Food, Glorious Food

One of the best pats of living in Thailand is the variety of delicious food available. Each region has its specialties. Northern Thailand is known for Khao Soi, a curry adapted from Burmese and Chinese cuisine (northern Thailand was once under control of the Burmese; Chinese traders are thought to have helped spread the dish throughout the region). The dish has soft noodles in a coconut-based curry broth, either chicken or pork, and is topped with crunchy noodles and cilantro. The best khao soi restaurants serve it with slices of lime, shallot wedges, and pickled vegetables. It’s one of my personal favorites here!

I wanted to try some street food here, but in a “safe” manner; meat is rarely refrigerated and therefore, I am hesitant to try food from the many food carts that can be found all over the city. I signed up for a tour with Chiang Mai Foodie Tour and opted for the morning tour, which started at 9 am and ended at 1 pm. We met up by the 3 Kings Monument: a famous site in Chiang Mai. I was joined by a couple from Budapest that had just arrived in Thailand. The tour guide had an assistant; a tour guide in training that would accompany us. As well as making multiple stops to sample food, we would also stop at a few temples. Chiang Mai is filled with temples (117 or so). I guess you can’t eat non-stop for four hours – the temples provided a chance for the food to digest between tastings.

Our first stop was a temple across the street from the 3 Kings, Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang. I visited this temple on my morning meanderings around town previously; it is a very pretty one. Even though I had already taken a few photos there, I felt compelled to take a few more.

Just down the block from the Wat was our breakfast stop: Kiet O Cha Restaurant (I think; the name was written in Thai). We had a hearty breakfast which is traditional in Thailand. One needs a full meal to give one energy to work hard until lunch. Breakfast consisted of chicken broth, khao man gai (two types of chicken, one roasted and served with a spicy sauce and the other boiled and served with sweet chili sauce), rice (of course), and pork satay with peanut sauce. Suffice it to say that none of us left hungry.

Though we may not have been hungry, that did not stop us from having “dessert” – sticky rice with your choice of toppings. I decided to be brave and try the durian sticky rice. It was surprisingly tasty! Durian smells like dirty feet and is not allowed in hotel rooms because of its pungent odor. The flavor was sweet, like any tropical fruit.

We climbed in the back of a songthaew (literally means two (song) benches (thaew)), or rod Daeng (red car), the preferred method for getting around town for many locals. Sawadee kha from Chiang Mai! For a mere 30 baht (less than 90 cents), songthaews will take you anywhere in the old city and its surrounding area. Songthaews are red pickup trucks with two benches in the back. There are also yellow, white, and blue songthaews that take people to the greater Chiang Mai area and surrounding communities. Our songthaew took us to an ancient temple: Wat Chiang Man (meaning city temple strong). Our guide referred to it as the belly button temple and explained that the chedi with elephants is in the Lanna style. The sleeping place of the three kings was supposedly under the chedi. This temple is over 700 years old.

While there, we learned that the area surrounding is filled with rice fields and used to be part of Burma (now Myanmar). Thailand is the only SE Asian country that has not been under colonial rule; Thai means free. We were shown a cannonball tree (I think you can figure out why). It is known as the tree of Buddhism here. It is thought that the Lord Buddha will appear under one of these trees. If you clap by the tree and a flower falls, it is thought to be lucky. Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country, though animism is also practiced. Animists wrap tree trunks (using solid color scarves), though some of the trees are wrapped in colorful printed fabric just because it looks pretty.

We were able to enter this temple, though I had to don a sarong because I was wearing capri pants, so my ankles were not covered. The reason that women are not allowed in many temples in Thailand is that in the past, a king had died, and his queen ruled Thailand until their son was old enough to take over. During her reign, an earthquake hit and destroyed much of the city. Blame the woman, right? The temple itself had a history of the area painted on its walls. Our guide took us around and explained each panel.

By now, it had been over an hour since we had last eaten, so obviously, it was time for lunch! Unfortunately, I neglected to record the name of the restaurant, but it is known for being one of the original khao soi places in Chiang Mai. Naturally, the khao soi was quite delicious. It was spicy and served with all the traditional toppings.

Before continuing our food journey, we visited our final temple. I neglected to record its name, but nearby are a Sikh temple, a Muslim temple, and a Christian church. The school inside represented the year of the dog. Different temples represent different animals in the zodiac.

We walked to a small food stand that sold tapioca balls with fried garlic. We ate them in two different styles; one round and one shaped like a ravioli. Both were yummy. It was definitely something that I would not have tried on my own, due to not having any idea what it was I was eating!

Our final stop was the Wararot Market. Clayton and I have been there many times so it was not that interesting to me, but Zorro and Yakob (the couple on the tour) were fascinated. She wanted to go shopping for hilltribe wares for souvenirs; I was able to point her in the correct direction. Before our little group broke up, we stopped for cold drinks. Zorro and Yakob opted for a half coffee/half tea concoction; I went with the traditional Thai iced milk tea. We were also offered mango sticky rice at our final stop, but by then, we were all so full that we opted to take it to-go. For me, it ended up being dinner.

I walked back to our apartment (only a mile or so) and was happy I had brought the remnants of my iced tea to help stay cool. I loved this tour and highly recommend it. The only thing that was at all disappointing is that I had expected to eat more street food, rather than restaurant food, but I believe that the evening tour would have more street food included since many food stalls don’t open until dinner time.