Deep fried crispy egg noodles delicately mingling with boiled egg noodles, seasoned with pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime and spicy ground chillies fried in oil, and your choice of succulent meat, doused in a tangy Massaman curry-like sauce containing coconut milk—Northern Thai Khao Soi, served on every street corner and most restaurants in Chiang Mai city, is one of the most popular dishes in Northern Thai cuisine. And one of the most delectable, if cooked-well, setting the bar high for our culinary expectations of the city. As you can tell, I’m quite invested (and picky) in food – on holiday, and at home. Luckily for me, Chiang Mai fulfilled every craving – from incessant yearnings for noodles, the hunt for the perfect meat on a stick, to the longing for a good-old Western snack to the sudden, and unprecedented yen for pizza. The best part? The food in Chiang Mai is extremely budget friendly, be it at the markets or any of the restaurants suggested below. So if you’re planning a trip, on need a reason to, read on for our round-up of the supper stops you have to make.
- Kanjana restaurant: “Eat here and never die”, proudly exclaims a sign in the quaint Thai restaurant established in 1997 – while we’re not sure if they’re promising hygienic food or imminent immortality, their extensive menu and beyond delectable food sure were life-giving. The Khao Soi is well made, and a nice way to introduce yourself to the peculiar dish that can take some getting used to, while our favourite dishes included the cashew chicken, stir-fried morning glory and fried noodle kee-mao (hot!). While the ancient Thai ice cream dessert featured not-so-ancient oreo flavoured ice cream, we give it high points for its mix of peanuts, rice and fruit. Full disclosure, we went back the next day to make the most of this Chiang-Mai gem’s immense menu.
- Chilled Coffee House: We stumbled upon this chilled little coffee house a few hours after we landed in Chiang Mai … a short walk from the old Moat, its doors were thrown open and it was the scent of spicy soya noodles that lured us in – a pork-based broth, a lush plate of morning glory and of course, the seductive soy noodles made our first meal in Chiang Mai a very memorable one.
- Kalare Night Bazaar
While its range of product stalls is fascinating enough, the Kalare Night Bazaar food court in Chiang Mai is a thing of beauty – a melting pot of cultures, from Little Istanbul to Naina Indian Food, it’s range of cuisines is remarkable, but the winner remained the local Thai stalls. Meander through the market, and pick your poison based on the stalls favourited by locals – that’s where you’re likely to find the most authentic local food. Pair your meal with a local brew (Changs, Leo, Singha) and enjoy locals singing under the hundreds of lights in the bustling market. Don’t miss their chicken and pork satays – which make convenient and easy-to-carry snacks as you meander through the markets.
- Ploen Ruedee night market
Down the road from Kalare, Ploen Ruedee night market can be characterized by its more Western-suited offerings – the international food park has a range of fancier (therefore pricier) stalls, along with cool cocktail bars on wheels and fancy ice cream parlours. We had our meal at Kalare, and washed it down with decadent Mint Chocolate Chip and Swiss Chocolate ice cream at Ploen Ruedee, Chiang Mai.
- Huay Tung Tao Lake eateries
With a view of the mountains in the distance, straw huts on stilts and of course, the soft ripples and endless views of the silent lake, Huay Tung Tao Lake, a 20-minute drive away from Chiang Mai city, is an urban utopia and an ideal way to spend a day like the locals. About 20 or more restaurants surrounding the lake serve well-priced food and drinks, including fresh fish in little huts made of bamboo and grass – carry along your speakers, a book and make no plans for the day – you can easily while away a sleepy afternoon making the most of this serene locale, not-so-often-frequented by tourists (yet.) Try and get there earlier than lunch time on a weekend as the huts fill up quickly.
- Angel’s Secrets
A vintage-style bakery of our dreams, stop by after you’ve had enough time to recover from a big meal because you’re going to want to make the most of their incredible bakes and desserts. Set aside an hour or so to make the most of their cutesy furniture and vintage-vibe, screen doors and cushion-covered seats et al. Our pick is the #bestselling Carrot Cake paired with their homemade vanilla ice cream (ordered separately). And if that doesn’t get your sugar fix sorted, take home some of their double chocolate cookies for a Chiang Mai-style midnight snack.
- Lucky Too
If you’ve had your fill of authentic Thai cuisine (can you really have enough?) whilst in Chiang Mai and are craving good old pizza, this is the place for you. Designed for a more Western palate, its Thai specials are palatable but low on the seasoning and spice while its fusion pizza (Basil chicken, doused with chilli vinegar) and classics, including fries and sandwiches hit the homesick hunger-spot.
- Special mentions: When in Thailand, do it Thai-style… and make sure you stop over at the 7/11s that are conveniently located every few metres, try the frozen-bottled fresh juices (Orange FTW) and tiny, local breakfast places in Chiang Mai city that serve up the most fulfilling breakfast broths for the hungry soul.
Location: Chiang Mai City, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand
Getting there: Easily accessible via road and rail (Approx 685 kms from Bangkok, overnight bus and train, booked prior to travel is your best bet – you can get tickets on the day of travel, if you are lucky) and air (closest airport: Chiang Mai International Airport CNX)
Best time to visit: October – April
Things to do: Visit Buddhist Temples, National Parks, Night Bazaars
Recommended eateries: The Good View, Tong Bar & Restaurant, Khun Kae’s Juice Bar
A version of this article was previously published on Vogue.in