Thanin market has long been a place where locals shop. What’s attracting global gourmands to this Chiang Mai market? Discover delicious dishes and bizaare food finds.

The early morning mist turned to drizzle as we drove pass past lush forests and rural communities to Thanin market. Kad Thanin as the locals call it, is about a half hour drive from the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai.

Bursting with vibrant colours and heavy with exotic aromas – Thanin market is one of the city’s oldest marketplaces.

Situated on the south gate of Old Chiang Mai city, Thanin is also known by its former name, Siri Wattana.

Global EAT - Why Thanin Market Is for Gourmet Window Shoppers and Serious Foodies
Thanin market: A place where locals shop and eat. Apparel and shoes are also available for sale. Vendors barely speak English. A Thai-speaking guide is recommended. (Nikao Media)

Rich and Diverse Cuisine

Local shoppers source for the day’s freshest ingredients while curious tourists explore the fascinating foodscape.

From condiments, fresh produce to meats, snacks and prepared foods, Thanin reflects the ethnic diversity of Chiang Mai.

The cornocopia of foods reveal strong Burmese, Loatian and Yunnanese influence.
Global EAT - Why Thanin Market Is for Gourmet Window Shoppers and Serious Foodies
Inside the banana blossom are baby bananas. The flower is rich in vitamin E and flavonoids, dietary fibers, proteins and unsaturated fatty acids. It’s purported to be good home remedy to support women’s health, assist with weight loss and diabetes.(Nikao Media)

Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest province is agriculturally and culturally rich. Chiang Mai city, the provincial capital is northern Thailand’s largest metropolis populated by over 200,000 people.

It is the ancient capital of the once powerful and culturally prosperous Lanna Kingdom.

Chiang Mai city received the 2017 Travel and Leisure World’s Best Awards recently for Asia’s top best city to visit.

Our first stop, the dry goods stall selling fish sauce (nam pla), a key flavouring ingredient in Thai cuisine.

“Fish sauce tastes salty and is made from fermented anchovies,” explained PJ, the resort culinary expert. The amber-coloured liquid adds umami-richness to mundane dishes.

Global EAT - Why Thanin Market Is for Gourmet Window Shoppers and Serious Foodies
Fish sauce – Thai food is not the same without fish sauce. The condiment is liken to soy sauce in Chinese cooking. (Nikao Media)

“Vegetarians and non-fish sauce fans can substitute it with soy sauce. Another common Thai condiment is oyster sauce, which is use a lot in stir-fries.

Mushroom sauce can replace oyster sauce for shellfish allergic individuals or vegetarians.”

Meat stalls sell everything from pork, chicken, beef to offals and seafood. Free-range chicken are turmeric-coloured to distinguish them from the regular poultry.

Unique Chiang Mai Dishes

Dried fish, squid and preserved vegetables laid next to trays of pink, white and brown eggs.

We call it ‘horse pee’ eggs…

The pink colour differentiates the regular eggs from the century eggs, said PJ. Pink eggs are duck eggs cured in charcoal, mud or clay for 15 days to one month.

Global EAT - Why Thanin Market Is for Gourmet Window Shoppers and Serious Foodies
Century egg or pink egg is a Chinese delicacy. Like blue cheese, it’s an acquired taste, and has a strong, savory and earthy flavour. (Nikao Media)

“We call it ‘horse pee’ eggs, and its best eaten with pickled ginger or fry with hot basil,” said PJ cracking an egg to reveal the black, gelatinous albumen.

Thais eat lots of curries, PJ laughed, gesturing her hand to mounds of freshly-grounded red, green and yellow paste.

Chiang Mai’s signature dishes include Khao Soy, noodles in yellow curry – and Sai ua, grilled herb-and-spice-infused pork sausage.

Global EAT - Why Thanin Market Is for Gourmet Window Shoppers and Serious Foodies
PJ pointing to the popular Hung Lay curry, a Northern Thai curry dish of turmeric marinated pork. (Nikao Media)

Miang kham, a healthy leaf-wrapped snack meal is shared with family or friends. The betel (thonglang) leaf is fold into a cone, and fill with roasted coconut, shallots, bird-eye chillis, ginger, garlic, lime peel, chopped peanuts and dried shrimp.

Most Thai restaurants around the world offer northern Thai papaya salad on their menus. This refreshing appetizer of shredded green papaya with chillies, herbs, vegetables, lime juice, peanuts and other Thai ingredients is a must-try.

Global EAT - Why Thanin Market Is for Gourmet Window Shoppers and Serious Foodies
Khao Lam –A Northern Thai dessert, the sweet glutinous white or black rice is mixed with black beans, coconut milk, sugar, salt, then poured into a bamboo tube for grilling. (Nikao Media)

An array of tempting desserts awaits the sweet tooth: mango sticky rice and grilled black rice served on banana leaf.

Exotic Eats for the Adventurous

The prepared food stalls feature exotic eats including spicy whole frog soup, deep-fried water buffalo stomach, and larb Lu. Larb Lu is a raw dish of minced pork or beef mixed with animal blood, kidney, fat and bile – seasoned with spices and herbs.

Global EAT - Why Thanin Market Is for Gourmet Window Shoppers and Serious Foodies
The bamboo worm is the larvae of the grass moth. Known to Thais as non mai phai, its body is made of 26% protein and 51% fat. This delicacy is enjoyed deep-fried or flavoured with herbs, spices or condiments. (Nikao Media)

Food items tightly packed on shelves may seem strange to Western eyes but a treat to those who appreciate its flavours. There’s crunchy deep-fried bamboo worms that resemble spiral chips- with a taste liken to French fries.

Beetles, crickets, and shrimp-like tasting grasshoppers are popular munchies.

Bugs are gastronomic delights especially among Northern Thais

In northern Thailand, even pets eat well. At one stall, a vendor chops up deep-fried chicken’s neck and head for sale as gourmet dog treats.

Global EAT - Why Thanin Market Is for Gourmet Window Shoppers and Serious Foodies
Chilli, the spice of life in Thailand. It’s a core ingredient in virtually every Thai dish. (Nikao Media)

No Chilli, No Cooking

Fresh vegetables, seasonal fruits, aromatic herbs and spices arrive at the market daily from the heartland of Chiang Mai.

Chillis, basils, lemongrass, mints and coriander roots, vie for prime counter spots. There’s even Thai ginseng added to curries for aphrodisiac effects.

Perhaps, the most indispensable Thai ingredient is chillies. “No chillies, no cooking ,” says PJ holding a fistful of bird eye chillies in her hand. Virtually every Thai dish has a dose of the fiery spice to excite the taste buds.

Global EAT - Why Thanin Market Is for Gourmet Window Shoppers and Serious Foodies
Snake fruit or salak is the fruit of the Arecaceae palm – sweet, slightly tangy in taste and a little crunchy in texture. Monkeys love them. (Nikao Media)

Related: Terraces Restaurant: Each Bite Is a Treat for the Discerning Epicurean

June is fruiting season in Thailand. Shoppers haggle with vendors over prices on the market fringe crammed with candy-tasting durian, mangosteen, mango, jackfruit and different tropical fruits. One of Thailand’s top exports is fresh fruits.

There is so much to see and explore at the market. The delicious foods would have gourmands salivating.

Our hour and a half tour of Thanin market was up. We had to return to the resort for the Rim Tai Kitchen cooking class, a program I look forward to since my arrival at the resort.