From curried egg noodles and grilled pork sausages to any number of minced-meat salads, the food of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai offers some of the most complex and intense flavors in the kingdom.
By Chawadee Nualkhair
Photographs By Jason Michael Lang
ASK 10 PEOPLE IN CHIANG MAI WHERE TO GET a great meal, and you’ll receive 10 different answers. Who makes the best pork sausage? Where are the best shallots grown? What’s the right amount of coconut milk for khao soi? All this is fodder for hour-long discussions over the dinner table in northern Thailand, where matters of the stomach are taken very seriously. So when I’m told about midnight Fried Chicken, I make sure to check it out—which is how I find myself prowling the streets of Chiang Mai late one night, scanning Kamphaeng Din Road for any sign of life.
It’s when I get to a clutter of sidewalk benches fronted by a long stretch of hungry Thais waiting for a seat, that I know I’ve arrived. The food stall, which opens like clockwork at the stroke of midnight, is a magnet for local hipsters with little goatees and wickedly fast metabolisms. the food is the type to gallop straight for your thighs: deep-fried morsels of pork belly and chicken legs; grilled sai oua (northern-style pork sausage); dollops of roasted-chili paste and towering mounds of khao niew (sticky rice). an hour later, I waddle back to my hotel with the taste of fried garlic still in my mouth. One meal down; a gazillion more to go.
Such are the trials of researching a book on thai street food. When I embarked on the project, gathering the names of stalls from enthusiasts all over the country, I knew I would be in for a lot of eating. “Wow, that sounds like fun!” someone invariably says when I tell them about it. Believe me, chowing down at 10 stalls a day in the name of research can be anything but. Yet it’s different in northern Thailand. Here, I’m surrounded by the flavors of home.