After a month in Chiang Mai, I’m literally drooling over the food we had there. This is quite possibly related to the fact that we’ve been on the Thai Islands for the past two weeks and the food does not even come close to comparing to the quality of Chiang Mai food. To be honest, we didn’t even eat out that much in Chiang Mai – I cooked probably over 80% of our meals. While eating out is cheap, it’s still cheaper to cook, especially if you want a drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) to accompany your meal. I was also pretty happy to have a decent kitchen and a month of free time to experiment with some new meals – anything that didn’t require an oven. Some of my home-cooked favourites included: smoked salmon and mango spring rolls with a peanut dipping sauce, beer-battered tofu and eggplant, panko-crumb chicken and zucchini, blended spicy sweet potato and carrot soup, making tomato sauce from scratch for the first time ever and our morning smoothies. Unfortunately, fresh fruit wasn’t as cheap as I had imagined but fresh vegetables, tofu and chicken were plentiful and reasonably priced.
As a result of all the cooking, our most common “meal” out was coffee. Dan and I are both quite particular with our coffee in completely opposite ways. I only enjoy drinking soy-milk lattes with decent espresso (I actually prefer an almond milk latte, but let’s be honest – that can only be found in a handful of cities across Canada and the USA). I would otherwise skip coffee altogether unless it’s really good espresso in which case I will drink it straight. Dan on the other end despises any form of espresso and only likes filter/drip coffee. His opinion is totally foreign to me and likewise he doesn’t have a clue why I enjoy espresso. Our best bet for shops that serve both is big chains, and they’re also the easiest to spot; however, we quickly realized that quality increased and price drastically decreased with smaller specialty coffee shops and cafes in Chiang Mai.
Tom n Toms
A large South Korean chain (that I had never heard of) served me a soy milk latte and at the time I was happy just to receive one (it was the morning after we landed from a long flight). They give you a voucher for one hour of free WiFi and the place is open 24 hours a day. However, after visiting a couple other places, I realized it was incredibly overpriced and never returned.
Again, incredibly overpriced (double to triple the price compared to local cafes) and priced even slightly higher than in Canada (probably more to do with the fact that our dollar is dropping daily against most of the world’s currencies than anything else). In any case, you pay for what you get – want a reminder of exactly what a coffee tastes like back home, go to Starbucks. Also, the cup size is the same as North Americans are used to whereas many local coffee shops, while cheaper, serve much smaller portions. Shockingly (and somewhat angeringly), no free WiFi! This blew my theory that wherever in the world you can find a Starbucks or a McDonald’s, you’ll be able to catch some free WiFi.
Local (Think Park)
In the same area as Tom n Toms on Nimmanhaemin Road just across from the Maya Shopping Centre (i.e. just across from our apartment), in an newly-renovated and student-populated area dubbed “Think Park,” was Local. I went in on our second day in the city looking for food that was cheaper than the other restaurants in the area (I had only checked a few and was put off by the prices) and was surprised by the delicious and full meal I received. In the end, we found much cheaper places but in terms of atmosphere, food quality and presentation I would rate this place a 5/5. On the down side, they didn’t have soy milk and the smoothies were incredibly sweet (typical of Thai smoothies – they LOVE their sugar). On the up side, unlimited WiFi was free of charge and there was plenty of seating with beautiful views on two levels, a great place to work from my computer for a few hours.
Undeniably the best coffee in Chiang Mai. A huge plus: they had soy milk for me and specialty filter coffee for Dan. Both locations near us in the Nimmanhaemin area were always packed with limited open-air style (no A/C) seating and slow, but free WiFi.
Two things that were incredibly expensive in the grocery stores were decent quality bread and Italian style sandwich meat. Craving a good sandwich we headed to Aussie owned and run Overstand which I found via TripAdvisor. While they were out of half the things on the menu, including soy milk, the Aussie managed to find a compromise for everything and I thoroughly enjoyed my iced coconut latte and arugula/prosciutto sandwich. We brought computers in hopes of staying awhile but the space isn’t set up for working and the loud rock music put us off from staying a long time. Another downside is they close at 2PM – which really sucked because we weren’t the earliest of risers in Chiang Mai and a result only made it here once.
