Chiang Mai Food Tour: The Best of Northern Thai Food

On our second trip to Chiang Mai in 2019, we continued our quest to explore the authentic regional cuisine of northern Thailand. On a recent Chiang Mai food tour, we dive deeper into the backstreets of the city. We go to the unfrequented parts of town and explore the regional cuisine at the markets and unique local eateries.  

After falling deeply in love with Khao Soi, Chiang Mai’s famous curry and noodle dish, we were excited to explore northern Thai cuisine further. The food in northern Thailand has its own distinct identity. The flavors are rustic, fragrant and meaty with influences from China, Burma, and India.

To guide us into the core of northern Thai food, we took a Chiang Mai food tour for a culinary journey into the heart of the local cuisine.

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Traveling like locals in one of Chiang Mai’s famous rod daeng trucks (also called red cars by locals), we explored exciting areas of the city, bustling with vendors, markets and food.

Our first stop on the evening tour was at the famous cowboy hat lady for a steaming plate of braised pork.

Rod Daeng in Chiang Mai A Chef's Tour Authentic Food QuestOur truck for our Chiang Mai food tour

Cowboy Hat Lady: The Busiest Street Food Stall in Chiang Mai

Having already been to this iconic food stall in Chiang Mai a few times, we were not expecting much. However, we were so wrong.

With Moui, we learned the behind-the-scenes story about the famous cowboy hat lady in Chiang Mai.

According to her, the cowboy hat lady sells the best pork leg with rice in town. This dish, called Khao Kha Moo in Thai was brought by Chinese immigrants. Of Chinese descent, the cowboy lady moved to Thailand years ago and together with her Thai-Chinese husband, partnered to offer a flavorful Thai version of this dish.

Cowboy Hat Lady Stall in Chiang Mai Street Food by Authentic Food Quest. One of the most delicious stalls at the Chiang Mai marketThe unmissable cowboy hat lady stall in Chiang Mai

What makes this particular place so special is that they slow cook the pork leg for a minimum of four hours making the meat really tender. This dish is also served with duck eggs. Khao Kha Moo is typically eaten with fish sauce, garlic, chili, and a Thai-chili sauce.

The pork is extra tender and it dissolves wonderfully in the mouth. The Thai chili sauce adds a great bite to the pork and rice, making the combination just perfect.

In the last 15 years, Chinese tourist have become her biggest fans. With 400 kilos of pork and 1,000 duck eggs served every night, this is one of the busiest Chiang Mai street food stalls.

Khao Kha Moo by Cowboy Hat Lady for Street Food Chiang Mai by Authentic Food Quest.Delightful Khao Kha Moo or melt-in-your-mouth pork leg with rice and duck egg

Eat the Best Pork Leg on Rice in Chiang Mai – Khao Kha Moo

Located across from Chang Phueak, the old city North Gate, you can easily spot the cowboy hat lady stall with her picture and Chinese writing.

We arrived a few minutes after 5:00 pm and the cowboy lady had just arrived. As she was eating and getting ready for the night, her staff were serving the first customers. We took the opportunity to meet her and snap a picture with her.

ClaireandRosemaryWithCowboyHatLady_ChiangMaiFoodTour_AuthenticFoodQuestOur moment of glory with the famous Cowboy Hat Lady

Siri Wattana Market: A Food Hunt at a Local Market in Chiang Mai

After hopping back into the red car, we made our way to our next stop on our Chiang Mai food tour. This time to Siri Wattana Market, a local fresh food market in the Chang Phueak neighborhood.

This market is a real gem for food lovers. One of its particularities is the high number of food vendors selling organic products. We had the chance to stop at many food stalls, learn about the different vegetables and herbs used specifically in northern Thai cooking.

Some of these herbs are also used in tea or juices. We tried Pennywort, Butterfly Pea Flower and Roselle juices. They all have medicinal properties to keep you healthy naturally. Our favorite was the butterfly pea flower –  smooth, sweet and naturally colorful.

Thai Herbs Chiang Mai Market for Chiang Mai FoodTour with A Chefs Tour by Authentic Food Quest. Indigenous herbs seen on Chiang Mai Food TourHerbs are important to northern Thai cooking and and many are indigenous to the region

Sampling Crickets and other Northern Thai Delicacies 

As we walked through the market, we stopped at a stand selling silk worms and crickets. Mouri mentioned that insects are typically used in northern Thai cuisine as a substitute for meat. They are high in protein, readily available, as well as affordable.

