The 5 Most Underrated Dishes From Northern Thailand

Pad Thai served on the street, Thailand
••• Nigel Killeen/Getty Images

Move over, pad thai. The stir-fried noodle dish might be the Thailand's most famous export, but Chef Stéphane Calvet of the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai says that a new group of contenders for the world's favorite Thai food is in town. The following five dishes can be found in Thailand's northern region and are noted by Chef Calvet as being way underrated. But judging from how quickly the rest of Thailand's secrets are becoming widely appreciated on the travel scene, we're willing to bet these dishes won't be undiscovered for long.

  • 01 of 05

    Yum Bai Cha

    Yum Bai Cha — a spicy salad made of young tea leaves with deep-fried sour pork ribs — is a direct result of the Mae Salong Nok region's abundant oolong tea plantations and is a signal of the region's proximity to Burma, where tea leaf salad is pretty much the national dish. "The tea leaves used are harvested by local Ackha Hill tribes and then sent to the restaurants owned by Yunaneese tribe members," Calvet said. "It’s quite cool how this dish represents the mountainous region – pork is the most common ingredient in the area and the local tea leaves give it a sweet finish.”  

  • 02 of 05

    Pla Sturgeon Chuchee

    The late King Bhumibol's "Royal Projects" — development projects aimed at helping the country's rural people — have resulted in everything from fish to flower farms. In the Doi Intanom region (also known as the "Roof of Thailand" for its mountainous location) this means that locally reared sturgeon, ​brought up in water straight from the nearby mountains, is often the special of the day. "(The fish) is so fresh and I love eating it once it's been cooked in a thick Chuchee Curry," Calvet said. "Visitors will love how refreshing this dish — and the region — is during the steamy season."

  • 03 of 05

    Gaeng Ho

    The curry paste used to flavor gaeng ho is heavy on tamarind root, lemongrass, galangal, and turmeric — an orange/yellow root popularly used in nearby Myanmar. "Turmeric powder is an essential spice in Burmese cooking and it’s beloved for its anti-inflammatory and fungal properties," Calvet said. Gaeng ho can be called the "kitchen sink" dish of curries, since any vegetables around the kitchen can be thrown in with the dish's base of thin noodles.

  • 04 of 05

    Warm Sticky Rice Porridge

    This sweet-and-salty dessert from the Mon Cham Hill region is studded with dried longan fruit, pandan leaf, ​and jasmine. "One of my favorite things about this dessert is that community members grow the organic, jumbo-sized longan used in the dish and dry them on the top of their hut or houses," said Calvet. Mon Cham Hill is a center of sustainable farming — part of King Bhumibol's "Royal Project" efforts towards encouraging healthy eating across the country.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Wok-Fried Kap Moo

    Kap moo — or crispy pork cracklings — is fried up with green pepper and sweet corn (and sometimes fresh green peppercorns and Thai basil) in Thailand's Mae Hong Song region. It may be calorific, but according to Chef Calvet, the dish is worth the cheat. "I suggest eating it with brown rice on the side," said Calvet. "Perfect!"