The Best of Chiang Mai Street Food Markets
Chiang Mai is famous for its selection of street markets and food. Even while spending a week there it was difficult to explore and taste everything. After lots of talking to locals and reading, I managed to find what I believe to be a great start for some of the best Chiang Mai street food at each market. Whether its meat or strictly vegetarian options someone is after, there are lots of options for every diet and culinary preference.
South Gate Market
22 Nantaram Rd., Soi 5 Kor, 50000
Daily: Mornings from 6 a.m. until 10 or 11 a.m., Evenings from 5 p.m. until midnight or later
Each morning South Gate Market sells fresh fruit, juices, meats and other ingredients for cooking. Many of the local street food vendors and restaurants are said to shop here.
In the early hours there is high energy in the air, fueled by Thai coffee and Thai pancakes. Make sure to try both. The sweet pancakes nearly melt in your mouth, they’re so soft. The coffee will give you a boost of caffeine and sugar and set your day off to a great (and tasty) start.
Every evening the market is home to the largest number of Chiang Mai street food vendors in the city. With endless bowls of just about everything you can imagine, it should be easy to find something that piques your culinary interests.
Pad Thai Seafood: The most famous, and also the most elusive Thai dish available here is the famous pad Thai. Both times my friend and I tried to enjoy this dish they were closed. Try stopping by around 6 p.m. before they sell out.
Skewers: I tried some of the barbecue skewers in place of the famous pad Thai and they were nice for a snack. The beef and pork appeared to be marinated in something that made them slightly sweet and spicy and also very tender. Grilled right in front of me they were fantastic.
I highly recommend giving them a try.
Ploen Ruedee International Food Park at East Gate
Chang Klan Rd. 50100 (Across from a mosque)
Mon – Sat from 5:30 p.m. until midnight
Located just off a side street in the middle of the Night Bazaar is home to around 20 street food vendors, mobile bars and live music. Repurposed wire and cable wheels act as tables and bails of hay are used as seating.
Of the Chiang Mai street food markets, this one offers the broadest range of culinary options including local and international. It’s also one of the most sociable settings for westerners to meet one another.
Good Great Gyoza: This stand quickly caught my attention. A plate of 5 of the pork version for $1 seemed like a ‘good great’ deal. Perfectly pan fried and juicy with a sauce of sesame oil, soy sauce, chili and sesame seeds, they were everything I was hoping for. Served with a fresh salad on the side. I had a lot of Chiang Mai street food gyoza during my time here and these were by far my favorites.
Noodle Shop: “Herb soup no spicy” signs in the front of the stand are hard to see with the constant line of people. Behind the main stage is this soup shop that always seems to have people asking for more. The one and only soup focused option at the market looks to be well worth a try for around $2-3.
Burger Box: Having eaten almost nothing but Thai dishes for days, I was also pleased to see the international options. This burger stall had one of the longer lines in the square and also had 3 staff behind the counter, more than any other stall. This was a good sign so I stopped to check out the menu. For about $2.50 they offered a pork burger with bacon and cheese. I asked if I could add pineapple as well, which was also on the menu. They seemed happy that I was excited to be there and gave me the extra pineapple for free and had an extra order of fries they ended up giving me as well.
The juicy pork, bacon, cheese and pineapple went together perfectly. There was some sort of a sweet and spicy dark sauce that was very nice as well. The fries were hand cut and fried. They went well with a little ketchup and mayo combination. An excellent place to get a western fix when needed.
Chang Pheuak at Manee Nopparat Rd. 50200
Daily, from 5 p.m. until as late as 2 a.m.
Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak: Make sure not to miss the most famous pork leg found in Chiang Mai. Adorning a cowboy hat and brining a collective 50 years of family experience in cooking this local favorite can be found by the owners chosen cowboy hat attire.
This slow stewed dish is served with gravy over rice. At the table there are fresh garlic cloves, green onion, chili peppers, pickled greens and other condiments that can be added. Rich and savory with some added fresh greens and spice make this one of the most memorable dishes in all of Thailand. Total cost, about $2. My full story can be found at Pork Leg Made Famous by Cowgirl in Chiang Mai.
Steamed Buns & Dim Sum: Nearby is a small cart that I notice some steam coming out of in the cold night. They have a number of steamed buns and dim sum. I order a pork bun and a medley of pork, shrimp and pork & seaweed dim sum. The pork bun for $0.50 is perfectly steamed with tender, sweet & spicy meat inside. A wonderful snack. Most people order 3 or more but I want to make sure I can finish all 12 of the dim sum.
The pork dim sum are well seasoned and a rich, spicy brown chili sauce has been drizzled on top. They are fantastic and become my favorite. The shrimp are lighter, appear to be blended with some herbs and onion and are also very good. The pork in a seaweed dim sum wrapper are not my favorite but are well worth trying. The dozen dim sum total about $1.50.
Add to all this a local beer for $1 and I just had an incredible meal of pork with rice, a pork bun, and 12 dim sum for $5. I was stuffed, exhilarated and happy.
Additional Street Food
- Khao Soi: This Northern Thai specialty soup of coconut milk, lemongrass, kafir lime, galangal, chilis, and fried noodles is a must-try. Whether it’s at a market, food cart, or restaurant such as local favorite Lemongrass, make sure to give this a try.
- Fresh Fruit: Wherever you come across freshly cut pineapple, mango, and papaya, make sure to pick some up, usually around $1.
What to Avoid
Though I usually focus most of my efforts on the best food I find, here are a few cautionary words about the local food I didn’t like in Chiang Mai.
- Fish Ball Soup: After closer inspection I noticed that the fish balls were coming out of a plastic bag and were likely frozen for far too long. Add to this some weak broth and I was unimpressed the few times I came across this dish.
- White Sausages: The whitest sausages I’ve ever seen were flavorless and also seemed to have been frozen or just poorly made. Not to be confused with the darker local Northern Thai sausages, the pale white ones were underwhelming.
- Sweet & Sour Fish at East Market: It was okay, it just wasn’t that good. This little Thai stand in the International Food Market supposedly put out some of the best local food in the market but this was not what I should have ordered. Still, it was their recommendation to me. I’m not sure why.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas for where to start enjoying some great Chiang Mai street food. I’d love to hear your thoughts about your favorites or what I missed below. Thanks for reading!
Chiyo! (Cheers in Thai)
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