Thailand always fares well on lists of the best places to eat street food, and its northern tourist hub Chiang Mai holds its own against stiff competition from Bangkok. The action hots up around 5pm each afternoon and continues late into the night, leaving you plenty of time to try a range of Thailand’s tastiest dishes.
Where to go for the best street food in Chiang Mai
You’ll find street food stalls all over the city, but the two largest concentrations of carts can be found as you enter the walled city centre at the Chiang Mai Gate (South Gate) and at Chang Pheuak Gate (North Gate). The former is handy for many guesthouses and the main tourist attractions while the latter is the site of the busy night market. Street food is served fresh and cooked to order, but you shouldn’t have to wait more than five minutes to eat, as most dishes are designed to be quick to rustle up. While you wait, take in the atmosphere. It’s a feast for all the senses, a riot of colour providing the backdrop to stallholders whose yelled orders compete with noisy tuk-tuks and of course, the smell wafting from those woks. Best of all it’s cheap, and even the hungriest of diners can eat for less than a hundred baht (under $3). Free drinking water is also available if you ask, though many travellers prefer to play it safe with the bottled stuff.
What to try
Where to start? There are so many delicious dishes to try that it can be overwhelming at first. The ubiquitous Phad Thai, a stir-fried rice noodle dish, is the obvious choice, but you can improve upon that by ordering Phad see ew, wide rice noodles served with soy sauce, egg and stir-fried greens. It’s customary to add crushed chilli, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and vinegar until you get it just to your liking. Another classic is the Pad pak boon fai deang, better known as morning glory. This dish comprises leafy water spinach stir-fried with oyster sauce and sometimes has crispy pork added. And don’t forget the Khao soi, boiled egg noodles topped with chicken cooked in a creamy spicy coconut curry sauce, typical of northern Thailand.
Noodle soup sounds like a straightforward dish, but comes in many varieties. It’s standard to find it served with chicken or pork. Noodles can be egg or rice, fat or thin. There’ll also be some veggies and bean sprouts piled in there, and of course, at least four different condiments for you to add. Experimenting with different combinations until you hit on a favourite is half the fun – why leave it to a restaurant chef when you can do it yourself?
No visit to Chiang Mai should be complete without tasting the Khao kha moo, or stewed pork shank. Those in the know head for the girl in the cowgirl hat at the North Gate who’s said to be the best in the city at cooking this delectable favourite. Her pork’s so tender it falls apart in your mouth. Eat it as it comes with rice, or add chilli, raw garlic and pickled mustard greens to give it a kick.
Don’t forget to leave room for dessert. Try Thai roti, sweet pancakes served with egg, banana, sugar, condensed milk and chocolate, or perhaps sticky rice with mango and condensed milk, a local favourite. One thing’s for sure, once you’ve eaten street food once in Chiang Mai, you’ll be back for more. What do you think is the best street food in Chiang Mai? Let us know in the comments!