunnan Province of China—who often trekked through Myanmar and Thailand for trade—introduced both egg noodles and coconut curry to Southeast Asia where they were, arguably, perfected.

Where to Eat It: Khao Soi Khun Yai, Sri Poom 8 Alley, Tambon Si Phum, Chiang Mai

02 of 10

Sai Oua

sausage link and slices of sausage on a banana leaf with small onions, chillies, and a green herb

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The people of northern Thailand adore sausages. Sai oua is the most common sausage to be had, for good reason: the use of local spices gives it a memorable kick.

The name literally translates as “stuffed intestines” and the pork sausage is mixed with spices like kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemongrass, and red curry paste, adding that Northern Thai oomph. Locals love to grill sai oua and eat it with sticky rice. No two sai oua sellers have the same recipe; each one safeguards a secret recipe, making each sai oua-based meal an experience all its own.

Where to Eat It: Siri-Wattana (Tha-Nin) Market, 169 Ratchapakhinai Rd, Tambon Chang Phueak, Chiang Mai

03 of 10

Lanna-style Larb

Larb kua on a plate with ground beef, cucumber and tomatoes

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Unlike Lao larb, the Lanna take on this meat-based salad has a decidedly spicy kick. The Northern Thai take their preferred meat (pork, beef, duck, or even fish will do), then quickly stir-fry the chopped meat with pork blood cubes, offal, and a mix of herbs and spices including (but not limited to) cloves, cumin, and long pepper. There are many different ways to prepare larb—larb kua leaves out the pork blood cubes and some versions leave the meat raw (larb dip).

Where to Eat It: Huen Phen, 112 Rachamankha Road, Chiang Mai

04 of 10

Gai Yang

cooked and cut whole chicken on a plate with banana leaves. there is also a wicker container with rice and two sauce bowls on the table next to the chicken

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Gai yang is a grilled chicken dish made with indigenous ingredients. You can have a butterflied whole chicken or order a half chicken; each one is marinated in lemongrass, garlic, soy sauce, and fish sauce before it's grilled to perfection and served with dipping sauces on the side, along with som tam and/or sticky rice. Every establishment in Chiang Mai has its own “secret blend” for the dipping sauce, and it’s worth trying different stalls to find which one you prefer.

Where to Eat It: Gai Yang Cherng Doi, 8 Suk Kasame Rd, Tambon Su Thep, Chiang Mai

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05 of 10

Gaeng Hung Lay

bowl of red curry with chunks of pork

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Though it's a traditional holiday dish for Thais, tourists can enjoy gaeng hung lay all year in markets and restaurants around Chiang Mai. The dish has flavors more in line with Indian and Burmese food than Thai, with good reason: gaeng hung has its roots in Myanmar and may have come to Chiang Mai in the days when the people of the Lanna kingdom were tributaries to Burmese kings.

The most popular version of gaeng hung uses a pork belly or shoulder, simmered in a curry redolent of galangal, garlic and tamarind. The melted pork fat can feel cloying in the mouth; it’s meant to be cut with rice, ideally the sticky rice preferred by Northern Thais.

Where to Eat it: Huaen Jai Yong, 64 Moo 4, Buak Khang - San Kamphaeng Road, Tambon Buak Khang, Chiang Mai

06 of 10

Kanom Jeen Nam Ngeow

Close up of Kanom jeen nam ngiao, a soup with pork, noodles, and cubes of pork blood

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This is technically a Chiang Rai dish, but it’s a difference with no distinction for hungry Chiang Mai tourists. Thick rice noodles known as kanom jeen are served in a pork broth garnished with crispy pork crackling, dried chilies, and fresh vegetables. Cubes of pork blood sometimes complete the dish.

There are wide variations to the dish’s preparation, meaning that every chef and mother has their own unique take on kanom jeen nam ngeow. It can be super-spicy at one place, tangy in another, and decidedly meaty elsewhere.

Where to Eat It: Kanom Jeen Sanpakoi, 11/1 ตลาดทองคำ Tasatoi Alley, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai

07 of 10

Som Tam

Som tam salad on a pate with other thai dishes in the background

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An Isaan favorite that has since taken the rest of Thailand by storm, this humble green papaya salad is a regular at street food stands and on high-end restaurant menus. You might also make it as part of a local cooking class. Som tam is incredibly simple to put together—you need unripe papaya, chilies, green beans, tomatoes, ginger, dried shrimp, fish sauce, palm sugar, and lime juice, with a revolving range of other ingredients depending on the chef. The whole salad is put together by hand, its smaller ingredients ground using a mortar and pestle.

You can eat it by itself, or as a side dish along with fish, grilled chicken, or soft-shell crabs.

Where to Eat It: Som Tam Roi Et-Jed Yod, Chang Khian - Jed Yod Road, Chang Phuak, Muang district, Chiang Mai

08 of 10

Tam Khanun

Tam khanun, Chiang Mai on plate

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Like som tam, tam khanun also uses an unripe fruit as its base. In this instance, it's jackfruit, which works beautifully in savory applications when unripe.

The fruit is boiled then shredded and stir-fried with shrimp paste. The mixture is then added to a mix of ginger, garlic, lemongrass, minced pork, chilies, and other ingredients. The effect is a riotous mix of textures and flavors—nutty and tangy and spicy all at the same time!

The Lanna people consider jackfruit to be a harbinger for luck. It’s prepared for auspicious celebrations like weddings and New Year festivities, to guarantee success and good fortune in the years ahead.

Where to Eat it: Huen Muan Jai, 24 Ratchaphuek Alley, Tambon Chang Phueak, Chiang Mai

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09 of 10

Nam Prik Ong/Nam Prik Noom

Nam prik ong in Chiang Mai

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Nam prik is a popular Lanna condiment, with two variants on offer in Chiang Mai. Both use a stir-fried blend of chilies, shrimp paste, garlic, shallots, and ground pork which is then mixed with fresh chopped tomatoes and coriander.

The difference between the two is in the chilies used. Nam prik ong uses red chilies and is assertive but manageable with its heat; while nam prik noom uses green peppers that will murder your mouth. Both nam prik variants can be enjoyed with steamed vegetables, crunchy pork crackling, or sticky rice.

Where to Eat It: Aroon Rai, 45 Kotchasarn Rd, Tambon Chang Moi, Chiang Mai

10 of 10

Miang Kham

Person honding miang kham

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These “one bite wraps” use betel leaves to wrap morsels of combined dried shrimp, grated coconut, sliced shallots, chilies, diced garlic, and lemongrass, with a sweet syrup sauce as a binder. Many restaurants serve the fillings and the betel leaves separately, leaving it to individual diners to mix and match their mouthfuls.

Betel leaves are also a signature element of the fast-fading tradition of areca nut chewing formerly common in India and Southeast Asia.

Where to Eat It: Khon Muang Boat Noodle, 69 Chang Lor Rd, Tambon Phra Sing, Chiang Mai