Written while sitting at a nightly, pop-up restaurant on a sidewalk, next to a busy road.
Something I’ve noticed about Chiang Mai (maybe Thailand in general), is the night food scene. New York may have mastered the $1 slice of pizza available until dawn, but in Chiang Mai you can get a whole plate of Pad Thai. Food is cheap here, and available everywhere, at all hours.
These pop-up restaurants and food stalls start setting up as the sun goes down. The darker the sky gets, the busier the food stalls. Sidewalks and parking lots become make-shift food courts. It’s hard to walk down the street without being confronted by the smells and sounds of dinner being served. They spill into the street and insist that traffic goes around them. In New York I used to stop at the pizza place or Chinese restaurant near the subway station, or order delivery to my apartment, but in Chiang Mai, people go to these pop-up restaurants. They eat dinner outside, as they watch the traffic go by. The markets are popular with people of all ages. They attract locals, expats, and tourists alike. Our differences melt away as we wait for our meals.
You’ll find all sorts of Thai food here. All of the well-known dishes are available: Pad Thai, fried rice, noodles of varying types, mango sticky rice, steam buns, fruit smoothies, and mysterious skewers of what looks like meatballs (those seem to be really popular).
I can’t bring myself to try the mysterious skewers of “meat” though. It always looks fake to me. I have flashbacks to a weird meal in a French castle. We asked 3 times and got 3 different answers about what kind of meat it was.
At one of the markets I often frequent, it’s like the sidewalk was designed for this nightly market. The sidewalk is extremely wide, plenty of space for food stalls, tables, and chairs. It’s a mini city of food. It’s impressive, the complex Thai dishes that are cooked in such limited spaces. I guess that’s what food truck chefs do too, but these food vendors were doing it before it was cool.
One of the more popular food stalls at this market is run by a woman in a cowgirl hat. It seems to be her signature look. She achieved some international celebrity when Anthony Bourdain visited her when he came to Chiang Mai on his show. I’d say she’s earned her fame. The food she serves is delicious! As far as I can tell, the only option on the menu is stewed pork. You can also get intestines. The woman in the cowgirl hat wields a meat cleaver and cuts up portions as they are ordered. For 30 baht, or less than $1 USD, you’ll get some tender, tasty pork served over rice with a soft boiled egg and some pickled greens. That’s right, a whole meal for less than a dollar! And it’s a good meal!
With delicious, traditional, cheap food sold on almost every street corner, why would you ever buy 7-Eleven sandwiches?