Chiang Mai Street Food

Where to Eat and What to Try

For many people one of the most enduring memories of Thailand is seeing the bustling street side stands where mouth watering food is served up for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Street food is a charming aspect of life in Thailand and trying it out is a cultural and culinary delight.

Everywhere you go in Thailand you'll see the street vendors, preparing and serving a cornucopia of dishes from their simple carts and stalls. There's plenty of variety for the hungry browser; street carts usually specialize in one or two dishes but they usually clump together, providing excellent selection. Noodles, barbeque, curries and desserts, Thai street food is a pocket change smorgasbord.


Street Food in Chiang Mai

For many people one of the most enduring memories of Thailand is seeing the bustling street side stands where mouth watering food is served up for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Street food is a charming aspect of life in Thailand and trying it out is a cultural and culinary delight.

Everywhere you go in Thailand you'll see the street vendors, preparing and serving a cornucopia of dishes from their simple carts and stalls. Some vendors have mobile carts ranging from baskets balanced on the shoulders to motorbikes welded to portable kitchens. These vendors usually have a set route that they travel throughout the day and Thais often anticipate their arrival like a daily visit from Santa Claus. When a popular vendor comes down the street don't be surprised to Thais pouring onto the street like clowns out of a Volkswagen to get a quick bite of their favourite treats.

Some street food vendors have more permanent set ups, often in front of busy places like convenience stores. These stalls are somewhere between a restaurant and a food cart and are semi permanent. Often a large group of vendors will set up shop along one area, each offering a different item. It's perfectly acceptable to bring food from one cart and sit down at another cart's table, provided someone in your party is buying something.

 

What to Eat

There's plenty of variety for the hungry browser; street carts usually specialize in one or two dishes but they usually clump together, providing excellent selection. Noodle soup with chicken or pork is the standard and stalls can be found anywhere, any time. Noodle soup is not a simple as it sounds. It can actually be one of the most complex things you can order: there are egg noodles, thin and fat rice noodles, different kinds of meat and a variety of meat balls, as well as sprouts and leafy vegetables. On top of that there are at least four condiments. Every bowl of noodle soup is different and it's fun to experiment with the different combinations until you hit on your favourite.

Barbeque is the staple of the Issan (north-eastern) region of Thailand and Issan food has made its way to the streets of every town in Thailand. Everywhere you go, you'll be tempted by the aroma of juicy chicken and pork sizzling over a charcoal fire. Barbeque is usually eaten with kaao nieow (sticky rice), moulded into balls with the hands. Top it off with some Som Tam (spicy shredded papaya salad) and you've got the classic Thai lunch. Fried chicken is also popular and is pretty much the same the world over. For the best fried chicken find a Muslim cart, easily identifiable from the star and crescent moon symbol. Muslims don't eat pork and beef is not eaten too much in Thai cooking so the Muslims have mastered the art of chicken.

Make sure to get some fried garlic to go with your sticky rice. Many street carts have tins up front with a variety of curry and noodles dishes. These are worth a try but bring your asbestos tongue - these are usually the spiciest dishes. If you're a little unsure feel free to ask the proprietor which ones to avoid. If you want to take a curry to go, just pop it in a plastic bag, along with your rice and all your sauces - Thai sack lunch!

Most Thais have a sweet tooth and so there are always desserts and other treats around. One of the most visible and delicious is Roti, a Thai take on a classic Muslim dish. Thai roti is very thin and comes with egg, banana, sugar, condensed milk and chocolate for a perfect after noodle snack. Other Thai desserts are made from pounded coconut or rice and flavoured with fruit. The quintessential Chiang Mai dessert is sticky rice with mango and condensed milk, which also makes for a satisfying breakfast.

Where to Go

While street food is everywhere you look, there are certainly some areas where vendors flock in especially high numbers and these are worth mentioning. Along Moon Muang Road north of Tha Phae Gate you'll find the Somphet Market. This lively area is a great place to shop for fresh ingredients and many cooking classes take their students here on a 'mini field trip' to learn about the building blocks of Thai food. There are vendors located here nearly 24 hours a day, coming and going almost in shifts. In the wee hours of the morning this is a good place to come and get fresh sausage - including a deep fried version of naem (hand rolled fermented pork) you might not see anywhere else. As the day wears on this becomes a great place to find fresh fruit, while the barbeque contingent starts to appear at about midday. Once the sun goes down noodle stands start appearing like fireflies, interspersed with some great roti vendors.

Another popular area for informal al fresco dining (read: chowing down kerbside) is the Chiang Mai Gate Market, located (you guessed it) near Chiang Mai Gate at the southwest corner of the moat. Another good spot to pick up fresh ingredients, this is a treasure trove of roadside goodies starting at around sunset. A huge variety of stalls crowd together on either side of the street with plenty of seating on the moat side of the road. This is a perfect place to be adventurous and try one of a kind dishes you might never see elsewhere. Take a little bit of everything, camp out at one of the small tables and spend some time sampling.

The cuisine at the street stalls is some of the best you'll find anywhere. Vendors often prepare only one dish day after day and they become black belts at it. Locals get to know which carts have the best food and will travel for miles just to find the best vendors. Street food is a part of the everyday life of nearly all Thais and don't be surprised to see bankers and doctors tucking in side by side with labourers and store clerks.

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