Monday, September 17, 2012

My Top Twelve Thai Food Favorites

The Chiang Mai Gate Food Market was the first place in Chiang Mai that I ever sought out. Heck, food is probably the first thing I sought out the night I first arrived in Thailand. But I won't bore you with the usual Thai food dishes like Pad Thai or Tom Yum Soup. Having spent much of my travels in Thailand, northern Thailand to be exact, I discovered that there was so much more to Thai cuisine than stir-fried noodles or tangy, spicy soups.

So what are the delicious Thai dishes that stood out to me while living in Thailand? I can tell you right now that most of them are Thai dishes that originated in northern Thailand and that six of them are curry dishes. What can I say? I like them thick, spicy and hearty. Here we go.

1. Sai Oua (Northern Thai Sausages)

Northern Thai Sausages, Chiang Mai, Thailand

What meat lover would not want juicy, porky meats stuffed inside juicy, porky pork intestines grilled to juicy, porky perfection? As a bonus, a little bit or rice is stuffed inside, too, which does not make it bland at all, but rather adds a certain rich, creamy texture to the sausage. There are many types of northern Thai sausages. Simple, gingery, lemon grassy, those that come with glass noodles instead of rice, those that come in small meatball shapes, etc. My favorite variety is the sour variety and the meatball variety and the spicy variety. Alright, I like them all.

~ Stall near Black Canyon Coffee along Nimanheamin Street which only sets up in the evening
~ Meatballs stall at the Saturday Night Walking Street right at the starting point of the street

2. Ka Ree Pup (Curry Puff)

Ka Ree Pup (Curry Puffs), Thai Food, Thailand

Cuffy puffs are quite popular in Thailand, as well as in Malaysia and Singapore, and I want to kill myself for having discovered that just recently. The curry inside is thicker in texture using potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots to make it more solid, so that the curry doesn't ooze out when they bake or fry the curry puff. It's a very good snack, but with its rich, thick texture, I sometimes eat it as a meal in itself.

~ Family-run joint that sells curry puffs and only curry puffs along Arak Soi 5 close to Arak Street on the western side of the moat

3. Pad Kra Pao (Stir-fry Ground Meat with Thai Basil)

Pad Kra Pow (Stir-fried Ground Meat with Thai Basil), Thai Food, Thailand

If there is a Thai dish that you will want to have after boozing it up late at night, it's Pad Kra Pao. It's comfort food, really. Thai food goodness that is quick and easy to prepare. Ground pork or chicken, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, a whole lot of chili and with that distinct addition of Thai basil. Better learn the phrase mai phet or mai prik, though, meaning not spicy, which you will want to say to the waitress or the cook. Because boy do they make this Thai dish so spicy! There are food stalls, really mobile kitchens, that sell Pad Kra Pao even late at night along the streets of Chiang Mai. Be extra indulgent and eat it with fried egg, in which case it becomes Pad Kra Pao Khai Dao.

~ Food stall along Moon Mueang Road, close to Sompet Market (only open at night)
~ Local no-name restaurant along Ratchadamnoen Soi 1 right next to a motorbike rental shop

4. Nam Prik Ong (Ground Pork with Tomato Sauce)

Nam Prik Ong (Ground Pork with Tomato Sauce), Thai Food, Thailand

In number four, we have another Thai dish originating in northern Thailand. Nam Prik Ong is a very old Lanna dish. The Lanna Kingdom is what dominated northern Thailand before the Central Thais got here. Made with a lot of tomatoes (cherry tomatoes, ideally) and ground pork, Nam Prik Ong is basically a dipping sauce for steamed vegetables or pork rinds. Even though it is a dipping sauce, I still like to eat it with white rice and some pork skewers. Again, do be careful because this is one hell of a spicy dish. Good but spicy. Good and spicy.

~ Food stall close to the intersection of Moon Mueang and Moon Mueang Soi 6 which sells them in small plastic bags for 10 freaking Baht!
~ Stall at Chiang Mai Gate Food Market right outside 7-11

5. Khao Kha Moo (Pork Leg on Rice)

Khao Kha Moo (Sweet Pork Leg on Rice), Thai Food, Thailand

This is a Thai dish that's popular not only in northern Thailand but in the entire country. I first had this dish in Bangkok, in fact. The strange part is some refer to this dish as Yunnan Pork. Yunnan is a province in Southwest China, the region closest to Southeast Asia. I have been to Yunnan province, however, and never did I see something like this in any of the four cities I traveled to there. And trust me, if the Yunnanese displays in front of their restaurants big vats of pork leg, sweet and dark juices dripping and flowing, as they usually do it in Thailand, I would have devoured some right there and then.

~ Street-side restaurant along Singharat Road right outside the post office (open only in the evenings)

6. Khao Soi (Curry Noodles)

Khao Soi Curry Noodle Dish, Thailand

I think I have gushed over Khao Soi enough on this travel blog. What I haven't done though is have more of it. And I think more is never enough. Khao Soi is made with boiled egg noodles in thick, curry broth, not soup, broth, flavored with chicken or beef topped with crunchy fried egg noodles. Genius! This is really a Burmese dish and quite popular in northern Thailand, Laos and Burma, too. When in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this is one Thai dish you need to have to be able to say that you have been to northern Thailand. I'm serious.

