Shortly after moving to the Chang Klan area of Chiang Mai, I set out to explore the neighborhood and, in particular, the street food for which this northern Thai city is so well known. Boy, did I find it!
The moment I stepped onto Chang Klan Road I could smell it. Pungent, exotic, and enticing. Food was everywhere; everyone was eating. The closer I got to the Night Market and the Old City, the more there was. The exotic scent of food from scores of hawkers, street vendors, food trucks, markets, food stalls, food carts, and portable food booths seduced me. Here among the hills and jungle was a gastronomic paradise.
Most street food is finger food or fast food–meant for immediate consumption. It is also significantly cheaper than restaurant meals. This is great news for me for a couple of reasons. I don’t always enjoy eating alone in a traditional restaurant and I love a bargain.
Getting started was a bit of a challenge because I don’t speak Thai yet and a lot of places don’t have a name, menu, or any signage in English. I let my senses take the lead and looked for places that were busy and frequented by locals. Ordering was intimidating at first. Initially, I would just smile and point. My smile was always met by a friendly, encouraging, and welcoming Chiang Mai smile and, over time, my vocabulary and confidence grew. Now I order in Thaiglish–a hodgepodge of the little Thai I have picked up and English. “Sawasdee ka! Good morning! One khao man gai to go, please.” They smile. It’s a start. I’ll get there.
Courage helps, too. I have eaten many things without the slightest idea what I was eating. It usually turns out well. I tried these three dishes out of curiosity. The fried bamboo (left) was interesting. (That’s code for I won’t be ordering it again.) The great-tasting little crepes (upper right) are still mystery food to me but I love them. The batter-fried kaffir lime leaves (lower right) are amazing and addicting. I never go to Nimman without stopping by Fried Chicken Leaves Nimman for a fix.
I eat cheaply and well every day. No, not well, grandly! And with joy. The first vendor to greet me is the orange juice lady who squeezes the oranges in front of me as I stand on the sidewalk. Love her! What a great way to start the day.
I make my way down the street hoping the khao man gai food stall is open, as it has become a favorite. (Khao man gai–pronounced cow mon guy–is a Hainanese dish brought to Thailand by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th or early 20th century.) It is a suite of dishes consisting of chicken, rice, soup, and sauce, usually served with slices of peeled cucumber.
Want to know more about this delicious Asian dish? Learn how it’s made or perhaps how to make it yourself? Stop back soon for the first installment in my Thai Street Food series: Khao Man Gai.
Kap kun ka! See you soon.