Food From The North Of Thailand


Cuisine From The North Of Thailand

In the North of Thailand the cuisine has its own various flavours and influences that are different to other regions of Thailand. The Northern region is called Phak Nua and the cuisine is known as ”ahaan nua” literally Northern food.

When we talk about the North, we are talking about such places as Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Saen, Lampang, Lamphun and the lower North being Sukhothai.

Vegetables are a major contributor to the Northern Thai diet as being of a slightly cooler temperature, it makes for very good vegetable cultivation.

A popular curry of the North is a dish called ”Gang Hanglay” and its a curry that actually contains no coconut milk at all and more often than not is cooked with pork meat.Containing no coconut milk is certainly unlike the curries from the Southern region. Gang Hangley is actually a product of the Burmese and was introduced to Thailand in the late 19th century with the influx of Burmese immigrants coming to Chiang Mai to work in the teak industry.

Northern Cuisine at a Khan Toke event

Besides the goodness of home-grown vegetables the northern region is renowned for the use of its natural roots and herbs. Just to read some of the ingredients in the recipe for Gang Hangley, puts you in better health straight away. Gang hanglay comprises of chilli, garlic, shallots, galangal, turmeric and lemon grass the complete package of goodness. Nowadays there are a number of Gang Hanglay recipes doing the rounds as each expert chef seems to have their own specific formula. There was a recipe for ”Gang Hanglay” doing the rounds from the west, which suggested a sitting of 4 people. This was heartily laughed at by the Thais who said why on earth would you cook ”Gang Hanglay” for less than 20 people. They like a good event to celebrate in the north.

It is now time to give you a rough guide to a few of the very popular dishes from the North of Thailand.

First of all the northern folk prefer sticky rice over the normal white rice and it is eaten with the hands.

On the curry front we have already had a look at ”Gang Hanglay”, which incidentally is a popular choice at weddings and funerals in the north and as suggested before, with pork being the choice meat. Apparently the killing of a pig suggests wealth and status.

 Two other curries often used in the north are to us in the west more from a dessert nature in sounding. This is where the similarity ends as they are both curries and fairly watery type curries at that. The first one is ” Gang Yuak”  banana palm heart curry and the second one is ” Gang Kha Nun” jackfruit curry. The northern curries are thinner than the curries in the south due to there being no coconut milk in them.

The setting for a Khan Toke evening

Khao Sawy noodles; Delicious flat egg noodles with chicken or beef, a dish the north is renowned for and if you are going to Chiang Mai, then make sure you have some. There are a number of fine ”Khao Sawy noodle stops and outlets in Chiang Mai, which I shall give the run down on in later posts.

The northern Thais are also famous for their sausages and the most popular is a sausage called ” Sai ua” 

Sai ua is regularly requested by Thais that are visiting from other regions and foreigners that know about the tasty treat. The formula to make the sausage involves a paste of kaffir lime peel, shallots, garlic, lemon grass and dried chillies blended with pork and fried to produce a delicious tasting sausage. Probably if there is such a thing, the most healthiest sausage I have heard of.

There are essentially three chilli pastes which are typically northern, but I cannot go into them all now, but have picked out mine and many people’s favourite ”Nam Phrik Awng”.  This is totally delicious and consists of pork, dried red chillies, tomatoes, lemon grass, shallots, that is pounded together and cooked . Northern Thais will usually have raw vegetables to accompany the paste, hence the paste becomes a dip. 

One of the cultural performances on a Khan Toke evening

Aside from the famous Khao Sawy noodles, ” wun sen”  the Chinese mung bean starch noodles seem to be popular in the north of Thailand as is  ”Phat wun sen ” a stir fried noodle dish with fermented sausage and egg.

It is amazing in Thailand that where ever you go various district restaurants seem to specialise in their own dishes. Just like Cornwall in England is the home of the Cornish pasty and up north you get the meat and potato pie, various Thai districts seem to have their own specialities as well. In Laplae, Utaradit the special of the day and most days is ” Mii pan” a mix of thin rice noodles, bean sprouts, coriander leaves in rice paper.

Yes, the North is a real mixture of food influences from Vietnam, Lao, Burma, Yunnanese and Shan. The north of Thailand is home to some very tasty dishes and with the emphasis heavily on herbs and vegetables a very healthy diet also.

Now its your turn to ” Thai dance”


Khantoke or Khan Toke as it perhaps should be written, bearing in mind it is two different words with different meanings. A Khan is a small serving bowl, whilst a toke is a footed table or tray and this merely represents the way in which the meal is served.

