Thai food has become famous worldwide. You’re probably already familiar with the mainstay dishes: Pad Thai, Green Curry and Tom Yum soup. Whilst these are all delicious, they’re just a small representation of the enormous diversity in the cuisine of Thailand which can vary greatly depending on the region. Lanna food is native to the Northern Thai provinces and the cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are the best places to sample these local dishes.
In these cooler Northern regions, the flavours are less spicy and less creamy than their southern counterparts, with minimal use of coconut milk. Instead, expect a generous use of herbs and pickled vegetables to add flavour. Meals center around the staple of sticky rice, with a variety of meat and vegetable side dishes to complement it, and lashings of fiery chilli dipping sauces (Nam Prik Ong and Nam Prik Noom) to soak it all up.
Pork is an absolute favorite in Lanna cuisine, served in a multitude of ways. Deep fried pork rinds (Kap moo) are a crunchy snack that can be purchased from the markets of Chiang Mai in large, family-sized bags, to be enjoyed with a fiery chilli dipping sauce. Next, there’s Sai oo a, a grilled pork sausage popular throughout the northern regions. You won’t be able to miss it at street food stalls and markets as it’s coiled around in a long spiral. The sausages are generously seasoned with signature Thai tastes: think lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime and chilli. There’s another option for the more adventurous: naem, a fermented pork and sticky rice sausage. The fermentation process gives it its characteristic sour taste and means it can be eaten raw, although first-timers may prefer it barbequed for a more subtle flavour.
Also, don’t neglect to sample the great curry dishes on offer. Khao Soi is a fragrant curry dish served over noodles and accompanied with zesty garnishes of pickled cabbage, onion and lime. Kaeng Hang Lei is among the mildest of Thai curries. Made with rich pork belly, the flavour profile is influenced by neighbouring Myanmar with key notes of ginger, garlic and turmeric and tamarind.
Aside from the fascinating local culture and history, the culinary delights on offer also make Northern Thailand a great destination for foodie travellers.