Although it was a sharp contrast to our taste buds after the sweet juices, we were intrigued to taste Thai insects after our Cambodian street food experience. The silkworms were mushy in texture, with not much taste, while the crickets had a nice grilled salty bite.

Cricket and Worms Stall at Siri Wattana Market on Chiang Mai Food Tour A Chefs Tour by Authentic Food QuestCrickets, silkworms and other specialities at Siri Wattana Market

From there, we moved to taste the “real meat” – buffalo meat. This is another source of protein typical in northern Thai food. Buffalo today is eaten less frequently than pork, and it requires to be slow cooked for hours, to make it tender enough to eat. To eat buffalo the Thai way, you simply dip a slice of meat into chili sauce. We found it quite tasty and surprisingly enjoyable.

Buffalo Meat Siri Wattana Market for Chiang Mai Food Tour A Chefs Tour by Authentic Food QuestSlowly cooked buffalo meat and Thai chili's

The star at the market was the Sai Oua vendor. On the top of her stall is the recognition for an award she earned for making some of the best sai oua in Chiang Mai. Sai oua are fragrant and spicy northern Thai sausages made with red curry, several herbs such as lemongrass, chili spices, and pork.

Rosemary eating Sai Oua at Siri Wattana Market for Chiang Mai FoodTour by Authentic Food QuestTaking a tasty bite of the sai oua sausage

Thai Desserts to End our Siri Wattana Market Tour 

To tame the spicy taste of the sai oua sausages we finished our treasure hunt in the Thai dessert section of the market.

Fresh off the griddle, we tasted small Thai pancakes also called Khanom Buang. The vendor was just cooking them. Still warm, they were incredibly tasty, with a nice crisp from the pancake and smooth finish from the coconut cream filling.

Crispy Pancakes Cooking Chiang Mai Street Food Authentic Food QuestKhanom Buang or Crispy pancakes

The next food stall had a table filled with Thai desserts. The most striking was the colorful orangish colored egg yolks.

We learned from Mouri that these desserts were influenced by the Portuguese when they introduced Portuguese cuisine to Thai royals in Ayutthaya. Now, you find the “golden egg drops” and “threads” at many food stalls throughout Thailand.

Thai Dessert Siri Wattana Market in Chiang Mai FoodTour for A Chefs Tour by Authentic Food QuestA variety of tempting egg yolk desserts

Burmese-Shan Cuisine at Chef Jed’s Restaurant

As we continued to get deeper into northern Thai food, we took the red car to our next surprising stop. In a celebration of Thailand’s ethnolinguistic diversity, we visited a Shan restaurant for regional specialties.

We learned on the tour that the food in Chiang Mai has been influenced by Burmese cuisine. The Shan are one of the largest Tai groups in the north, who historically lived on the borders of Burma (Myanmar), but emigrated to Thailand in the 19th century to escape conflict.

At the restaurant owned by chef Jed for over seven years, we sampled a variety of traditional Thai-Burmese dishes, including the food we picked up from the market.

Chef Jed's Restaurant in Chiang Mai Food Tour for A Chef's Tour by Authentic Food QuestChef Jed's Burmese -Shan Restaurant

Pennywort and Tea Leaf Salads 

The sampling of Burmese cuisine started with two traditional salads. The salad tradition is an important part of Burmese cooking. We had a Fermented Tea Leaf Salad, a signature dish of Burma and the Shan people. And the second salad was a Pennywort Salad, another popular Burmese salad.

Both salads were sparkling with flavor. They both had crispy and crunchy textures with ingredients like lettuce, cabbage, lime juice, Thai chili and a variety of other local ingredients.

Curious, we asked about the fermented tea leaves, as the salad had no tea leaves in it. Moui was quick to let us know that the fermented tea leaf portion is part of the dressing component for the salad. The tea leaves are fermented for a certain amount of time and then used to make the exceptional dressing.

Even though it was not our first time having Burmese food in Chiang Mai, we enjoyed discovering this unique restaurant in a local part of town.

Pennywort and Tea Leaf Salad Burmese Cuisine for A Chefs Tour by Authentic Food QuestPennywort salad on the left & Tea Leaf salad on the right

Northern Thai Food from Siri Wattana Market 

Betel Leaf Wrap

One of our favorite dishes that we picked up from the market is a traditional Thai snack called Miang Kam.  It involves wrapping various ingredients into a betel leaf, topped with a sweet-and-salty sauce. This tasty treat comes from the north of Thailand and is influenced by Burmese cuisine.

