Eating is a national obsession in Chiang Mai, and there is food everywhere you look. Thailand is a culinary delight, with food and fruit carts on many street corners, noodle shops everywhere and endless Thai and international restaurants with choices ranging from top international cuisine to rustic little bars with a kitchen.
Chiang Mai restaurants are numerous and cover a broad range of food. As a tourist town, there is a particularly good selection of restaurants for the foreign palate, offering toned down spicy Thai food, Northern specialities and Isarn food as well as menus laden with favourites from France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Vietnam, China, the Middle East, India, Pakistan and Mexico. There are also a number of American-styled steak houses and diners and the proverbial British fish and chips.
Coffee shops have also sprung up all over Chiang Mai and some offer simple lunch dishes. Most guesthouses and hotels serve western breakfasts along with muesli, yoghurt and a wonderful selection of exotic Thai fruit.
Most the restaurants in Chiang Mai serve a cornucopia of delicious Thai dishes and this alone could be the highlight of your visit. Be a little adventurous and try the piquant tom yum goong (a seafood soup delicately balanced with sweet, sour, spicy and salty ingredients) or the famous khaeng khieo wan (green curry). Then there’s the steaming pla jian (whole fish poached in ginger, onions and soy sauce), or the mild kai phat met ma muang (chicken fried with vegetables and cashew nuts), or the perennial Thai lunch favourite, somtam – a spicy papaya salad with a myriad of herbaceous ingredients.
Northern food favourites include sai ua (spicy sausage), khao soy (Shan-Yunnanese influenced curry noodles), Kaeng hang lae (pork curry casserole with ginger and peanuts) and kaen yuak (banana palm curry). Many of these dishes are served as vegetarian dishes and those with a sweet tooth should certainly sample the coconut-sweetened sticky rice and mango with nuts.
In recent years the concept of the Khantoke evening has grown in popularity and these complete cultural experiences are hosted in beautiful Thai teak pavilions, with Thai dancing and traditional music as you enjoy Northern specialities while seated at floor level.
Although there are scores of restaurants in Chiang Mai to choose from. For a full guide with restaurants we suggest you pick up a copy of Citylife Guide to Wining, Dining, Pubbing and Clubbing, widely available.