Musashi Contemporary Sushi Bar
OK, maybe I have a slight obsession with sushi (especially when I admit that quality cheap sushi is one of the top things that makes me homesick for Vancouver), but it’s just so good, how can you resist? This was probably our favourite Chiang Mai restaurant purely due to the amazing special rolls they served. The rolls had the perfect balance of fresh flavourful ingredients and yummy sauces. Of course, we weren’t the only ones to note how delicious this place was and it got extremely busy meaning the wait for food was often quite long. We actually only ate in the restaurant on our first visit and after that we opted for takeout. Note, on Thai or Chiang Mai standards I would define this restaurant (and any other sushi place) as quite expensive – but worth it in this case.
RAMEN & Japanese Food (I Forget the RESTAURANT name)
On this particular occasion, Dan and I were craving our weekly dose of sushi and went out only to find our favourite place (above) was closed! After failing to locate another sushi place nearby, we stumbled upon this cute new Japanese restaurant, a few doors down from Musashi Contemporary Sushi Bar, specializing in ramen dishes. Dan had a miso ramen soup and I had the teriyaki salmon. Both were delicious!
Bubbles Live Restaurant
I was killing time before a Thai massage and stumbled upon this vegetarian restaurant in Old Town. When I saw the photo out front of the pomelo spicy salad with roasted cashews and grilled tofu in a sweet citrus coconut milk dressing, well, I couldn’t resist trying it. And I’m glad I did – it was amazing. The mix of sweet coconut and sharp citrus just hit the spot. Presentation was also beautiful and the seating was comfortable and great for people watching! *If, like me and a few months ago, you didn’t know what a pomelo was, it’s a large citrus fruit native to South and Southeast Asia that resembles (in looks and flavour) a really big grapefruit.
Thachang hill coffee & cafe
This very new-looking cafe and restaurant is located on the Samoeng Loop, a popular motorbike route near Chiang Mai. We had been riding on our scooter and spotted this place overlooking the mountains and stopped for lunch. The stunning views, modern decor and great seating alone sold us. On top of all that, Thachang Hill earns our award for best Pad Thai in Thailand. Which is saying a lot considering in the past three weeks alone we’ve probably had over 30 Pad Thai dishes from restaurants and street stands.
This post would be far from complete without mentioning the amazing street food that can be found in Chiang Mai. There is an abundance of quality street food at the Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets as well as all over the city on any given day or night.
To my surprise, gyoza, Japanese dumplings, were huge in Chiang Mai. As a kid, these were my favourite food and I was pretty excited that literally every street market was selling them. The best I had in Chiang Mai were made on site from scratch, boiled and then grilled. Served with dipping sauce, they were mouth wateringly delicious. And, as it turned out, cheaper than buying frozen gyoza in the supermarket and attempting (and failing – yes, I tried) to fry them yourself.
Of course, there about a million other dishes, delicacies and desserts for sale on the street. Most of which I do not know the name for.
For the first time ever we saw sushi sold per piece at a street stall! You could mix and match choosing what you wanted and it was made fresh in the back. I’m pretty surprised these haven’t popped up in Vancouver yet!
Another Thai special – critters and insects. You’ll see these for sale all over Asia but they are especially popular in Thailand. As mouth-watering as a deep-fried tarantula or skewed cockroach sounds, I stayed away from these guys. I guess I’m just not that adventurous. This stand was selling everything from grasshoppers to silk worms.
Nothing special, but possibly worth noting… All of the malls in Chiang Mai have a food court, or as in the picture below, a “food park.” The food court/parks don’t resemble a Western mall food court; instead many stalls/stands are setup together in one area and food is cooked in the open, similar to street food albeit in a mall.
*If this post made you as hungry to read as it made me to write, I hope you have something nearby to fulfill your cravings – I wish I did!