Spread out on the table was a beautiful platter of Betel leaves, baked coconuts, peanuts, lime, ginger, dried shrimp and shallots. Eating this snack calls for carefully folding the betel leaf into a little pouch and then stuffing it with little bits of the ingredients and finally the sauce.

The combination of flavors is fascinating. With each bite, you go on a journey of tastes from bitter, spicy, sour, sweet and a hint of saltiness from the dried shrimp. We could have eaten many more servings of these one bite wraps.

Betel Leaf Siri Wattana Market for Chiang Mai Food Tour A Chefs Tour by Authentic Food QuestBetel leaves with all the flavorful ingredients

Nam Prik, Crickets & Silk Worms 

To round out the amazing spread of northern Thai dishes, we also had Nam Prik and the leftover crickets and silkworms from the market.

Not too eager to continue eating the crickets and silk worms we focused on the popular dipping sauces. Nam prik ong is a red dipping sauce, while the green one is known as Nam Prik Noom. Popular in northern Thailand they are typically eaten with deep fried pork skin known as Kap Moo.

You simply break a piece of the pork rind and dip it directly into either sauce and scoop up a crunchy bite. Both delightful we enjoyed the combination of the chili and the crispy pork.

Already stuffed, we knew we had to make room for our next restaurant stop.

Burmese Cuisine at Chef Jed Restaurant for Tour Chiang Mai for Authentic Food QuestBurmese-Shan feast with northern Thai specialties

Northern Thai Authentic Food at A South Gate Restaurant  

Continuing our hunt for authentic northern specialties, we got back into the red car and made our way into Chiang Mai Old City.

In the South Gate area, we stopped at a well-known family-owned restaurant. The restaurant has been around for about 20 years and is known to have some of the best and most authentic northern Thai dishes. The restaurant is popular with locals and difficult to find, particularly if you don’t speak Thai.

Built in a Lanna style decor, we took our seats at a table in the garden area and enjoyed two of signature northern Thailand dishes.

South Gate Restaurant for Chiang Mai Food Tour for A ChefsTour by Authentic Food QuestQuiet garden area in the Southgate Lanna style restaurant

Spicy Minced Pork Salad – Larb 

The two dishes were brought out at the same time. A spicy minced pork salad to start followed by a pork curry stew.

Larb or spicy minced pork salad is found in northeast Thailand and Laos. The salad consists of chopped up pork seasoned with Thai chili peppers, fish sauce, lime juice, toasted sticky rice and a wonderful assortment of fresh herbs.

This salad is typically eaten with sticky rice. To eat it in the traditional Thai style manner, Moui taught us to roll the rice into a ball and then use your thumb to scoop up some pork salad. While larb is one of our favorite salads, we found this particular version incredibly flavorful. Moui confirmed when she said it was one of her best local restaurants for Thai northern food.

Larb Muang Moo for Chiang Mai Food Tour by Authentic Food QuestFlavorful minced pork salad

Northern Thai Pork Curry – Gaeng Hang Lay Moo 

The Gaeng Hang Lay Moo or northern Thai pork curry is another iconic dishes of northern Thailand. The dish is said to have to come to Thailand through Burma. The hot bowl of fragrant flavors tempted us.

The pork curry is made by slowly stewing pork in a variety of spices and herbs including, palm sugar, tamarind, turmeric, ginger, garlic and more.

Incredibly aromatic we enjoyed diving into this rich curry with pork that just melts in your mouth.

Gaeng Hang Lay Moo Northen Thai Pork Curry for Chiang Mai Food Tour by Authentic Food QuestIncredibly delicious northern Thai pork curry

Warorot Market: Chiang Mai’s Largest Food Market in Chinatown

Warorot Market is a landmark not to miss in Chiang Mai. This huge market offers a wonderful food scene with different vendors in the morning and at night.

The Noodle Soup Lady

While we were already full from our previous stops, we walked on the main side street of Warorot to stop at the Noodle Soup Lady stall.

As Mouri explained, this lady has been at that particular spot for 20 years or more making noodle-based dishes. She starts each night at 5:00 pm and stays until she runs out.

NoodleSoupLady_AChefsTourChiangMai_AuthenticFoodQuestThe Noodle Soup Lady at Warorot market

We tasted three different noodle soups. The first was a coconut red curry noodle soup with fish balls.  The second, a red pork soup with chicken blood cubes also called Khanom Jeen Nam Ngiao, a dish from Northern Thailand. And finally an Isaan soup from northeastern Thailand made of fermented fish sauce with noodles and curry paste.

