We knew Chiang Mai was going to be a hot spot for all sorts of Thai food, but we’ve been amazed at the variety of what is available within just a few feet of our door. We pass a dozen small restaurants and food stands just to get to the main road where there are dozens more within just a few minutes’ walk. Some are permanent and some pop up on the back a motorcycle or in a parking lot. (TVs are at almost every restaurant, including those that are set up on motorcycle sidecar – just plug in to curbside power and the latest soaps and sports are cued up.) Here are some of our favorite food-related discoveries:
- Khao soi. Crunchy, soupy, semi-spicy goodness that seems to capture Northern Thailand in a single dish.
- Self-seasoning! No 1-5 stars or presumptions about how spicy you can handle. Sometimes we get asked if we would like spicy or non, and some dishes come with peppers as part of the recipe, but usually the spice levels are low (well, low by Thai standards, so really low-to-moderate by ours), so you can add more to taste. At a local restaurant, there are usually 3 or 4 condiments on the table – sugar, vinegared peppers, lip-burningly-hot crushed and dried pepper flakes, and a jar of fish sauce. Some dishes are served with their own special additions like pieces of lime or peanuts on the side. But the message is: you know how you like your food, so we’ll serve the basic components and you can fine-tune the rest.
- Palm sugar! Baking sugar, maple syrup, and stand-alone candy in one. It tops toast, oatmeal, or yogurt at breakfast, and fruit during the day. I’ll admit: I just eat it by the spoonful.
- Seaweed- and fish-flavored snacks. Uwajimaya aside, US stores should carry more of these.
- Noodles. All kinds. Everywhere. Egg noodles, rice noodles, glass noodles, vermicelli, wide noodles, thin noodles, crunchy noodles, noodles in soup. Mostly fresh, not frozen or dried, and stir-fried or boiled to perfection.
- Tiny bananas. Sweeter than in the US supermarket and just the right size for snacking and making itty-bitty banana splits.
- Rose apples. Crunchy, semi-sweet deliciousness that tastes like apple blossoms, roses, and springtime. Eat it like a regular fruit or add chili powder and sugar for a local touch.
- Snake fruit. Strange looking with a thin scaly skin that reveals yellowish flesh that tastes unlike anything I’d tried before. Smooth and sweet-and-sour. You think you’ll eat just one, but then need another.
- Pringles-shaped crunchy crepe desserts. Topped with sugared egg white and coconut or sweetened egg yolks (foy tong).
- Mango sticky rice. Because rice sweetened with coconut milk and sugar with mango is all the dessert you need.
- Coffee! Extra sugar, and often extra chocolate. Seattle is no longer looking like the best coffee city.
**Shoutout to the Thai wine industry. Though we consider ourselves wine-lovers, we had no clue that wine grapes were grown in Thailand, but they are in several vineyards near Bangkok and to the south. The wine goes great with Thai food (as you’d expect).