Did you know that each part of Thailand has its own distinct cuisine? While most dishes you may be readily familiar with-such as pad thai-are eaten throughout the country, central Thailand, the South, the Northeast and the North all have their unique repertoires. So you have reached the north. You’re sitting in a Thai restaurant in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but not quite sure where to start. Is this dish too spicy? Does it contain anything you’re allergic to: nuts, dairy products, egg, soya, or seafood? Print out this little guide to begin your culinary adventure in the north. Typical ingredients used in these dishes will be listed in detail, as well, to guard against specific food allergies and keep your holiday from being spoiled.
This dish can serve as both appetizer (albeit a heavy one) and part of the main course, usually eaten with sticky rice. The aeb muu is a paste comprised of pork and chili paste mixed together before being wrapped in banana leaves, and it is then cooked by roasting over a low fire or steaming. It tastes predominantly of chili and herbs, and tends toward spicy. Ingredients include the following: minced pork, diced kaffir lime leaves, coriander, spring onion, and chicken egg. The curry paste that serves as the main condiment consists of dried bird chili, salt, turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, garlic, and shallots. As you can see from the list, this makes for a very tasty dish rich with the scents, textures and unique flavors of no fewer than nine distinct kinds of spices and herbs. If you aren’t partial to sticky rice, this is also good to eat with plain steamed jasmine rice.
This is a noodle dish marked by its distinct colors: bright yellow egg noodle and rich red-orange curry. It is definitely a main dish and can be very filling, with varying degrees of hotness, and eaten along with a number of side condiments sprinkled onto the noodle to add to the already strong flavors: pickled mustard greens, lime, spring onion, coriander and shallots. The curry itself is a thick soup that’s made from curry paste (usually of similar or identical make to curry paste used in aeb muu) and a good helping of vegetable oil and coconut milk. As this originated as a Muslim dish-though it has since been absorbed into northern Thai cuisine thanks to a history of cultural integration and exchange of ideas-most khao soy is made with chicken or beef rather than pork, though the pork variation is also widely available.
The “larb” refers to a particular way of mixing boiled minced meat with chili paste, various spices and herbs. The larb pla is a fish variant, made from boiled fish grounded to a fine paste, shrimp paste, roasted rice grains, turmeric, lemongrass, coriander, spring onion, Vietnamese mint, garlic and vegetable oil. It’s best eaten with crisp, fresh vegetables.
Essentially pork shavings: this is a northern Thai snack with distinct flavoring, made from pork skin marinated in dark soy sauce then deep-fried until it is crispy and brown. No spices or herbs are involved, though it’s a little heavy on the fat side: travelers cautious of the effect of hot food on their palates can sample this one without worry.
A Lanna-Thai salad comprised of coarsely chopped vegetables stirred in curry paste: this is a perfect dish for those watching for calories or even vegetarians (as long as you request the restaurant to leave the minced pork out). The ingredients are long beans, water morning glory, eggplant, shallots, coriander, spring onion, garlic, and a type of acacia leaves.
Nam prik ong
Minced pork, chili paste, and cherry tomatoes are the main ingredients that make up this dish: the name suggests that it’s one of the spicier dishes but is in fact the least hot of all “nam prik” dishes. Eaten with fresh eggplants, lettuces, pumpkin, long beans and cucumber.