Chiang Mai’s old city is set inside a walled square, with a nightly market at the north and south gates. These are probably two of the best places to find street food in Chiang Mai, and each market is packed out every night, with a vast array of tasty treats. There’s so much available, though, that it can be hard to know where to start. So, with the help of some Thai locals, a few blogger pals, and my own research – I put together this guide on what to eat in Chiang Mai at the old city. Not only are the must-try market dishes listed below, but at the end I’ve also included some recommendations for my favourite restaurants and cafés in Chiang Mai. Enjoy!
NB – Some of the foods listed below are probably available at both markets, but I’ve listed them here under the markets I tried them at because I know there’s definitely a stall there!
Chang Puak Market
Just outside the Old City’s northern gate, the Chang Puak Gate, this market is definitely one of the best places to eat street food in Chiang Mai. Here are some of the dishes you need to try at Chang Puak Market…
Khao Ko Moo – Pig leg, cooked for 15 – 20 hours in soy sauce, served with rice in a rich, tasty gravy. The most famous stall is Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak, recommended by the likes of Anthony Bourdain, which is easy to find as the owner always wears her iconic cowgirl hat. Her khao ko moo comes served with a perfectly soft boiled egg and an amazing chilli vinegar. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that the Chiang Mai cowgirl isn’t the be all and end all of stewed pork. I also tried a plateful from one of the neighbouring stalls and it was different, but still good!
Sticky Rice – Glutinous rice is soaked for water overnight, then steamed and served up in a neat little sticky ball – usually served in a bamboo pot. The perfect thing to accompany one of the many soup dishes.
Tom Sam – A tasty soup made from boiled pork (or fish) with mushrooms and chillies, flavoured with galangal (a local root that looks similar to ginger), lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves.
Nam Tok Moo – An amazing spicy pork dish made with sliced grilled pork, crushed toasted rice, onions and chillies smothered in fish sauce and lime juice. Perfect with sticky rice!
Pad pak bung (morning glory) – I discovered the joys of morning glory in Vietnam, where it’s served fried in garlic and butter. In Chiang Mai, they stir fry this green vegetable in oyster sauce with garlic and chillies to make the tasty dish pad pak bung fai daeng. Don’t miss it!
Mango Sticky Rice – Everyone’s favourite Thai dessert: sticky rice with coconut sauce and delicious fresh mango. There are plenty of stalls at the Chang Puak Market serving this iconic dessert.
Khanom Bua Loi – Keep your eyes peeled for a vat of creamy white soup-ish stuff with egg and what looks like bloated peas floating in it. At first glance, it doesn’t look all that appetising, but this warm Thai dessert – made from sweetened coconut milk with balls of green rice flour – is really yummy.
For the daring – Braver foodies might want to give some of Chang Puak Market’s other delicacies a go. There’s crispy fried frog – just keep an eye out for the fat, skinless frogs found on some stalls – which is apparently a speciality. Or, there are the infamous pink eggs. Pink on the outside, but black inside, these are a Thai delicacy known as preserved eggs. Basically, ordinary eggs are preserved for several months in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls – until they turn a disgusting looking opaque black colour. According to Vicky Flip Flop, who was brave enough to try one, the taste isn’t too bad but the texture is very offputting.
South Gate Market
The South Gate Market, also known as the Chiang Mai Gate Market, is another amazing place to find street food and cheap eats in Chiang Mai. These are the dishes you need to try here…
Pad Thai – There’s an amazing pad thai stall at the South Gate Market, on the other side of the road from the city wall. I had my first dinner in Thailand here and it was great!
Chiang Mai Sausage (Sai Ua) – These huge swirled sausages – a little like a Cumberland – are easy to spot grilling on barbecues around the South Gate Market. Do not miss them! Delicious, fat sausages made from minced pork meat flavoured with galanga, lemongrass, and red curry paste, these are a must-try dish in Northern Thailand.
Curry noodles – Another famous face on Chiang Mai’s food scene, the sweet lady running the noodle stall at the South Gate market has been there every day – with the exception of a few sick days – for twenty five years. She’s even been featured in magazines, and her curry dishes served with noodles are pretty unmissable!
Larb – Northern Thailand takes a lot of influence from it’s nearby neighbours of Burma and Laos, so it’s no surprise that larb – a spicy minced meat salad that’s considered the national dish of Laos – is popular in Chiang Mai. There’s a great stall at the South Gate Market, not far from the Tesco Lotus, which serves up some seriously good larb!
Grilled Eggs – Something you’ll see a lot at street food stalls around Thailand is a stick skewering two or three eggs, in shells, lying on a grill. Wondering why in the world anybody is barbecuing an egg on a stick? You’re not alone! I asked a local and discovered that this is a heavenly-sounding Thai way of overcomplicating the humble hard boiled egg. Basically, the inside of the egg is removed keeping the shell intact. It’s seasoned and reinserted into the shell, then steam-cooked before being finished on the grill. Ridiculously tricky sounding but from all accounts delicious. I shall be trying one shortly.
Hor Mok – I spotted these tasty looking treats at the Chiang Mai South Gate Market but was too full to try them. After asking on my Facebook Page what they are, I received the following answer (I love the internet): “It’s a kind of curry which [is made] from curry paste, coconut milk, and fish. It’s cooked by steaming. The taste is nice and not spicy.”
Khanom Krok – Traditional sweet dumplings made from rice flour and coconut milk, which are filled with a topping such as sweetcorn or pumpkin and cooked in a heated pan a little like a waffle iron. The lady making these at the South Gate Market in Chiang Mai has been working the same stall for twenty years, and it was previously run by her mother before her. A must try Thai dessert.
Old City Restaurants and Cafés
Want some aircon and maybe a chair with a back to go with your food? When you’re done with street food, there are plenty of great restaurants in the Old City. Here area few of my favourite places to eat in Chiang Mai Old City…
It’s Good Kitchen, 175/6 Ratchadamnoen Road – It IS good, so good in fact that I went back to this cute restaurant three times. The green curry soup is amazing, and comes with rice shaped like a teddy bear. This awesome, and friendly, little restaurant right by Wat Phra Singh is very popular so you may have to wait for a table – but it’s worth it. I recommend the green curry fried rice for a fantastic, and cheap, light option.
Writer’s Club and Wine Bar, 141/6 Thonon Rachadamnoen Alley – The food is pretty nice – especially the yellow curry – but the best thing about this cosy expat haunt is the decent wine selection, which involves more than the standard Thai choice of “white or red”.
My Secret Café in Town, 175/12, Rachadamnoen Road – An actual secret, tucked onto a side street behind the busy Walking Street, My Secret Café is a real hidden gem. Amazing cakes, plus the best iced coffee in Chiang Mai – served up in cute glass milk bottles. Grab yourself a Crownie – cookie dough brownie – or a cake, and while away an hour or two in air conditioned bliss. There’s a gallery upstairs and a gorgeous, flower-filled garden area outside, plus it’s almost always empty; making this my absolute favourite café in Chiang Mai.
Akha Ama La Fattoria, Rachadhamnoen Rd – A socially responsible coffee company which uses only locally grown coffee – from nearby Chiang Rai – which is sustainably farmed by the minority Akha people. The coffee is great, and you can buy the beans as a souvenir – plus you’re supporting a great cause. There’s no road number listed on the website, but Akha Ama is listed correctly on Google Maps, and it’s easy to find not far from the entrance of Wat Phra Singh.
Do you have any more great restaurant recommendations, or tips for what to eat in Chiang Mai? Please leave a comment!
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