For the longest time, international holidaymakers have been drawn to Chiang Mai for its golden temples, bustling local markets and charming tribal crafts and fabrics. This, together with its verdant forests, peaceful, terraced rice fields and the slow way of life are just some of the reasons why many fall in love with this northern Thai city.
Yet, local travellers from Thailand, especially Bangkokians, come to Chiang Mai for its distinctive culinary scene. Lanna cuisine, the traditional food of Northern Thailand, is characterised by strong influences from Myanmar, Laos, and China, its neighbouring countries. Here, the cuisine is not as spicy as those in the country’s southern region, nor is it sweet like central Bangkok. Herbs, mushrooms and wild vegetables are commonly used, and dishes steer towards the saltier end.
Apart from its traditional cuisine, the younger generation of the laid-back city has taken the mantle of transforming the culinary scene with modern establishments, while still paying homage to their city’s rural backdrop and local produce. The former seat of the Lanna kingdom has evolved into a global culinary city and will be the latest destination in Thailand to be featured in the Michelin Guide this year. Hence, we’ve put together a guide to the best places to grab some local Lanna dishes, as well as the hot spots to savour some contemporary plates.
Grandma’s Khao Soi (Khao Soi Khun Yai)
Never leave Chiang Mai without a bowl of Khao Soi. A chicken stock base is first prepared, followed by mixing in a special curry paste made with a plethora of ingredients like fresh and dried chillies, star anise, turmeric and coriander seeds. It is then thickened with a generous serving of coconut milk and ladled over soft egg noodles. The best place to have Khao Soi in Chiang Mai? Head over to Grandma’s Khao Soi, also known as Khao Soi Khun Yai. The Khao Soi here is upgraded with crispy fried noodles on top of the regular egg noodles, giving the dish an extra crunch.
Sri Poom 8 Alley, Tambon Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Tong Tem Toh
For those looking to try a range of Lanna cuisine, make a pit stop at Tong Tem Toh, a crowd favourite amongst both locals and visitors. Here, you will find bowls of a brownish-red curry being served on tables, and this would be none other than Gaeng Hunglay. The Burmese-inspired dish is a smoky curry that serves up large, tender cubes of slow-cooked pork belly, elevated with flavours from the soft peanuts, julienned ginger, and tamarind. The creamy curry is deliciously kissed with a bit of heat, and is perfect for those looking for a hearty dish to pair with their rice or noodles.
Nimmana Haeminda Rd Lane 13, Suthep, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Rod Yiam Beef Noodles
Family-run bistro, Rod Yiam beef noodles, have been delighting the palates of locals for the past 60 years with their humble bowls, and rightfully so. Each generous bowl is laden with an intensely flavourful clear beef bone broth packed with Chinese herbs and peppered with sweet and tangy notes that complement the beef perfectly. Together with chewy, wide rice noodles that soak up all the flavour, it is no wonder why this satisfying bowl attracts diners time and time again. is Those a little more adventurous with their palates should definitely give the mixed beef noodles a try. It is a whole cornucopia of the animal, which, other than the regular beef balls and braised beef, includes offal as well.
164/4 Chang Khlan Road, Mueang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Khao Soy Mae Sai
Khao Soy Mae Sai is well known for their Khao Soi, but Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiaw here doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiaw is not for the faint-hearted, although this may not seem to be so at first glance. The deep red broth is slightly pungent from all the dried smokey chillies and is packed with meaty flavour. What leaves guests a little stunned would be the spongy dark red cubes. For the unassuming, these are congealed pork blood cubes that taste similar to a juicy meatloaf. The spicy bowl is then served with skinny rice noodles.
29/1 Ratchaphuek Alley, Tambon Chang Phueak, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand
Warorot evening market
To immerse yourself completely in traditional Chiang Mai’s food scene, pay a visit to Wrorot evening market, also locally known as Kad Luang. It is one of the largest and markets in Thailand’s northern region, serving up street eats for visitors on the move. Grab a plate of Sai Oua, a northern Thailand sausage with prominent flavours of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, and galangal. Other dishes to try are Nam Prik Ong, a chilli tomato pork dip served alongside parboiled vegetables, and the Kaeng Khanun, a jackfruit curry.
Wichayanon Rd, Tambon Chang Moi, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand
Gateway Coffee Roasters
Gateway Coffee Roasters is one of Chiang Mai’s favourite spots for roasted coffee, set in an unassuming building and fashioned with a contemporary industrial aesthetic. The cafe is stripped back with grey concrete walls accompanied by vintage, salvaged furniture. Other than its laid-back design, Gateway Coffee Roasters also highlights the use of native beans that are used for the pour-overs and cold brews. The house blend is crowd favourite that uses a mix of single-origin beans from Doi Chiang and Huay Chomphon.
50300 Chang Moi Rd Soi 2, Tambon Chang Moi, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand
Ironwood is a beautiful cafe spot set in lush greenery and Victorian-inspired furniture. Here, the chef conjures up the menu of the day using fresh local produce and ingredients. Dishes here are generally a fusion of Thai and western cuisines, with steady regulars like the Mixed Thai Herbs Spicy Stir-Fried Spaghetti drawing crowds. A few steps from the dining area is the greenhouse, housing all kinds of min cacti, potted plants and leafy vines for that picture-perfect shot.
592/2 Soi Nam Tok Mae Sa 8 Mae Raem, Mae Rim District, Chiang Mai 50180, Thailand
Keywords like minimalist and modern come to mind when stepping into Khagee, a popular coffee place that aims to appease the fussiest of coffee snobs. Besides aromatic cups of joe, the Kinfolk-like establishment serves in-house baked goods that are created through natural yeast fermentation. Run by a Thai-Japanese couple, they also serve Japanese-styled bread types such as melon bread to pair with their smooth java.
29 30 Chiang Mai-Lamphun Soi 1, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50000, Thailand