Northern Thai food is a world away from the dishes you’ve probably encountered at your local Thai restaurant at home – or even in Bangkok for that matter. The food of the north is indicative of the region's seasonal and relatively cool climate, not to mention a love for pork, veggies and all things deep-fried.
Traditionally, the residents of Thailand's north ate almost exclusively kôw nĕe•o, sticky rice, known in the local dialect as kôw nêung. Coconut milk rarely makes its way into the northern kitchen, and northern Thai cuisine is probably the most seasonal and least spicy of Thailand's regional schools of cooking, often relying on bitter or other dried spice flavours.
Paradoxically (and unfortunately), it can be quite difficult to find authentic local food in northern Thailand. Outside of Chiang Mai and the other large cities in the region, there are relatively few restaurants serving northern-style dishes, and the vast majority of authentic local food is sold from stalls in 'to go' bags. However, if you manage to come across a restaurant serving northern-style food, read on for ten top dishes worth trying.
Burmese in origin (hang is a corruption of the Burmese hin, meaning curry), this curry, which unites fatty pork belly, a mild spice mixture, and fresh ginger and garlic, is a regular at festivals and ceremonies – and restaurants – in northern Thailand. Try a bowl at Mae Si Bua, in Mae Hong Son.
Gŏo-ay đĕe-o sù-kǒh-tai
Sukhothai’s signature dish combines noodles, a slightly sweet broth, pork, par-boiled long beans and bean sprouts, and garnishes of ground peanuts and thinly-sliced fresh herbs. Compare and contrast bowls at neighbouring noodle shacks Jayhae and Ta Pui in Sukhothai.
Take a tough, grainy cut of beef, marinade it, grill it, then thwack it with a sledgehammer until tender and you have jîn đúp, one of the more unique dishes in the northern Thai culinary repertoire. Try it atMuu Thup , in Mae Sariang.
Kôw gân jîn
An intimidating, yet popular (and delicious) snack in Mae Hong Son, this dish consists of rice mixed with blood and minced pork, steamed in a banana leaf package and served with a generous drizzle of garlic oil.
Kôw soy, arguably the most famous northern Thai dish, combines wheat-and-egg noodles and a rich, fragrant curry broth. The dish is closely linked to Chiang Mai, and was probably introduced to northern Thailand by travelling Chinese merchants. Supplement your noodles with chunks of pickled vegetables and slices of shallot, and season the dish with a squeeze of lime and ground chilies fried in oil. A balanced bowl is available at Khao Soi Prince in Chiang Mai.
Kà-nŏm jeen nám ngée-o
Literally 'fried lâhp', this dish takes the famous Thai minced-meat 'salad' sometimes known as larb (or larp or laap) and sees it fried with a unique mixture of dried spices. Try the version at Pu Som Restaurant in Nan.
Nám prík nùm
This dish revolves around long green chillies, shallots and garlic that are grilled until tender and fragrant, then mashed into a stringy and spicy paste. Served with sticky rice, parboiled veggies and deep-fried pork crackling, it’s one of the most beloved dishes in northern Thailand. Try it at Phu-Lae, in Chiang Rai.
Nám prík òrng
Another legendary northern Thai nám prík, or chilli dip, this dish revolves around tomatoes and minced pork. Like other northern Thai-style dips, it’s eaten with sticky rice, vegetables and herbs, and, of course, deep-fried pork crackling. The version served at Banpleng Restaurant, in Mae Hong Son, is particularly good.