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, Northern Thai cuisine is 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.
Yum Jin Gai
Are you a fan of hot and sour tom yum soup? Yum Jin Gai just might be the upgrade you're looking for. It starts with a similar aromatic base made with chicken stock, shallots, lemongrass, and garlic, but layers it with a powerful blend of spices and chilies. This is the kind of soup that'll clear your sinuses while it blasts your taste buds with flavor.
Khao Soi Gai
The de facto signature dish of Northern Thailand, khao soi is a laksa-esque coconut curry soup served with both fried and boiled noodles, tender chicken, shallots, lime, and pickles. Most versions you see in Western restaurants or recipe guides take short cuts or tone down the flavor. Our version of khao soi is the real deal. This is the recipe for folks who will settle for nothing but fresh turmeric. Folks who'd rather pound their own heads flat in the bottom of a solid granite Thai pok pok than pull out the food processor. Folks who want to get as damn close to Chiang Mai as they can without leaving their homes.
Larb Moo Muang
A far cry from the Isan-style larb salads we're all familiar with (you know, the ones flavored with toasted rice, lime juice, fish sauce, and chilies), Northern-style larb has a much more intense, rich, and funky flavor. This recipe for larb moo muang is pretty classic, made with chopped pork (and pork offal, if you're into that), fried garlic, and thickened with blood. The key flavoring element is the home-made spice blend which combines things like chilies, cinnamon, and cloves.
Nam Phrig Noom
Nam phrig (or nam prik, num prik, nam prick, nam phrig, or dozens of other variations, depending on who you ask) is kind of like Thai salsa. It's a semi-pureed mixture of smashed vegetables and aromatics that appears in some variation or another at almost every meal. The Northern Thai version, nam phrig noom is one of the simplest and most delicious, made with roasted chilies, garlic, and shallots, flavored with a touch of shrimp paste and lime.