Best Foods in Chiang Mai & Where To Find Them

Since moving away from Chiang Mai, I've found myself dreaming of all the mouthwatering dishes I took for granted when I lived there. Khao soi, som tam, curries, ice cream, salads, noodles, and of course, all those fiery chillies! So I've made a list of the most scrumptious, addictive, mouthwatering foods in Chiang Mai (in my opinion) and where you can find them all, of course!




1. SOM TAM


Som tam is a raw papaya salad and is a famous dish from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. However, only the Thai version of som tam appears on CNN Travel's list of the world's 50 most delicious foods, voted on by thousands of readers. Som tam is number 6, and with good reason - it's freaking delicious!

My only struggle is that they are different everywhere you go - one time it would be too sweet or soggy, another time too salty or crunchy. And as I tried to avoid fish sauce and other little floating sea critters, it could be quite hard to pick up the right som tam on the go. In fact, one of the most disgusting things I've ever eaten in my life was actually a som tam dish in Chiang Rai, which is in the far north of Thailand. It was a bite full of crushed up crab shell and tiny little slivers of crab legs, and tasted as if it'd been trawled through the salty, gritty ocean. Putrid! My boyfriend and I dubbed that particular taste 'Neppy', which probably stands for North Eastern Papaya Puking YUCK, or something equally silly. So if anyone ever mentions how their som tam is tasting a bit 'neppish', or they went for a swim in the sea the other day and got a mouthful of 'nepp', then at least you know what they're talking about.

In Thailand, I was lucky enough to learn to make som tam without fish sauce on a vegetarian cooking course. However, strict vegetarians shouldn't order som tam from street stalls or little local places, as they will always come with fish sauce.

The Usual Som Tam Suspects


- Raw shredded papaya
- Chilli (you usually say how many you want to determine how spicy it will be - we usually go for three, but it's always a different spiciness depending on if roasted red chillies, big chillies, or small green chillies are used)
- Palm sugar
- Garlic
- Lime
- Fish sauce (in vegetarian versions, I've been told they use mushroom sauce or watered mushroom powder instead)
- Dried shrimp (I hate these little pink freaks - sorry!)
- Black crab (local river crabs caught in rice fields and canals - this is the North-Eastern specialty)
- Tomatoes
- Raw green beans
- Roasted peanuts (sometimes they aren't roasted, but roasted are best!)

People usually eat their som tam with either khao nieow (white sticky rice) or khanom chin (soft white rice noodles) and an assortment of raw vegetables, to balance out the spiciness, such as pieces of white cabbage or some local Thai leaves.

My favourite som tam in Chiang Mai



My personal favourite is from Something To Eat Before You Die, also known as I Din Klin Krok. Check out my friend Alice's lovely blog post about the place at Where to Eat in Chiang Mai? You can find som tam at hundreds of places in Chiang Mai, and you'll quickly learn how to order it exactly the way you want it - don't be afraid of being picky!

Feel free to leave your favourite som tam place in the comments below!

Som tam, sticky rice, and tempura veggies at Something to Eat Before You Die.
Takeaway som tam at home with sticky rice & greens; a healthy lunch; and an enormous sweet som tam at a cafe.

Spicy papaya salad
Delicious, saucy, fresh som tam without any fishy stuff. Yum!

2. KHAO SOI


I cannot imagine my life before khao soi. I doubt I was ever really fully living, without khao soi. What was even the point of eating, before khao soi?

Okay, that's a little bit dramatic, but probably closer to the truth than just saying khao soi is a good dish to try. The first time I tried khao soi, I didn't even realise I'd met one of my future food infatuations. Since then, I've been on a hunt for the best one, and so far I've found the creamiest, the spiciest, the prettiest - but not the best. That will have to be a blog post later on, when I have finally crowned The King of Khao Soi.

Khao soi gives me good reason to want to move back to Northern Thailand (and never want to leave), and also to travel to Myanmar, as it's widely known as a Burmese-influenced dish - and from what I've stuffed in my face so far, I love Burmese food. Apparently, it was also influenced by the Chinese Muslims, which is why Thais commonly use chicken in khao soi, and not pork. One of my favourite bloggers made a post compiling 33 Foods Worth Travelling For, and Chiang Mai's khao soi was number 3. Of course.

Simplified, khao soi is a creamy coconut curry broth with pieces of chicken, beef, tofu or soy protein, with fresh yellow egg noodles floating around, and crispy fried noodles on top. Add to that some squeezed lime, sliced raw onion pieces, pickled chunks of mustard greens, and generous dollops of wet chilli paste, and I'm still not even close to describing the addictive, authentic taste of this unique dish.