Claire’s favorite was the Khanom Jeen Nam Giao with its fragrant tomato based soup. While Rosemary really enjoyed the Isaan soup with the combination of strong savory flavor from the fish sauce and smooth curry taste.

The Northern Thai Noodle Soup Chiang Mai Street Food Authentic Food QuestMoui adding Thai herbs to our soups to eat like the locals

Thai Desserts Vendors

Every market tour is a great excuse to sample new sweets and treats. While walking through the alleys at Warorot market, we stopped at a vendor with a street cart filled with Thai desserts.

Even before we could resist, Moui, had us try mung bean cake, coconut cakes, sticky rice with coconut pudding and more sweet treats. They were all delicious, however, the coconut cakes with their sweet and smooth finish was our unanimous favorite.

Thai Dessert vendor at Warorot Market Chiang Mai Street Food Authentic Food QuestThai dessert cart filled with yummy Thai sweets

Customized Thai Desserts at Kanomwan Chang Moi

Our last stop for the evening was at Kanomwan Chang Moi for dessert. At this point, we were all stuffed, but somehow the word “dessert” managed to open up more room.

When we pulled up to the dessert shop, the place was buzzing with activity. Almost all the tables were occupied and the atmosphere was upbeat and energetic.

The counter is a long selection of brightly colored treats of every kind. In an assembly line fashion, you choose your treats and then move towards the end of the line for your toppings.

We were in awe of the brightly colored liquids, gelatin shapes, jelly-like noodles, fruits and beans of every kind. They reminded us of cendol, one of the most surprising desserts we discovered in Penang, Malaysia.

With Moui’s guidance, we had different desserts topped with coconut milk, logan juice, and water chestnut. We enjoyed these fun and wickedly refreshing treats and it was the perfect end to our Chiang Mai food tour.

Kanomwan Chang Moi Chiang Mai Food Tour A Chef's Tour Authentic Food QuestA colorful dessert stand on our Chiang Mai food tour

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In Summary

Taking a Chiang Mai Northern  Flavors Food Tour is one of the best ways to get to really know northern Thailand’s distinct cuisine.

While Chiang Mai has a lot to offer visitors, the food and the under-the-radar culinary specialties is the biggest draw.

Even though we had previously spent time in Chiang Mai discovering the local food, this Chiang Mai food tour took us even deeper to some of the best local restaurants, many of which are hidden and only accessible with local knowledge.

After seven amazing food stops and sampling over 16 unique regional specialties, we were thrilled. With Moui’s local knowledge about Northern Thai food and the link to the Thai culture, we got a well-rounded perspective of the local cuisine and culture.

The one piece of advice we would give is to go with an empty stomach. Don’t be surprised if you can’t stop eating even if you are full. It’s that delicious!

If you are in Chiang Mai and want to sample amazing northern Thai food, simply click here to book your Chiang Mai Northern Flavors Food Tour.

Savor The Adventure!

About A Chef’s Tour

A Chef’s Tour provides unique food tour experiences that don’t pander to western palates and go straight to the heart of the regional food, history, and ingredients used. Led by chefs, cooks, and foodies, you can count on deep local insights and unique eateries away from the tourist trap restaurants.

What makes the Chiang Mai Northern Flavors Food Tour so unique is that you can count on Mouri’s deep knowledge and passion for food. We were an intimate group of three and over a 4.5 hour period, we explored the local food in off-the-beaten-path places in the comfort of the red truck.

Discover northern Thailand’s culinary heritage when you click here to book your tour

A Chef’s Tour also offers unique crafted tours in Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand:

Bangkok Backstreets Evening Food Tour

Old Siam Bangkok Lunch Food Tour

Phuket Old Town Food Tour

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Chiang Mai Food Tour with A Chef's Tour Authentic Food Quest

Special thanks to A Chef’s Tour for having us on this tour. All views and opinions expressed are our own. Full bellies and happy taste buds too!

38 comments

    • Awesome and great to hear Ankurman. Indeed, the food in Thailand is incredible and northern Thai cuisine is amazing. If your travels take you to Chiang Mai, don’t miss A Chef’s Food Tour and explore the hidden gems in the area. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  1. Hi Claire / Rosemary,

    Could you share the address for Chef Jed’s Restaurant? We would like to give it a try during our trip to Chiang Mai. Thanks!

    Best regards,
    Jimmy

    Reply
    • Hi Jimmy, thanks for your note. We discovered Chef Jed’s on the Chiang Mai food tour in a very local neighborhood where everything was written in Thai. For directions and how to get to Chef Jed’s, we recommend checking in with A Chef’s Tour or better yet, booking their food tour. Hope this helps, cheers.

