Eating Northern Thai Food in Chiang Mai

What to eat and where to eat it

Written by: Team Expique - With contributions from: Roy Cavanagh | Chris Wotton | | Published: February 11, 2021

There are many good reasons to visit Chiang Mai. Whether it’s to enjoy the natural surroundings and trek in the mountains or wander around ancient temples and admire Northern Thai culture. There is, though, another great reason to visit Chiang Mai: Northern Thai food (sometimes known as Lanna food). Each region of Thailand has its own culinary specialities and Chiang Mai is the perfect place to indulge in the delights of Northern Thai food.

We share with you a selection of our favourite Northern Thai food plus suggestions for some of the best places to try them when you next visit Chiang Mai.

Khao Soi

Khao Soi - Northern Thai Food in Chiang Mai

Perhaps the most well-known dish in the northern Thai cuisine repertoire, khao soi is no ordinary noodle soup. Soft egg noodles come swimming in a hearty, coconut milk soup base with hints of red curry. Alongside this will usually be a chicken drumstick, but at some street stalls and restaurants, pork or beef are options too. The dish is topped with a generous helping  of crispy noodles. Served on a side dish are the all-important condiments: lime, chilli jam, pickled vegetables and fresh red onions. Khao soi is normally eaten as a lunch dish, but as with most food in Thailand it’s adaptable and may also be eaten for breakfast or dinner (or all three, if you’re anything like us!)

While khao soi can be hard (but not impossible) to find in Bangkok, especially at a restaurant that does the dish justice, in Chiang Mai it’s among the most common everyday street foods. There are countless places throughout the city that sell khao soi and what is the best venue to eat this classic Northern Thai dish is always going to be subjective. We’ve tried all the places on this list and found them to serve up a consistently good bowl of khao soi.

Where to eat Khao Soi in Chiang Mai

Khao Soi Khun Yai

Khao Soi Khun Yai, or Grandma’s Khao Soi, is a humble little set-up wedged between two temples near the north-west corner of the moat in Chiang Mai’s Old City.

It seems grandma isn’t much of an afternoon person, so to taste her khao soi you’ll need to be here early. Khun Yai does a roaring trade with locals at lunchtime (when you’re likely to find the place packed out) and it’s not unusual for the khao soi to sell out by early afternoon.

Location: Sriphum Road (between the temples of Wat Kuan Kama and Wat Rajamontean)
Open: Monday to Saturday, 10am-2pm

Sirichai

With a convenient city centre location behind the Three Kings Monument, Sirichai is a long-standing favourite amongst locals. The family run restaurant specialises in khao soi, but also does a tasty khao man gai (Hainanese-style chicken and rice).

Location: Corner of Jhaban Road and Intrawaworot Road (behind Three Kings Monument)
Open: Daily, 6am-4pm

Khao Soi Samoe Jai

Samoe Jai is one of Chiang Mai’s most famous restaurants and one that Thais visiting from Bangkok will often seek out for a hearty bowl of khao soi. Located in the Fa Ham area of the city near the Ping River, Samoe Jai also serves up a selection of Northern Thai specialities including yum kanoon (young jackfruit salad).

Location: Charoenrat Road (near Wat Fa Ham)
Open: Daily, 8am-5pm

Khao Soi Lam Duan Fah Ham

Lam Duan Fah Ham has a particular following for its khao soi. According to some local stories, the original owners even claim to have invented the dish. Whether that is the case or not, this well-established restaurant is an excellent choice to try khao soi and a number of other Northern Thai food favourites like kanom jeen nam ngiaw (see further below).

Location: Charoenrat Road (5-minute walk south of Khao Soi Samoe Jai)
Open: Daily, 8am-5pm

Khao Soi Islam

For khao soi with a difference, seek out Khao Soi Islam which serves up a halal version of this classic Northern Thai dish.

Location: Soi 1 Charoenprathet Road (near the Night Bazaar area)
Open: Saturday-Thursday, 10am-6pm

Gaeng Hung Lay

Gaeng Hung Lay - Northern Thai Food in Chiang Mai

Once our khao soi cravings are satisfied, if there’s another northern Thai dish we love to eat, it’s gaeng hung lay. This rich, meaty curry goes heavy on fatty cuts of pork belly (yet the sign of an inferior bowl of this is for there to be absolutely nothing but fat – that’s going too far!) in a broth made of the unique, red-curry-descended hang lay curry paste, and plenty of coconut milk.

Unlike just about every other Thai curry in existence, julienned fresh ginger also makes an appearance here – for our taste buds in just about as generous quantities as possible – and adds a tangy spiciness that cuts wonderfully through the fatty meat. So too do cloves of pickled garlic, which again gaeng hung lay just wouldn’t be the same without.

As for where to eat gaeng hung lay in Chiang Mai, you’ll find it touted in markets across the city as well as at small, low-key rice-and-curry stalls and restaurants where you can simply point at the curries and stir-fries you want ladled over a plate of rice. But we’re particular fans of the gaeng hang lay at the locations below.