My favourite places to grab a good khao soi



1. Rod Sabieng Restaurant - huge bowl for ฿45, packed with tofu, veggies, and crispy noodles.
2. Khun Churn Vegetarian Restaurant - delicious, unusual & addictive broth with soy protein chunks.
3. Central Airport Plaza food court - fragrant, spicy broth with tofu, but I recommend taking it home to warm it up!
4. Khao Soi Stand near Wat Chet Yod - click on the name for the exact location, & go try it for yourself!
5. Aum Restaurant - a really filling veggie khao soi with potatos, carrots & a slightly sweet broth.
6. Pun Pun Organic Restaurant - another favourite, with its own unusual touch of flavours and spices.
7. Taste From Heaven Restaurant - I got to make my own khao soi on a cooking course, & yes, it was scrumptious!
8. Fuang Vegetarian Restaurant - lovely, sweet khao soi when you're in the mood for something different.


Where's your favourite spot to grab khao soi? Let me know in the comments below!

Khao soy at Central Airport Plaza; a massive bowl at Rod Sabieng; and lastly, at Fuang Vegetarian.
Khao Soy Chiang Mai
Messy, rich, delicious khao soi with tofu and vegetables.
Vegetarian khao soy
Here you can get an idea of what you might get in a vegetarian one.
Khao soi with tofu from Central Airport Plaza.
Lots of chillies, red onion, and mustard greens in this one!
Prices at Central Airport Plaza. I think they must have raised them by now!
All the delicious extras at Central Airport Plaza.

3. ASIAN SALADS



Yes, you read that correctly. Now that I live in Spain, it's easy to get lovely salad ingredients as well as olive and balsamic oils for yummy, healthy dressings. But these salads are entirely different to what Thailand has to offer, and I miss them! So while there are plenty of fruterías (green grocers) in Madrid, I miss my weekly ritual of heading off to my local Thai market to pick up the usual Asian fruits and vegetables, curry pastes, noodles, soy protein chunks and tofu blocks, and a bunch of pretty flowers. My local market also happened to have excellent takeaway food, as many of them do, which included soups, stir-fries, som tam, spring rolls, and all other things beginning with S. Including Salad.

Salad stalls in Thai markets are generally made up of a bunch of containers which hold various ingredients to make up a salad. You can find almost the exact same setup in supermarkets, yet they are a little overpriced. In the local markets, you can get all the same things you ogle over in the expensive salad bars around town, but at the cheap price of ฿10 per 100g. Yes, really! And for that, you can stuff your salad package full of pop-in-your-mouth rosa tomatoes, soft-boiled eggs, steamed beans and peanuts, pumpkin and sweet potato chunks, beetroot slices, peppers, assorted lettuce leaves, and many more (sometimes strange) ingredients. Before you get it all wrapped up, you'll be asked if you want a salad dressing, of which there are always a thousand to choose from. So I usually end up buying too much of everything, and that's how I ended up eating these interesting salads almost every day. Now the only question is: why don't people have these awesome salad stalls everywhere in the world?!

Besides the salad stalls, there are countless restaurants and cafes serving Asian-style salads, and my favourite are the Burmese wing bean and tea leaf salads (seriously, go and try them now!). Thailand also does a few lovely salads like mango salad, cucumber som tam and yum khai dao (amazing, fiery fried egg salad).


The yummiest salad spots in Chiang Mai



1. The Salad Concept - a salad-lover's dream! You can basically order any kind of salad you want, totally tweaking it to your taste and customizing ingredients and sauces. This chain of restaurants are quite a bit pricier than the local markets, but they are proper sit-down places that are very popular with both Thais and foreigners.
2. The Burmese Restaurant - best place for Burmese salads, which are all unusual and scrumptious (I'm craving a tea leaf salad right now!)
3. Central Aiport Plaza's food court at the bottom floor - they have a great salad stand here with all sorts of yummy things like beetroot, steamed peanuts, beans, broccoli and a fantastic selection of dressings, all for a very good price, too!
4. San Pa Koi Market - my personal favourite for the cheap stuff, although most markets have their own variations.
5. Supermarkets like Rimping, Central Foodhall and Tops - if you're really desperate, you can always find salad bars inside these well-known supermarkets, but like I said, they are pretty overpriced. However, I could never help myself! Rimping by the riverside has a good selection, as does Central Foodhall in Central Festival Mall, and Tops in Central Airport Mall and Kad Sun Kaew Mall.
6. Cat House - it might be hard to choose a salad here, as all their food is delicious, but their salads are delectable too! The dressings really make them burst with flavour - the pumpkin sesame is my favourite.
7. Khun Churn - I can't write about Khun Churn anymore without having a bit of a sob. I love everything at that restaurant, including their salad bar, which is always packed full of delightful veggies and inventive dressings to go along with them. Don't miss their grilled aubergine, peppers and mushrooms!