      Reply
  2. I love a good food tour! You can’t go wrong with a guided tour for a cuisine as varied and incredible as Thai food. I find the Burmese influences quite fascinating. I love your photo with the famous cowboy hat lady – she’s got quite a good business going!

    Reply
  3. I remember when I was in Chiang Mai I had lots of tasty food. Unfortunately, we didn’t go for the food tour or street food, but I would like to do so. when I am back there. This is a good excuse to go back. Am I right?

    Reply
  4. I am always envious of your food tour experiences and Chiang Mai is no exception. I love that the cowboy hat lady has become well known, smart marketing… and I’m a fan of braised pork so win-win for me

    Reply
  5. Hoping to be in Thailand soon and Chiang Mai but I have to be honest, I am not much of a foodie but after seeing the different types of food on offer on this tour, I be very tempted to broaden my horizons a bit more. 🙂 The northern port thai curry looks tasty and would love to try this first. 🙂

    Reply
    • That’s awesome you are planning a Chiang Mai visit. The food in this region is quite unique in Thailand. Even though you may not consider yourself a foodie, getting a broad overview of what is unique to the region will help! Give it a go when you get here 🙂

      Reply
  6. I always look forward to your food journeys. Traveling in famous rod daeng trucks would have been fantastic experience. I haven’t been to Chiang Mai but will definitely book with Chiang Mai Northern Food Tour by Truck. It’s a simple and easy way to taste & experience the local delicacies and hear stories about them.

    Reply
    • Thanks Nisha. Glad you enjoy following our food quests. The Chiang Mai Northern food tour by truck took us to some unexpected places. Indeed, a great way to explore the food while getting local insights from a guide. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  7. I’ve spent a lot of time in Chiang Mai (I’ve lived there twice) and this is a great guide! I love that you included tealeaf and pennyworts salads. Chiang Mai has some awesome Burmese cuisine.

    Reply
  8. I am a foodie and absolutely love Thai food so a food tour like this makes total sense for me. And I am really experimental too. Having said that, not sure if I will have it in me to try silkworms and crickets! I also love street food markets (more than restaurants) and the Cowboy Hat Lady food stall looks amazing!

    Reply
    • As a Thai food lover, you would enjoy this tour. The insects are not scary to eat and they are very much a part of the local food culture. You will not go wrong at the cowboy hat lady stall. Great food and experience all around. Thanks, Medha.

      Reply
  9. Khao Soi sounds really delicious. The amalgamation of this Thai dish with flavours from China, Burma and India makes it really distinct. I would totally love to visit Siri Wattana Market and get some organic food products from there.

    Reply
  10. I LOVE Thai food and all of these items sound delicious (except maybe the bugs – LOL). Thank you for sharing this awesome glimpse into the Thai culture.

    Reply
  11. Aaah how delicious those dishes look, it is making me drooling just to read your descriptions and look at the pictures! I love roaming around food stalls and smells all the food and discover new dishes. Thai foods look really yummy!

    Reply
    • Market visits are so much fun as well as getting tempted by loads of delicious food at food stalls. So glad you enjoyed the article and hope you make it to Chiang Mai and experience this amazing tour for yourself 🙂

      Reply
  12. I love Thai food so much (it’s one of the things that I miss a lot from Australia). So I would totally be all over the Khao Kha Moo from the Cowboy Hat Lady stall! And most of everything else on this list… but I’d have to skip some of the spicier stuff.

    Reply
    • We miss good Thai food as well when we are back in the U.S. The pork from the cowboy lady is quite tasty and worth experiencing. There wasn’t too much spicy food and much of it can be toned down as well. Hope you get back to Thailand and Chiang Mai soon and take this amazing tour. Thanks, Katherine.

      Reply
  13. When I was in Chiang Mai I took a cooking class to learn more about the food. The food tour you did sounds like a lot of fun. I am not sure I could eat the silk worms or the crickets though

    Reply
  14. Oh wow, it looks like you really got to sample lots of authentic northern Thai food. I love that you give a bit of background to each dish and explain what it is because so much of it is unfamiliar to me. The desserts looked really yummy and unique, the Khanom Buang with coconut cream would be my pick but everything sounded interesting to try.

    Reply
  15. I do love a good food tour when I travel. And I’m hoping to visit here towards the end of the year, so this is great! I have a huge sweet tooth and those pancakes with coconut filling looked delicious!

    Reply

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