~ Suthasinee Restaurant along Chang Klan Road close to Chiangmailand Road open only for lunch (because Khao Soi is a lunch dish, really)

7. Gaeng Phet Moo (Thai Red Curry)

Gaeng Phet Moo (Thai Red Curry), Thai Food, Thailand

And so we begin with the four Thai curry dishes that I absolutely love and have alternately every night. Gaeng Phet Moo literally means spicy pork curry, so do expect that this dish will be crazy spicy, like hits-the-back-of-your-throat-and-you-begin-coughing spicy. The paste that is the base of the curry is made with Kaffir lime skin, galangal, lemon grass, ginseng, turmeric, coriander seeds, and a lot of dried large red chili all pounded into a rich, thick paste. The result is a thick, coconut milk-based curry, with a whole lot of that Kaffir lime leaf tanginess beneath all that spiciness. Go on. Have some. You know it's really good.

~ Stall at Chiang Mai Gate Food Market right outside 7-11

8. Gaeng Massaman (Massaman Curry)

Gaeng Massaman (Massaman Curry), Thai Food, Thailand

There are many theories as to where Massaman Curry came from. Some say Persians who traded with the Thais. Some say Arab traders who traded in southern Thailand. Wherever it came from, we can all agree that Massaman Curry is probably one of the most delicious foods in the world. CNNGo ranked it number 1 in their World's 50 Most Delicious Foods, in fact. It's curry but there's an extra richness that comes from the starch of the potatoes liberally added to the dish. It's spicy and it's sweet and I cannot for the life of me get enough of it.

~ Stall at Chiang Mai Gate Food Market right outside 7-11

9. Gaeng Pha Naeng (Penang Curry)

Gaeng Panang (Penang Curry), Chiang Mai, Thailand

Even though the dish is named after Penang, a historic Straits Settlement city on the west coast of Malaysia, the dish is very much Thai. They do make Penang Curry in Penang but it's fair to say that the dish has been Thai-ed up through the years. The curry paste is basically the same as that of Thai Red Curry with the exception of peanuts, making it extra thick and flavorful. They use palm sugar, too, so has a deeper sweetness to it. Gaeng Pha Naeng is usually made with chicken and eaten with a whole lot of rice. See that oil flowing freely on top of the sauce. It's so oily, coconut-creamy good.

~ Stall at Chiang Mai Gate Food Market right outside 7-11

10. Gaeng Hang Lay (Northern Thai Curry)

Gaeng Hang Lay (Northern Style Thai Curry), Thai Food, Thailand

Now here's a Thai curry that is distinctly from northern Thailand, from Chiang Mai, in fact. Gaeng Hang Lay is different in that it doesn't use coconut milk at all as coconut doesn't really grow abundantly in the cooler hills of northern Thailand. Still, it doesn't mean that this Thai curry is bereft of richness and depth of flavor. Pork belly is used as the meat component to this dish and it makes it oh-so rich and oily and good. However, unlike other curries, the tanginess comes from ginger and galangal. And lots of them. This is a seriously good dish that you will want a taste of when you do get the chance.

~ Stall at Chiang Mai Gate Food Market right outside 7-11

11. Khanom Bueang (Crispy Pancake with Soft Marshmallow and Coconut)

Khanom Tang Taek (Sugar Pancake with Coconut), Thai Food, Thailand

Now that we are done with all those curries, time to cleanse the palette with some sweets. And if we're talking about sweets, then Khanom Bueang is the answer. It's a little pancake (only the pancake is crispy and more like a wafer) filled with a soft meringue, almost like soft marshmallow whipped into a sweet, creamy consistency, plus dried shaved coconut meat, which is sometimes salty and sometimes sweet. The best sweet Thai snack or dessert I could think of, really.

~ Mobile stall at the restaurant row along Intra Warorot Street on weekdays
~ Same stall can be found at the temple complex which becomes a foot court on the intersection of Ratchadamnoen and Ratchapakinai during the Sunday Walking Street

12. Kluay Tod (Banana Fritters)

Kluay Tod (Banana Fritters), Thai Food, Thailand

How could you possibly go wrong with bananas coated in sweet batter deep-fried into a crunchy perfection? Nothing, really. Well, a lot of things. But we can agree that Kluay Tod is just so simple, it's so good. Banana Fritters is a popular snack not just in Thailand but in the whole of Southeast Asia. Bananas are everywhere here. So why the hell wouldn't it be? The same reason, really, why I am petitioning to scrap Banana Pancake Trail and call it the Banana Fritter Trail. Agree?

~ Guy selling along Intra Warorot right next to the Chiang Mai District Office in front of 7-11 (better come around lunch time because at 2 in the afternoon, he runs out owing to the lines and lines of locals that buys from him)

Cha Yen (Thai Iced Tea), Thai Food, Thailand

Bonus: Cha Yen (Thai Iced Tea)

As a bonus, you will want to wash out all of those spicy, oily foods with a tumbler of dark, milky Thai iced tea, available practically everywhere in Thailand. Street stalls, 7-11, coffee shops, they all have it.

Bonus No. 2

I have mapped out all my recommends on a map of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Click on the markers to find out which tasty Thai treat is being sold where. You're welcome.

What are your favorite Thai foods? Where do you recommend I start scouring for them?

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