Ridiculous, spicy, saucy wing bean salad found in Southern Thailand.
Takeaway tea leaf salad from The Burmese Restaurant.
Salad Chiang Mai Thailand
My daily lunch, a salad I assembled with fresh goodies from my local market.
Another yummy lunch with some mustard and herbs on top.
I added dried soy beans and sesame seeds to this salad.
Chiang Mai market food
The salad bar at my former local market, San Pa Koi. Why don't people do this everywhere?!
A lovely salad stand at Khun Churn's old location - they've made it much bigger now!

4. WESTERN FOOD



Okay, now you're probably just rolling your eyes. Why on earth is this girl writing about Western food on a blog about Thailand? But just hear me out:

I ate Western food probably once or twice a week in Chiang Mai. I'm not going to lie and say I lived entirely off Thai food, or that I even lived entirely off cheap food either. Yes, I ate a lot of Thai food, but after a while it became more than just Thai food - it became bloody old boring Thai food, and then I started to feel like I was eating bloody old boring Thai food all the time.

That's where a Western dish came in to the rescue. Week after week of the usual stir-fried vegetables, curries and soups, with a salad or spicy som tam for lunch, you start to need a change of palate. Now, experiencing Western food in Thailand can often be strange, humorous, frustrating, or just plain wrong. So although the cheese might be processed and rubbery, and sadly sliding off your dry sandwich, or the hamburger patties are sometimes deep fried in tempura batter (nobody needs that many calories, c'mon!), or the pizza has freaking peas and carrots for toppings, with a dollop of mayonnaise (!?), Western food in Thailand still has something special about it. And honestly, when it's done right, it ends up being really good. Just how many times have you pulled off a common Thai dish like Pad Thai or red curry? Well, Thais pull off fantastic foreign dishes all the time, and master all sorts of cuisines like it's nobody's business.

Some of the best Italian food I've had is the stuff right outta Thailand's kitchens, and the tastiest falafel I ever ate was at a little place in Pai. I got to enjoy great Western sandwiches, wraps, pizzas and other farang favourites in Chiang Mai on a weekly basis, and for great prices too!


Chiang Mai's best Western eateries



1. By Hand Pizza Cafe - hands down the best pizzas in Chiang Mai!
2. The Duke's Restaurant - a well-known Western chain serving burgers, pizzas, sandwiches and salads. My favourite branch is on the riverside - great service and a pretty view.
3. Loco Elvis - my favourite Mexican spot in the city. Try their sizzling fajitas or comforting burritos while you sit back and watch your foolish friends sing karaoke.
4. Beetroot Stories - another regular brunch spot. Delicious vegetarian breakfasts, sandwiches and smoothies. Their special cinnamon and coconut milk smoothie is to die for!
5. Cat House - this place is just ridiculous. Their wraps, salads, burritos, sandwiches, and specials all have cheeky hints of Thainess (like passion fruit dressing or curried tofu) but this place really knows the meaning of fusion food! One of my favourites for a Western fix... with a Thai twist.
6. Bar Fry - pretty much the only "hip and trendy" place I can stand. Excellent assortment of foreign dishes done small, so grab your friends and share a dozen! They also do droolworthy french fries with a huge variety of toppings and sauces. Yum!
7. Bake & Bite - Wraps, sandwiches, breakfasts. Also a very well-known spot for foreigners. Do it!
8. Tacos Bell - a cleverly-named street cart usually parked outside the busy Zoe in Yellow nightlife corner. The cook, Khan, is a cheeky man who learnt English at temple schools, had a few homeless stints, and eventually figured he'd copy Taco Bell and sell fast, cheap, yummy Mexican favourites from a food stall on wheels. Who knows how he came to that goal, but his food is worth a try (and if you're wondering, yes, I have made the trip to buy dinner here when I've been totally sober - I really do like it that much!)
9. Eagle House - a lovely nature-filled, veggie-friendly place near the east side of the moat. Go here for muesli, smoothies, pancakes and a big cheap eggy breakfast. They also do good old-fashioned toasted sandwiches and chips.
10. SPECIAL MENTION: NaNa's Bakery - this place has the best croissants in Chiang Mai, and there's no arguing about it. Crispy on the outside, soft and steamy on the inside, these babies don't stand a chance, even against lazy lemurs who haven't even had a sip of their first coffee yet. Get here as early as possible (I mean like 7:30 am!) as they get sold out fast, and the last thing you want is to have to listen to some bozos boast about how they ate the last chocolate croissants, and they were delicious (you know who you are!)

