Fresh, aromatic and searingly spicy, the ‘real deal’ Thai food is probably nothing like what you have experienced at a local Thai restaurant in the UK. While Thai cooking varies drastically from province to province, northern Thai food is widely regarded as some of the best in the country. Inspired by my recent research trip to Thailand, I’m going to share three of my favourite northern Thai dishes that you might want to try on your own trip.
My favourites are “Lanna” dishes, that is to say, dishes that originated in the Lanna Kingdom and are today closely associated with Chiang Mai Province. By contrast, Isaan food hails from the Northeast of Thailand, and while the two are closely linked they remain very much distinct. If you are interested in tasting the two, we’d be more than happy to arrange personalised foodie holidays around Northern Thailand and pair you with a guide who shares your interest. And while I didn’t personally try many of the more avant-garde northern Thai dishes on my last trip (such as pigs’ blood soup, as featured in Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” episode on northern Thailand – which I would highly recommend if you’re interested in the wackier of the spectrum!) – if you are keen to try any of these, do let us know!
Every time I visit Thailand, I look forward to a bowl of Khao Soi: a delicious, hearty noodle dish that will become your ultimate comfort food on a holiday here. Wheat-and-egg noodles swim in a hot curried broth, finished with your choice of meat, pickled vegetables, a squeeze of lime and a generous handful of crispy noodle on top. Though closely linked to Chiang Mai, you’ll find Khao Soi on menus across much of northern Thailand – it is popular for an excellent reason.
I tasted this particular curry at a local homestay in Phayao, and it has stuck with me ever since. Burmese in origin, it combines pork belly with fresh garlic, ginger and a mild spice paste to create an intensely flavoursome, rich and moreish curry that will truly challenge your perception of Thai cooking – I can guarantee it is nothing like anything you’ve tasted in the UK. My colleagues and I complimented the cook so effusively on this particular dish that she actually sent us away with a doggie bag, which we were delighted about! You can visit this homestay as part of an an ETG experience in northern Thailand, if you’d like to taste it yourself.
This grilled pork sausage is so exotically herby, an entirely different species to the kind of banger that might sit with mash at home. The main flavour that came through for me was lemongrass, which made it fresh and aromatic; rather than the stodgy, fatty sausages we are perhaps more used to, these are comparably light, and might be served as an accompaniment to a decadent Thai feast. You can also taste it at local markets, where it is often prepared in large spirals.
A NOTE ON STICKY RICE
Most meals in northern Thailand will be accompanied by sticky rice. Often cooked in a banana leaf, the rice is dense, delicious and serves to counter the intense spice of the main dish. But rather than mix it in with other dishes, it is often eaten with your hand: you roll the rice into a ball and pop it into your mouth after a particularly chilli-laden mouthful.
Curious to know more? Do get in touch with a Thailand specialist today on 020 3468 3029. If contacting us via email is easier for you, you can do it here. Alternatively, take a look at our suggested Thailand holidays or suggested Thailand family holidays.