Northern-style Thai cooking is influenced by the nearby Burmese, Yunnanese, and Lao cuisines. Many northern Thai dishes are not served with steamed rice, but khao niaow (glutinous or sticky rice), which can be cooked as an accompaniment to a savory dish or used in dessert. Sticky rice is sometimes served simply in a knotted banana leaf or in a small cylindrical basket with a lid. Chiang Mai specialties include sai ua (Chiang Mai sausage), khao soi (a spicy, yellow, Burmese-style curry with pickles and both fried and boiled noodles), and many other slightly sweet meat and fish curries. You may be relieved to know that chili peppers are used less than in other Thai regional cuisines.
The formal northern meal is called khan toke and refers to the practice of sharing a variety of main courses, with guests seated around khan toke (low, lacquered teak tables); eating is done using the hands. Most of the restaurants that serve khan toke combine a dance performance with the meal. The best such places are covered in "Chiang Mai After Dark," later in this chapter.
Chiang Mai is also blessed with good street food and markets. Anusarn Market on the corner of Sri Dornchai and Chang Klan roads near the Night Bazaar is a good place for authentic local food, though the seafood tends to be a bit pricey. Also try Somphet Market on the northeast corner of the old city; it's a good place to pick up snacks like fried bananas or sticky-rice desserts in the daytime or have a good cheap meal in the evening, at which point the area bustles with locals and young backpackers.
Chiang Mai folks take their khao soi -- Burmese curry and noodles -- pretty seriously; it's a favorite lunchtime dish. The best is to be had in Faharm, an area about 1km (2/3 mile) north of central Nawarat Bridge, on Charoenrat Road, along the east bank of the Ping River. A number of open-air places serve the delicacy for just 30B, along with tasty skewers of chicken and pork satay. One of the best is Khao Soi Samoe Jai; there's no English sign but it's immediately north of Wat Faharm, and open lunchtimes only. Count on this place always being packed, as it's well known to locals.
Snacks & Cafes
Kalare Food & Shopping Center, 89/2 Chang Klan Rd., on the corner of Soi 6, opposite the Night Bazaar (tel. 05327-2067; 6pm-midnight), is where you'll find a small food court next to the nightly Thai culture show, which starts around 8:30pm (buy coupons at a booth and then pick what you want from vendors).
Bake and Bite (6/1 Kotchasarn Rd. Soi 1; tel. 05328-5185; Mon-Sat 7am-6pm and Sun 7am-3pm) is on a small side street to the south of Thapae Gate and has tasty baked goods, fine bread, and good coffee.
The Kafe (127-129 Moon Muang Rd.; tel. 05321-2717; daily 8am-midnight) is just north of Thapae Gate and it's a good traveler's crossroads where you can pick up handy information, have a great meal of Thai or basic Western food, and throw back a few cold ones.
Mike's Original Burger (tel. 086269-9145, mobile; daily 8am-3am) serves hot dogs, burgers, and fries in an open-air 1950s American hot dog stand. Just north of Thapae Gate, at the junction of Chaiyapoom and Chang Moi roads, it's a popular stop for postdrinking eats, before the hangover hits.
All along Nimmanhaemin Road, new, trendy eateries and coffee shops are springing up next to little juice bars and ice-cream parlors; take a stroll and pick your place.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.