To keep pace with the ever-increasing
number of accommodations, Chiang Mai has a very large
quantity and variety of restaurants. Not only northern
Thai restaurants and food shops can be found in abundance,
but there are also a variety of restaurants serving
central, northeastern, and southern Thai cuisine, as
well as Chinese, Muslim and international food. Due
to the great amount of eating places, prices are very
competitive. Moreover, Chiang Mai is full of day and
night markets packed with numerous cheap food vendors.
Therefore, visitors will surely have no problem in finding
an ideal place to eat.
Northern Thai Food
Northern people prefer eating sticky rice to the non-sticky
variety, whatever meal it is. They eat it with kaeng
(curry) or nam phrik (chilli paste) and vegetables
-- fresh or soft boiled. Two most well-known kinds of
local chilli paste are nam phrik ong (chilli
paste with minced pork and tomatoes) and nam phrik
num (green chilli paste).
Apart from vegetables, nam phrik is also eaten with
khaep mu (crispy pork rinds), which has become
a famous export processed food of Chiang Mai. For curry
(kaeng), the main dishes are kaeng hang-le
(northern-style pork curry), kaeng om (spicy
curry of entrails) and kaeng khae (spicy curry
of vegetables). Unlike the central people, the northerners
don't like to put coconut cream in their curries.
Another two special dishes of the North are khanom
chin nam ngiao (Thai rice vermicelli with spiced
chicken curry) and khao soi (chicken/ pork /beef
curry soup with noodles). The latter is so popular that
there are many food shops selling only this noodle dish,
which is normally eaten for lunch by local people. In
contrast to the southern food, the taste of northern
food is rather weak and oily partly because of the cool
Traditionally, the northern people sit on the floor
when eating. Food is laid on the floor or on a low table.
They use their hands instead of spoons to pick up food.
There is one way to experience northern food, that is
to try a khantok dinner.
One thing a foreign tourist should experience in Chiang
Mai is the khantok dinner, which has become a
standard component of Chiang Mai tour programmes. It
is a pleasant way to learn about traditional northern
cuisine, music and dance.
Khantok in the Northern dialect means a wooden
tray used for carrying dishes. Round in shape, it is
made of wood, varnished or lacquered with 5 or 6 short
legs to support it. At a khantok dinner, the host and
the invited guests sit on the floor around the khantok,
which serves 5 or 6 persons. The tradition of wearing
northern mohom costume for a khantok dinner is
no longer observed today.
The main dishes on the khantok usually comprise sticky
rice, kaeng hang-le (northern-style pork curry),
kaeng ho (spicy curry of bean vermicelli),
kaeng om (spicy curry of entrails), sai ua
(Chiang Mai sausage), lap (minced meat, half
cooked and highly seasoned), nam phrik ong (chilli
paste with minced pork and tomatoes), which usually
goes with khaep mu (crispy pork rinds) and khao
soi (chicken/ pork /beef curry soup with noodles).
Eating with (the right) hand, they scoop up a handful
of sticky rice from the bamboo basket and dip it into
the curry or chilli paste and eat it.
After the meal, a dessert called khao taen,
which is made of fried sticky rice covered with caramel,
is served. Also served are khiyo cigars and fermented
tea, which is chewed to help digestion. The khiyo
cigar is made of shredded tobacco and ground tamarind
bark (khiyo), which can reduce the strong odour
While dining, Northern music and classical dances are
performed to entertain guests. One of the most popular
is fon lep or fingernail dance, in which women
dancers are dressed in Northern Thai style, wearing
long pointed brass fingernails. The programme of dances
and dishes may vary from place to place.
Visitors can have a khantok dinner at some hotels and
restaurants which organize this activity.