The Best Food In Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is like a hidden treasure chest; its key lies in its food. As the sun sets behind the ancient city walls, sizzling street food fills the air, inviting locals and travellers to embark on a culinary adventure.

Located in the mountainous region of Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is known for its rich cultural heritage, stunning temples, and vibrant and diverse food scene. The city's culinary offerings reflect its historical significance as a cultural and trade crossroads, blending traditional Lanna cuisine with influences from neighbouring countries and modern culinary innovations. From bustling night markets to serene riverside restaurants, Chiang Mai offers a feast for the senses, where every meal tells a story of the land and its people.

Explore the unique aspects of Lanna cuisine, uncovering the traditional ingredients, cooking methods, and flavours that define this regional fare. We'll also highlight the must-try dishes that every food lover should experience when visiting Chiang Mai, guiding you through a culinary journey that celebrates the rich tapestry of Northern Thai food.


 Great Food to Try in Chiang Mai - akyra Manor Chiang Mai Hotel


Lanna Cuisine

The Lanna Kingdom, founded in the 13th century, was a powerful and influential realm in Northern Thailand. Its capital, Chiang Mai, became a cultural and economic hub, fostering a rich exchange of traditions and ideas. This historical backdrop significantly shaped the local cuisine, which evolved to incorporate ingredients and techniques from neighbouring Burma, Laos, and China. The fall of the Lanna Kingdom in the late 18th century and its eventual integration into Siam (modern-day Thailand) further diversified its culinary landscape, blending ancient recipes with new influences while preserving the unique identity of Lanna cuisine.

Lanna cuisine is distinct from the central Thai dishes more commonly known worldwide. It is characterised by using local herbs and spices, emphasising fresh and seasonal ingredients. Key ingredients include sticky rice, traditionally eaten with hands and a variety of chilli pastes (nam prik) that add depth to many dishes. The flavours in Lanna cuisine are robust and earthy, often combining sweet, sour, salty, and bitter elements. Common cooking methods include grilling, steaming, and slow-cooking in clay pots, which enhance the ingredients' natural flavours. Staples such as pork, chicken, freshwater fish, and an array of vegetables form the basis of many meals, often accompanied by fresh herbs and aromatic spices like lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves.

Food in Lanna culture is more than just sustenance; it reflects the region's traditions and lifestyle. Meals are typically communal, emphasising the importance of family and community bonds. Khan Toke dining, where meals are served on low, round tables while diners sit on the floor, exemplifies this communal spirit. Festivals and religious ceremonies often feature specific dishes, underscoring the deep connection between food, culture, and spirituality. The preparation and sharing of food are considered acts of generosity and hospitality, central to the social fabric of Lanna society. Through its cuisine, the Lanna people preserve their heritage and pass on their cultural values, making each meal a celebration of their enduring legacy.


Must-Try Dishes in Chiang Mai


  • Khao Soi (ข้าวซอย)

Khao Soi is perhaps the most iconic dish of Northern Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai. This rich and flavorful curry noodle soup features a base of creamy coconut milk and curry broth flavoured with a blend of turmeric and coriander. The dish is served with both soft and crispy egg noodles, topped with tender pieces of chicken, beef, or sometimes pork. Accompaniments typically include pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime wedges, and a dollop of chilli paste, allowing diners to customise their bowl to taste. The harmonious balance of spicy, savoury, and tangy flavours makes Khao Soi a must-try for any visitor.


  • Sai Ua (ไส้อั่ว):

Sai Ua is a traditional Northern Thai sausage known for its bold and aromatic flavours. The sausage is made from coarsely ground pork mixed with a fragrant blend of herbs and spices, including lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and red curry paste. This mixture is stuffed into natural casings and grilled until the outside is crispy and the inside is juicy. The result is a sausage that bursts with a complex, slightly spicy flavour. Sai Ua is often served sliced, accompanied by sticky rice and fresh vegetables, making it a popular snack or side dish.


  • Nam Prik Ong (น้ำพริกอ่อง) and Nam Prik Noom (น้ำพริกหนุ่ม):

Nam Prik Ong and Nam Prik Noom are two distinct types of chilli dips that are staples in Lanna cuisine.

Nam Prik Ong is a tomato-based dip, often described as a Northern Thai version of a Bolognese sauce. It combines minced pork, tomatoes, and dried chillies, creating a savoury and slightly tangy flavour profile. It is typically served with fresh vegetables and crispy pork rinds for dipping.

