“Pad Thai is overrated. Locals don’t love it. Only foreigners do,” says my newfound friend Man, who was born and raised in Thailand’s second biggest city, Chiang Mai.
As a foreigner, I was quite stomped to hear that. “In the northern part of Thailand, everything is different,” he continues. “You’re in for a surprise.”
During my first night, I scoured the streets near my apartment looking for pad thai as I remember having seen lots of it in Bangkok when I first visited in 2012. But Chiang Mai seems to steer away from it. Here, rows and rows of mini food carts offering meat on skewered sticks, roasted chicken, pork rice meals, freshly sliced fruits in cold containers, and a brightly lit green and red signage of 711 stores could be seen almost everywhere.
One day, I stumbledupon an eatery nestled in the middle of a neighborhood area between Chomdoi and Nimman. I almost stepped out, with my hands facing the floor, because I don’t know what to order with the lack of an English menu. But my feet stayed for a while, poking at me, asking to give it a try. Then popped a picture menu with Thai and English letterings. It’s destiny.
I looked at the menu and saw Khao Soi and remembered what Man told me.
He recommends this dish called Khao Soi, a noodle made with deep-fried and boiled noodles swimming in a broth of coconut curry soup, shallots, squid ball, and your choice of meat from pork, beef, or seafood. Adjust the flavor as needed, with a squeeze of lime, a bit of roasted chilli, and some sugar served condiments on the side. Just one sip of this and you’ll fall from your seat as this is one heavenly cheap goodness in a bowl. Just 40 Baht! Aroi mak mak!!! 😋✨
The broth is glorious: fragrant but subtle, rich but not oily, and the perfect balance between spicy, sour and sweet. Whoever thought this complexity of flavors in one sip would be delicious is mad because the flavors will haunt you.
Thai words you need to learn:
- pet mak (very spicy)
- pet noi (medium spicy)
- mai pet (not spicy)
I can’t help but agree with your friend. To be honest, pad thai is rather overrated — even here in the Philippines. You’d find it as a mainstay in most Thai joints here!
Oddly enough, that also contributed to the rise in popularity of Khao Khai Chicken House — which serves Isan (northern Thai) cuisine. No pad thai in the menu, but it has lesser-known picks such as that Khao Soi and the Pad Krapao.
Well after Chiang Mai, yes I agree it’s quite overrated. I guess that’s what Bangkok does to you. Oh and how I love Pad Krapao! I eat it everyday in Chiang Mai and Pai. When I got back in Manila, I cook it often as I love its simplicity. It’s often a delight to see it being offered in restaurants here in Manila.
Do you have a recommendation on your favorite Thai restos in the metro?
Well, I’d nominate Easy Tiger, Jatujak and Tamarind — which are all under one restaurant group.
There’s also Khao Khai Chicken House which I mentioned above, and good thing it opened a branch near me. Its Gai Tod (Thai Fried Chicken) and Chicken Pad Krapao are best-sellers!