Where to eat Gaeng Hung lay in Chiang Mai

Tong Tem Toh

Tong Tem Toh is a sit-down restaurant in Chiang Mai’s trendy Nimmanhaemin area. Although it’s a tad pricier and more upmarket than our usual street food recommendations, they definitely don’t compromise on flavours and serve up a dreamy bowl of gaeng hung lay.

Location: 11 Nimmanhaemin Soi 13

Open: Daily, 11am-9pm

Aroon Rai

With a handy location a two-minute walk away from Thapae Gate, Aroon Rai is a long-standing staple of the Chiang Mai food scene. You can find many Northern Thai dishes here including sai ua, kap moo, nam prik noom and nam prik ong, but we are particularly fond of their gaeng hung lay. If you are a fan of Thai curries, Aroon Rai also sells a variety of curry pastes to take away.

Location: 45 Kotchasarn Road (south of Thapae Gate)
Open: Daily, 8am-10pm

Sornchan

A stone’s throw to the north of Aroon Rai, it’s easy to walk past the tiny Sornchan restaurant without realising. The restaurant may be small, but they serve up a wide selection of Northern Thai food favourites including an excellent gaeng hung lay.

Location: 25-27 Kotchasarn Road (next to Sornchan Pharmacy)
Open: Daily, 11am-9pm

Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiaw

Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiaw - Northern Thai Food in Chiang Mai

Kanom jeen rice noodles are popular across Thailand. The noodles are usually ladled high with soupy curries and garnished with all manner of fresh and pickled vegetables. The predominant type of curry eaten with the noodles varies wildly between Thailand’s different regions. Where elsewhere you might expect to find green curry, nam ya kati fish-based coconut milk curry, or nam prik satay-like peanutty curry, in Chiang Mai and elsewhere in northern Thailand you can be certain that the local kanom jeen topping of choice is nam ngiaw.

This thin, gravy-like broth takes its name from the dok ngiaw flowers that go into the curry base. The soup goes heavy on the tomatoes, alongside pork or beef, plenty of chilli, and a healthy dose of the kind of congealed pig’s blood you’ll find in many of the best versions of green curry. If you’re a particularly squeamish eater, this might not be the dish for you! 

Where to eat Kanom Jeen in Chiang Mai

Lam Duan Fah Ham

Come here with an appetite and feast on their renowned khao soi and equally tasty kanom jeen nam ngiaw.

Location: Charoenrat Road (5-minute walk south of Khao Soi Samoe Jai)
Open: Daily, 8am-5pm

Khao Soi Mae Sai

This humble venue to the north of Kad Suan Kaew shopping mall is another example of a place that is well-known for its khao soi, but which also serves up a good kanom jeen nam ngiaw.

Location: 29/1 Ratchaphuek Alley (near Nakornping Condominium)
Open: Monday-Saturday 8am-4pm

Nam Prik Noom and Nam Prik Ong

Nam Prik Noom - Northern Thai Food in Chiang Mai

Nam Prik Noom is another Chiang Mai favourite. The fiery green chipotle-like chilli paste is served as a dip to accompany snacks like sai ua and kap moo. Nam Prik Noom is also delicious when paired with crudité-type fresh or steamed vegetables. While nam prik noom is well-known and enjoyed across Thailand, its roots are in the country’s north.

Nam Prik Ong - Northern Thai Food in Chiang Mai

If you find Nam Prik Noom too fiery for your taste, try Nam Prik Ong as an alternative. Made with ground pork and chillies, the addition of tomatoes in the paste gives it a smoother and milder taste compared to Nam Prik Noom.

Sai Ua

Sai Ua - Northern Thai Food in Chiang Mai

Sai ua is a quintessential Northern Thai food and a must-try when you visit Chiang Mai. These Northern Thai sausages are a taste sensation with ingredients including pork, kaffir lime, coriander, galangal, lemongrass and chilli. Eaten with sticky rice or by itself as a beer snack, sai ua is a real taste of Chiang Mai.

You’ll find sai ua for sale at markets across Chiang Mai including Waworot Market (Kad Luang) near the Ping River, Somphet Market in the Old Town and the food market at Chiang Mai Gate. Many places that serve Northern Thai food (including most of those already mentioned above) will also serve sai ua. 

Kap Moo

Kap Moo - Northern Thai Food in Chiang Mai

Think Thai pork crackling! We challenge you to walk very far in Chiang Mai without coming across bags of kap moo (crispy pork skin) dangling from stalls and waiting to be sold. And where you find kap moo you’ll likely also come across nam prik noom, nam prik ong and sai ua.

Tong Tem Toh in Nimmanhaemin is once again a good choice to taste these dishes in a sit-down setting, while countless stalls at Waworot Market and other markets across Chiang Mai sell kap moo bagged up with nam prik ong and nam prik noom ready to take home (or scoff on the street!)



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