Nam Prik Noom is made from roasted green chillies, garlic, and shallots pounded into a coarse paste. This dip has a smoky, spicy taste and is served with fresh vegetables, sticky rice, and pork rinds.


  • Kaeng Hang Lei (แกงฮังเล):

Kaeng Hang Lei is a classic Northern Thai curry that showcases the region's rich culinary heritage. Unlike many Thai curries, it does not use coconut milk. Instead, it features a thick, savoury sauce made from a paste of dried chillies, garlic, ginger, and shrimp paste, combined with tamarind, turmeric, and other spices. The curry is slow-cooked with pork belly and shoulder, resulting in tender, melt-in-your-mouth meat infused with deep, aromatic flavours. The dish is slightly sweet, tangy, and salty, making it a complex and satisfying meal typically served with steamed rice.


  • Khan Toke Dinner

A Khan Toke dinner is a traditional Northern Thai dining experience that offers a glimpse into the region's cultural and culinary practices. Diners sit on the floor around a low, round table called a "khan toke," filled with several small dishes. These include sticky rice, chilli dips (nam prik), curries, fried chicken, pork sausages, and fresh vegetables. The meal is typically accompanied by traditional Lanna music and dance performances, creating an immersive cultural experience.


Street Food Delights

Chiang Mai’s street food culture is vibrant and integral to the city’s culinary landscape. From dawn until late at night, the streets come alive with food vendors offering various dishes, reflecting traditional Lanna cuisine and modern Thai influences. Street food provides an affordable, accessible, and authentic way to experience local flavours and culinary creativity. It also plays a crucial role in the community, fostering social interactions and supporting local economies.

Tips for Street Food Safely:

  • Local Crowds:
    Choose popular vendors with locals, as high turnover ensures fresher food.
  • Inspect Cleanliness:
    Look for stalls that maintain good hygiene practices.
  • Recommendations:
    Don't hesitate to ask locals for their favourite street food spots.
  • Start Slow:
    Introduce new foods gradually to avoid overwhelming your stomach.

Popular Street Food Dishes:


  • Grilled Meat Skewers (Moo Ping, ไม้หมูปิ้ง)

Moo Ping is a beloved street food snack with marinated pork skewers perfectly grilled. The marinade typically includes garlic, coriander root, soy sauce, and palm sugar, giving the meat a sweet and savoury flavour with a slight char from the grill. These skewers are usually served with sticky rice, making them a convenient and satisfying on-the-go meal.


  • Coconut Pancakes (Kanom Krok, ขนมครก)

Kanom Krok are delightful coconut milk pancakes cooked in a special cast iron pan with small, round indentations. The batter, made from rice flour, coconut milk, and sugar, is poured into the pan and cooked until the edges are crispy while the centre remains soft and creamy. These bite-sized treats are often topped with green onions, sweet corn, or taro, creating a perfect blend of sweet and savoury flavours.


  • Sticky Rice with Mango (Khao Niew Ma Muang, ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง)

Khao Niew Ma Muang is a quintessential Thai dessert that combines the richness of glutinous sticky rice with the sweetness of ripe mango slices. The sticky rice is typically soaked in coconut milk and sugar, creating a luscious, fragrant base that pairs perfectly with the fresh, juicy mango. A sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds or mung beans adds a delightful crunch to this popular treat.

Best Street Food Markets:


  • Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

Located in the city's heart, the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is a bustling market offering a wide range of street food options. This market comprehensively introduces Chiang Mai's street food culture, from grilled seafood and noodle dishes to exotic fruits and desserts. It's also a great place to shop for souvenirs and enjoy live music performances.


  • Sunday Walking Street Market

Every Sunday evening, Ratchadamnoen Road transforms into a lively pedestrian market filled with food stalls, artisans, and performers. The Sunday Walking Street Market is renowned for its various local and regional specialities, including sai ua (Northern Thai sausage), kanom jeen (fermented rice noodles with curry), and many sweet treats. The market's festive atmosphere makes it a must-visit for food lovers.


  • Saturday Night Market (Wui Lai Market)

Situated along Wui Lai Road, the Saturday Night Market is another popular destination for street food enthusiasts. This market offers a more relaxed and less crowded experience than the Sunday market, yet it boasts an impressive selection of food stalls. Highlights include grilled meats, fresh salads, fruit smoothies, and traditional Thai desserts. The market also features handmade crafts and live entertainment, providing a well-rounded cultural experience.


