The city's fabulous night markets, which sprawl around the main city gates and several other locations, offer the best food.
The Chinese-influenced love for pork is exemplified by the northern Thai speciality of sâi òo·a (pork sausage). A good-quality sâi òo·a should be zesty and spicy with subtle flavours of lemongrass, ginger and turmeric. Sample them at any food market.
East of the Old City
Everyone knows that the best food in Chiang Mai is served on the street, and the city's night markets are fragrant, frenetic and fabulous. Every evening from around 5pm, hawker stalls set up in key locations around the old city, alongside smoothie stalls and beer and soft-drink vendors. Each stall has a speciality: you'll find everything from grilled river fish and pàt gà prow (chicken or meat fried with chilli and holy basil) to Western-style steaks, grilled prawns, and 'Tornado potato' (a whole potato, corkscrew sliced and deep fried).
The city's day markets are also thronged by food stalls and wholesale vendors, who prepare gàp kôw (pre-made stews and curries served with rice) and other take-home meals for busy city workers. And, of course, the Saturday and Sunday Walking Street markets are mobbed by food hawkers. Here's a guide to Chiang Mai's best market eats:
Talat Pratu Chiang Mai This heaving market sells foodstuffs and ready-made packed lunches by day and night-market treats after dark. It's mobbed nightly, particularly during Th Wualai's Saturday Walking Street.
Talat Pratu Chang Pheuak Sprawling west from the city's northern gate, this is one of Chiang Mai's most popular night markets, serving all the usual suspects, alongside the city's finest kôw kăh mŏo (slow-cooked pork leg with rice), prepared with a flourish by the 'Cowboy Hat Lady' – you can't miss her stall.
Talat Somphet A small local food market north of Pratu Tha Phae that transforms into a night market after hours. Many of the cooking schools do their market tours here.
Talat Ton Phayom This local market off Th Suthep is a popular stop for visiting Thais who come to pick up authentic northern foodstuffs such as kâap mŏo (pork rinds).
Talat Warorot The grandmother of Chiang Mai markets has northern Thai food stalls (mains from 30B) tucked in all sorts of corners.
Talat Thanin North of the old city off Th Chotana (Th Chang Pheuak), this public market specialises in takeaway meals, with vendors serving fish stews, curries, stir-fries and spicy condiments from huge pans, vats and platters.
Talat Na Mor A cheerful night market for the college set, with low prices and lots of choice; the student restaurants nearby on Th Huay Kaew are also worth investigating.
The old city is crammed with traveller cafes but standards vary widely, and there are limited options for an upmarket dinner.
The east side of Mae Ping is a good hunting ground for upscale choices.
West of the Old City
Th Nimmanhaemin and the surrounding soi excel in international cuisine, but restaurants and cafes appear and vanish overnight.
Out-of-town spots are favourites for Thais celebrating a special occassion.
Kôw Soy Sampler
Chiang Mai's unofficial city dish is kôw soy (khao soi), wheat-and-egg noodles in a curry broth, served with pickled vegetables and sliced shallots, and garnished with deep-fried crispy noodles. The dish is thought to have its origins with the Yunnanese traders who came to Chiang Mai along the Silk Road, and the vendors along Halal Street (Soi 1, Th Charoen Prathet) near the Night Bazaar still serve some of the best in town. For our baht, Kao Soi Fueng Fah has the edge over other vendors, with its particularly flavourful bowls, but the more simple and salty broth at Khao Soi Islam is more popular with locals.
Another great place to try kôw soy is around Wat Faham on Th Charoenrat (also known as Th Faham), north of the Th Ratanakosin bridge on the eastern bank of Mae Ping. Our top pick is Khao Soi Lam Duan Fah Ham, a modest-looking place that is packed to the rafters at lunchtime with hordes of locals slurping down bowls of deliciously rich kôw soy. Nearby Khao Soi Samoe Jai also cooks up a tasty soup.