Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

09.May 2013

Thailand

Where I’m from street food conjures up images of late night street corners, drunken frat boys, and hot dogs that have taken one turn too many on the merry-grill-round.

Here in Thailand street food is the epitome of everything we’re looking for; fresh, whole food, individually prepared, and some of the tastiest, cheapest noshing available.

Set up in what are parking lots during the day, night markets transform the landscape at dusk. Stalls emerge, tables are set up and full on food courts are born. I love the efficiency.

We visit these markets nightly but tend to stick to what we know. Familiar vendors who create the usual suspects; paad thai, khao soi, pork and rice. We’re intrigued by other dishes we see but lack the language to, #1 know what anything is on the written menus (that often don’t even exist) and, #2 ask.

We’ve evolved a little though. We sometimes point at other patrons and just have what they’re having without ever knowing what it is which, of course, means we can never have it again…because we don’t know how to ask.

And so, after three months of being here, we decided to try a street food tour. A guided walk through the markets and stalls that are familiar to us and yet still so unreachable.

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours got its start just this year. As a former hill trekking guide, Chai saw the need when clients would ask him about all his favourite places to eat after trekking. Realizing that street food seems daunting and inaccessible to visitors he got started showing them around.

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

We started at the Chiang Puakor North, gate where the stalls are all lined up on the side of the road, for ease of drive by take-away, and tables are strewn across the former parking lots.

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Vendors spend their days prepping and preparing for the busy evening rush. Bowls of mild chilis, roasted pork, onions, garlic and greens await use in various dishes.

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Besides learning what each stand offers we are schooled in how to order.

“Ao khao ka moo” stutters Jason. The girl listens ever so patiently and then looks to Chai for confirmation of the order. Pointing and ordering is so much easier!!

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Pork, simmered in cinnamon, soy sauce, sugar, and five spice for hours, arrives at our table. We add the gingered, spicy, sauce ourselves. Not all Thai food is hot and often it’s possible to control the spicy-ness ourselves.

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Pork sausage strings are served with cabbage, chilis, and vinegar sauce. The sweetness of the pork complemented by the crunchy heat. We hadn’t tried these before but we’ll be having them again!

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

Pork buns. At least once a week we drive by the North Gate Market and pick these up for a light dinner. I think I’m addicted.

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

It is the efficiency of these stalls that amazes me. With very little space and often only one burner they churn out some of the best food in the world. How do they stand over those woks for hours on end? To protect themselves from the chili vapor some wear face masks too. Stifling!

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

At the Chiang Mai gate we found seats away from the crowd while trying Chinese curry noodles. By this time I was so full I could only manage one, tasty, mouthful!

Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

The tour was excellent. We tried many dishes both savoury and sweet; many we hadn’t tried before. Now we can add a few more places into our regular dinner rotation.

If you go I suggest you bring a sense of adventure, and skip lunch.

 

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10 Responses to “Chiang Mai Street Food Tours”

  1. Andrea Says:

    Looks like a fantastic atmosphere and delicious food!
    Andrea recently posted..10 Things To Do In Bordeaux Besides Drink Wine

  2. Carmel Says:

    I think these street food tours are a great idea and I’m glad to see them popping up more often. I was already thinking about doing Barbara from Dropout Diaries tour in Vietnam. Another one to add to the list! I want to be sure to try a variety of things, but I know myself well enough to know I might have a hard time just walking up and spinning the roulette wheel of food!
    Carmel recently posted..FINDING MY VOICE

  3. Jennifer Says:

    Youve managed to capture so many great photos here, your making me hungry! I love Thai food and its just not the same unless its from a street stall in Thailand!

  4. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) Says:

    You know that Tony & I LOVE us some street food, and the point & cross our fingers approach has yet to fail us! I guess it helps that we’re really not picky eaters and are always open to trying everything once, so we’ve definitely learned to throw caution to the wind and just go for it, even if we have no idea what it is we’re eating. The great thing about street food in Asia is that it’s all so cheap that even if you happen to order a dud, it’s not like you will have to go hungry because you’ve blown your food budget.

    I really love the idea of street food tours, but wherever we’ve been and seen them offered, they always just seem really expensive, especially because we are already so comfortable with street food. I know most tourst include the cost of food in the price, but I always wonder what happens if you go to a stand where you don’t want to try the food OR, in our case, we’re generally happy to share things so we have more room to try more things. There’s no way I can eat full portions at 5 or more different stands, which makes tours that cost $50+ per person really difficult for me to justify. I’d be much happier if these tours offered cheaper rates for people who want to tag along for the trivia and background that a guide can provide, but will purchase meals along the way à la carte.
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Chewing the Fat with World Flavor!

    • Gillian @OneGiantStep Says:

      I agree Steph. The price was a little steeper than I would have liked for myself but I tried to think of it from the perspective of someone who is on vacation and who is not as comfortable as we are with not knowing what’s coming. The price of this tour is 650 baht (about $22)…far more than the cost of the food but, if I was on vacation and uncomfortable, it would have been great value. The couple with us tried a number of things that they said they just would not have been comfortable trying otherwise so, in that manner, it is worth it.
      Gillian @OneGiantStep recently posted..Chiang Mai Street Food Tours

  5. Darlene Says:

    Okay Gillian, thanks a lot now I’m really hungry!
    Darlene recently posted..Tips for Using Adobe Lightroom Presets

  6. Kathryn Says:

    I haven’t seen street food tours before but I think it is a excellent idea. I am one of those people that stands around dithering, not knowing what to choose,and ending up choosing Pad Thai every time! I do want to try different things but I’m too nervous to get it wrong.
    Do you get a taste of different vendor’s food or are you expected to by a meal at each place? I would hope it is the former, or else you would be limited to trying only a few things, and feel too full. I’d feel OK paying up to US$20 if I got to try lots of things and learned useful tips and cultural information.
    Kathryn recently posted..Mui Ne, Vietnam. Not Your Typical Tourist Destination.

  7. Chylene Says:

    I rented a studio apartment in Chiang Mai for a few months while I studied massage with Senchai & went to massage school. I became addicted to the night markets & found myself thankful that I can eat a lot & not gain weight! Lol…. The food is amazing, no matter what you order —- and you could graze until stuffed on the equivalent of $3 night (it was 45 baht to the dollar)
    I’m happy that we have a good “food truck” mentality here in San Francisco, but it in no way matches up to Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia & Singapore!

  8. Casi @HeyNoobz Says:

    This sounds great! My husband and I just arrived in Chiang Mai and we will be here for a month. We’re going to do this soon so we know what we’re actually doing when it comes to food for the next month! Thanks for sharing!
    Casi @HeyNoobz recently posted..That Time I Got Locked Out Of Our Bungalow In My Underwear

  9. Lawrence Michaels Says:

    Chiang Mai has really good street food and it is extremely cheap as well. Last time I was up there, I remember eating a meal with my girlfriend and the price was like 50? for the two of us. That’s less then $2.
    Lawrence Michaels recently posted..Top Phuket Attractions