Vegetarian and Vegan Options

Chiang Mai has seen a significant rise in vegetarian and vegan options, making it a haven for plant-based eaters. Local dietary practices and the influx of health-conscious travellers drive this trend. Many traditional Thai dishes are easily adaptable to vegetarian or vegan diets, and a growing number of dedicated vegetarian and vegan restaurants ensure that visitors can enjoy a diverse range of flavours without compromising their dietary preferences. Chiang Mai's culinary landscape now boasts many options that cater to the needs of vegetarians and vegans, reflecting the city’s dynamic and inclusive food culture.


  • Mushroom Larb (ลาบเห็ด)

Mushroom Larb is a vegetarian take on the traditional larb, a spicy salad typically made with minced meat. In this version, mushrooms replace the meat, providing a hearty texture that absorbs the vibrant flavours of the dish. The mushrooms are mixed with roasted rice powder, fresh herbs like mint and cilantro, and a zesty dressing made from lime juice, fish sauce (or soy sauce for vegans), and chillies. This dish offers a perfect balance of spicy, tangy, and savoury notes, making it a refreshing and satisfying option for vegetarians and vegans.


  • Vegetarian Khao Soi

Vegetarian Khao Soi is a delightful adaptation of the classic Northern Thai curry noodle soup. This version features the same creamy coconut milk and curry broth infused with spices like turmeric and coriander. Instead of chicken or beef, the vegetarian Khao Soi is loaded with tofu, vegetables, and sometimes mushrooms, providing a nutritious and flavorful alternative. The dish is garnished with crispy noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, and lime wedges, offering a rich and aromatic experience that is just as satisfying as the traditional version.


Dessert and Sweets

Popular Northern Thai desserts to try:


  • Khao Lam (ข้าวหลาม)

Khao Lam is a traditional Northern Thai dessert combining simplicity and deliciousness. It is made by soaking sticky rice in coconut milk, then mixing it with sugar and sometimes black beans or taro for added texture and flavour. This mixture is then packed into a bamboo tube and roasted over an open fire. The bamboo imparts the rice a unique, smoky aroma while keeping it moist and tender. Once cooked, the bamboo splits, revealing the sweet and fragrant sticky rice inside. Khao Lam is often enjoyed as a portable snack, perfect for satisfying sweet cravings while exploring Chiang Mai’s vibrant streets.


  • Kanom Chan (ขนมชั้น)

Kanom Chan, also known as Thai layered jelly, is a colourful and visually appealing dessert popular throughout Thailand, including the North. This dessert is made from rice flour, tapioca flour, coconut milk, and sugar, flavoured with pandan leaf extract to give it a distinctive green hue and fragrant aroma. The mixture is steamed in layers, creating a chewy, gelatinous texture. Each layer is poured and steamed successively, resulting in a tasty multi-layered treat and a feast for the eyes. The slight sweetness and delicate flavour of Kanom Chan make it a delightful end to any meal, and its beautiful presentation adds a touch of elegance to the dining experience.


Western Comfort in Chiang Mai

Travelling can often make one crave the familiar flavours of home, even amidst the excitement of exploring new cuisines. In Chiang Mai, several restaurants offer Western comfort foods with a unique Thai twist, ensuring you can enjoy the best of both worlds.



Italics, located at the akyra Manor Chiang Mai Hotel, redefines Italian dining with a touch of Thai influence. This innovative restaurant is renowned for its commitment to using locally sourced, high-quality ingredients, which are artfully transformed into next-level Italian cuisine. Italics deconstructs and reimagines classic dishes, creating an interactive and unique dining experience.

The restaurant's culinary philosophy emphasises showcasing local products and growers in an artisanal style and upscale ambience. Italics focus on innovation through creative processes, meticulously selecting the finest ingredients, perfecting techniques, and managing the kitchen to ensure all elements come together in exciting new combinations. This dedication results in dishes that can amaze even the most sophisticated palate.

At Italics, the goal is to create the most delightful taste combinations and present them beautifully for your enjoyment. This dining experience is an incredible journey between two cultures, combining the freshest and most delectable innovative Italian cuisine with local Thai influences. Whether you want a break from traditional Thai food or indulge in expertly crafted Italian dishes, Italics promises a wonderful and memorable dining experience.



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ITALICS Restaurant

22/2 Nimmana Haeminda Road Soi 9,

Su Thep, Muang Chiang Mai District,

Chiang Mai 50200,





T : +66 (0) 5 321 6219

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