All week I've been publishing recipes and stories from Northern Thailand, the country's least exported regional cuisines. With strong funky aromas, heavy spicing, and the kind of bitter and hot flavors that can make you weep simultaneous tears of pain and pleasure, it's definitely not Thai Food 101 material, but you'll be richly rewarded if you delve into it. If you can't make it all the way to the spice markets and roadside restaurants in Chiang Mai, making these dishes at home is the next best thing.
'chiang mai' on Serious Eats
Think of the best chicken soup you've had: steaming hot, rich, comforting, and soul-satisfying to the core. Now add to that the complex fragrance of fresh Thai herbs like lemongrass, galangal, a sweet shallots. And wait, we're not done yet! To that base, add a big fat pinch of warm Northern Thai spices and you're starting to get an idea of what yum jin gai is all about.
This ain't your grandma's pork larb. Unless your grandma happens to be of Lanna descent and native to Northern Thailand, in which case, this is probably very much like your grandma's pork larb. Unlike Isan larb, this is a darker mince, with tender bits of lean pork mixed together with chunks of fat, chewy bits of intestine, and a rich, thick sauce flavored with crushed spices and pork blood. It's not larb for the faint of heart, but it's one worth seeking out or cooking at home if you've got any interest in offal.
If you're anything like me, when you first taste nam phrig noom, the smoky, garlicky, roasted chili dip from Northern Thailand, it's gonna blow your mind. Made with roasted green chilies, shallots, and garlic, it's served as a side dish alongside all sorts of raw and cooked vegetables, boiled eggs, or—my favorite—crispy pork rinds.
Chiang Mai easily makes the list of my top five favorite cities in the world. Culinarily, it's one of the least familiar regions of Thailand. The local dishes, influenced by Burma to the Northwest, and China's Yunnan province and Laos to the north, don't really make it far beyond Northern Thai borders. With the exception of a few dishes at Pok Pok, Andy Ricker's ode to Chiang Mai in Portland and New York, I'd never seen half the dishes I tasted while we were there. The big exception is Khao Soi, the area's most popular export. I was eager to taste this fantastic dish at the source.
Northern Thai food—bitter, spicy, delightfully funky—is some of the most intriguing and satisfying in all of Thailand. Here's how to tell your naem from your nam phrik.
From the moment we drove out of Chiang Mai Airport until we made our last food-grazing stroll down Bangkok's famous Yaowarat Road, my eyes were bouncing from one delicious site to the next. Check out the coconut pancakes, pad se ew, rambutan, and more snapshots of the best stuff we ate in Thailand.