Yummy avocado sammich at Beetroot Stories, along with their special coconut milk shake and a quesadilla.
Beetroot Stories menu and the inside of the cute cafe.
Lots of "tapas" and delicious bread with olive oil dip at Bar Fry.
More Bar Fry specialties: roasted red pepper hummus and grilled garlic zucchini.
Western food Chiang Mai
Salmon and cream cheese wrap at Bake & Bite.
Vegetarian food Thailand
A piece of sneaky cheese trying to escape a roasted veggie sandwich.

Cheese taco bean Chiang Mai
A delicious cheese and bean taco from the street cart named Tacos Bell.
Tacos Bell Mexican food in Chiang Mai
Two burritos and a bean taco, all from Tacos Bell opposite the Zoe in Yellow bar.
Tacos Bell Mexican street food Chiang Mai
Here's what the cart looks like. 
Thailand croissants Chiang Mai bakery
Dangerously good croissants at NaNa's Bakery.


5. Funny Thai Ice Cream out of a cart attached to a motorbike, and other desserts



Every day, without fail, an old Thai man on his ancient motorbike would come chugging along into my neighbourhood, and I could hear him hooting and spluttering from a mile away. I would usually be home during lunch, which is when he would decide to terrorise me with his tasty temptations, and it would take a lot of will power and loud humming to ignore him. At least once a week though, I just wasn't that strong, and I would end up buying one of his two choices: vanilla or coconut ice cream (which both taste the same) either in a little cone, or wrapped in a slice of bread with some sticky rice and peanuts on top. Yes, it sounds weird, but it's completely heavenly!

Other delicious desserts are scattered all over Chiang Mai, and one of my favourites is known as Ruby Framework. Yes, it sounds weird, but we came to call it this because our local takeaway joint had written this on their wall, and when we asked what it was, they couldn't explain it in better terms. This is the perfect example of a phrase being completely lost in translation! The dessert is made up of ice cubes and yummy chestnuts covered in a pink jelly, dropped in a bowl of sweet coconut milk. So although the term Ruby Framework relates to some web-programming jargon, you'll see that this dessert will also pop up in a Google image search of the term - perhaps because they look a bit like rubies, framed by milk? Eh, that was a stretch... Anyway, the dessert is actually called "Tub Tim Grob", and is worth trying if you're sampling all the sweet stuff in Chiang Mai!

Thai dessert ice cream
Coconut flavour, or is it vanilla?
Thai dessert peanuts coconut
Vanilla... I think.
Thai bread ice cream nuts
Oh wait, this one's got both. Who cares, it's all delicious!
Ice cream and peanuts without the bread.
Deep-fried ice cream at Taste From Heaven.
Thai dessert Chiang Mai
Interesting assortment of DIY Thai desserts at Khun Churn
Thai dessert Chiang Mai
Coconutty milk with ice cubes, jelly chunks, fruit seeds and pumpkin. Sounds strange, but it's the Thai way!


6. THAI FOOD


I'm not even going to go down this alley. I will get too upset to continue writing! Thai cuisine is one of the most interesting, intoxicating, and intricate cuisines in the world, and it is my favourite alongside Mexican (and probably other cuisines I haven't got round to trying yet, to be honest). Thai food has been terribly hard to let go of (do you know how heartbreaking it is to continually crave som tam, khao soy and fresh Thai fruits all in one day?) and everyone will tell you that you just can't go back to "normal" food once you've been cursed by Thailand. It's true! I find myself adding copious amounts of paprika, cayenne and hot sauce to everything I eat, and I always wonder where the damn chillies and garlic are in food I order from restaurants. And could somebody please tell me where the hell I can find a green papaya so I can make some som tam at least ONCE again in my life! Sheesh. Well, enough ranting about how awesome Thai food is. Just go out and try it for yourself - it is everywhere in Thailand, after all! Check out my favourite food pics below, and you can find all of it at the restaraunts on my map, which is in the bar on the top, righthandside of the site.

Glorious heapings at Khun Churn; salad, fries and avo wrap at Cat House; and good old cashew fried rice at Eagle House.

Vegetarian food at Jay shops in Chiang Mai
Cheap plate of veggie goodness at Thai Vegetarian Orchid; sukiyaki at Eagle House; more cheap assorted veggies at my local Jay shop (off Chiang Moi Road).
Vegan mock meats Chiang Mai, Thailand
If you can believe it, all this is 100% vegetarian! You can find these at the Jay shops on Suthep Road.
Mushroom jerky vegan Chiang Mai
Mushroom jerky, also known as CRACK! Find these at most Jay shops, either already cooked or refridgerated. Too good!
Vegan Jay shop Chiang Mai
A Jay sign like this guarantees cheap, tasty vegetarian or vegan food!
Vegetarian vegan Jay food Chiang Mai
Crispy soy protein, a heavenly stir-fried vegetables, and green curry - all at various Jay shops.
Crispy soy "chicken" with fried rice, along with hot and sour soup at a vegetarian joint in Southern Thailand.
Fresh and interesting Thai fruits, and a cool watermelon shake.



So that's it for now. These are the foods I'm drooling over from another country - and it's bloody awful! How about you? What are your favourites in Chiang Mai? What do you think you couldn't live without if you left Thailand?

17 comments:

  1. <3 That coconut/vanilla ice cream looks delicious, probably beats what Tesco has to offer :P

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  2. GAHHH! I love it. I want to eat everything in this post!

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  3. Khao soi and som tam have definitely been the 2 hardest foods for me. I used to love them both!! I've found a few places that do decent Thai food but it just isn't the same. Good luck for your future Adrian and I hope you get your Thai fix!!

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  4. You are lucky you had all these great food experiences as there is nothing like this in Durban. Wish I could gobble your photos up. I am sure you will have more than good cheese and bread in Spain and when you find it let us know as I love reading your posts about food: you know so much about it and the places to go

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  5. This just broke my heart, I would do just about anything from #1 and #2 on this list. JUST ABOUT ANYTHING!

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  6. All looks so yummy

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  7. If I ever left Chiang Mai I wouldn't be able to live without the curries. Green, red and panang - Thai curries in the US are never as good as the real thing. That and fresh coconut. Mmmm!

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  8. I COULD NOT LIVE WITHOUT PAD SEE EWE, I am so in love and it's so bad for you haha. <3

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  9. Great post! I have fallen in love with Som Tam and Khao Soy along with lots of Thai dishes that I still don't know the name of. Good call on Tacos Bell as well - I have only eaten there sober and it's better than I can believe. I eat Thai food about five days a week but like you, I need variety as I lived in the Middle East for so long and had so many good options for any kind of food I wanted there. Where can I get good falafel in Chiang Mai as I miss it so badly? (and some halloumi wouldn't go amiss either!)

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    1. Unfortunately not! I was always quite underwhelmed by Middle Eastern food in Thailand. The only good place I found was in Pai, and last time I went their standards had dropped significantly! I did used to make my own hummus at home with canned chickpeas from the supermarket (very pricey) but it just wasn't the same. I wish I could be more helpful, but I just don't think Chiang Mai's the place for the sort of thing you're missing =(

      But you can take comfort in the fact that you're surrounded by delish Thai food every day! That's what I'm missing really badly!

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  10. I do admit the picture of the vanilla ice cream in bread looks good but I can't quite wrap my head around it.

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  11. It seems when we travel we take the food for granted and only miss it when we leave: nostalgia. What a wonderful post full of food pics for foodies

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  12. I miss Thai food too but those pics of the western food look delish too! I also never got round to trying the Thai icecream, looks good

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  13. The best Kao Soi I've ever had in Chiang Mai has been at the vegetarian restaurant, Free Bird Cafe, just outside the moat on the north side of old city. It's loaded with veggies and noodles and herbs. A MUST TRY!!

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  14. The last few pics killed me :(

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  15. Thanks for this post and to remember each good things from Thai food ! Omg how i miss the khao ka moo and the khao pad kung ! Good and cheap, what does the people want more than this ?!

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  16. Your photos are fabulous as well as descriptions. We are in CM for 4 more weeks & now that I've found your blog I want to go on a feeding frenzy. BUT- where you were a bit limited by being vegetarian, I am unable to eat anything with rice or rice flour, gluten or corn. Can you imagine how hard it has been for me here? We can walk to Free Bird so I'm going there right away to try their Khao Soi as I think they use lentil noodles. We hadn't heard of San Pa Khoi Mkt & will definitely check it out. How is life in Spain? We're giving serious thought to moving to Malaga or Porto (Portugal).

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