Very briefly Khan Toke is based around a meal, where diners sit on the floor around a low table eating delicious northern dishes. The dishes are served to the table on small plates and small bowls, whilst the diners eat and then watch cultural performances. Whilst it is true that northern folk used to entertain this way for family meals and in fact some still do, it was not until 1953 that the first performance was organised.

The first heard of khan toke performance was organised by a gentleman named professor Kraisi Nimanhaemin. It is said that the professor hosted the event in the honour of two friends who were leaving Chiang Mai, namely US consol George Whitney and a Chiang Mai magistrate. An agenda of fine northern dishes, music and dance was planned and he sent out invites encouraging people to dress as ”Khon Muang” basically meaning Chiang Mai natives.

Not many left now.

The Chiang Mai natives as such were not over pleased with the promoting of these events of which he did on a few other occasions, before it finally became a cultural show piece in 1972 at the Chiang Mai Cultural center. It has since been a part of many tourists itinerary when visiting Chiang Mai, but it is far too touristy now for me.

Anyway the dishes are delicious, the performances are good and the music is traditional and that’s a big part of the northern and Lanna  culture. So best to set aside the touristy part of it and just enjoy northern hospitality.

Dishes you can expect to eat at a khan toke performance include Gang Hanglay (Pork curry), Nam Prik awn and Nam prik nom chill paste dips , Mee Grop (crunchy noodles), Steamed vegetables, pork crackling, sticky rice and steamed rice.

 The dishes will be accompanied by cultural dances. The cultural dances are from the surrounding hill tribes like Hmong, Lahu, Yao, Lisu, Akha and others. The dances include the Fingernail dance, Sword dance and the circle dance. The circle dance is where the performers will come and pull you out on to the stage, so you can  give your rendition of a Thai dancer. Now at this point you can go up and give your best impersonation of a foreigner with the skill and grace of an Ox, or quickly disappear to the bar and buy another drink. I’ll see you at the bar, basically my impersonation of a chicken.

By the way before animal lovers write to me pointing out that the Ox does have skill and grace, I was referring to the art of Thai dancing only. Which they are not that good at. Other than that, a fine animal.

You can still do khan toke at the Chiang Mai Cultural Center at 

Recent Events

Recent Thai Gourmet events have seen parties at the home of all Somerset venues. First was the event of Tim Scull who went for the ”chef’s special menu”. The Chef’s Special Menu consisted of the usual popular starters accompanied by some very tasty main dishes. Amongst the main dishes were (Nua Phat Nam Man Hoy) which is tender beef in oyster sauce with seasonal vegetables, (Moo Thot Gratiam Prik Thai) pork with straw mushrooms in white pepper, Thai herbs and garlic. Further dishes of King prawns with a chilli sauce dip and (Gai Phat King) fried chicken with fresh ginger and spring onions. It was a real nice family gathering of grandparents, children and friends and a lovely evening.

Tim Scull, family and friends

The next location saw Thai Gourmet heading for Lower Hook Hill another fantastic venue offered by sleeps12, to do a hen night this time. The lady organising the event Sarah Bird chose the popular menu B a firm favourite of the sleeps12 clients. Once again a fine evening was had. Dishes here included the popular starters of Chicken Satay, Spring Rolls and the delicious ”som tam” green papaya salad. The main courses were varied and plenty, but the favoured (Gang Khiaw Wan Gai) Thai green chicken curry and the other firm favourite of (Phat Thai Gung) Phat Thai noodles this time with prawns were amongst them. Matters were finished off with a dessert of (Khao Niaw Gap Mamuang) sticky rice with mango slices. After the Thai banquet the ladies then went on to learn how to make cocktails from a local firm who had arrived and set up. Why not book yourself a lovely treat and stay in one of the beautiful properties of sleeps12.

Sarah Bird hen night event

A lovely get-together in Yeovil,  for the 30th wedding anniversary of Roger &  Mandy Wharton.  A real nice family occasion complimented with the addition of the Taylor Made Choice menu, a menu to grace any occasion. The dishes included a fine array of the popular starters, but the main course included ”Gang Sapparot Gap Gai”  Chicken & Pineapple curry, Gai ”Phat Khing” Chicken with fresh ginger, ”Pla rad Prik” Salmon cooked in a chilli sauce, ”Talay Thai” a superb seafood platter plus Phat Thai noodles, King Prawns and grilled chicken.

Everyone was delighted with the meal and we had a charming note from Roger who said;

”The dust has settled after our glorious evening. I just needed to write to say how much we enjoyed the evening thanks to your wonderful cuisine, excellently prepared and served. So much so that we are looking for an excuse to ask you to come and see us again.” Thank you again. Sincerely,Roger


Roger & Mandy Wharton  Wedding Anniversary

Thai Gourmet catered for a fabulous birthday party in Ilminster for Philippa Vickery arranged by her mum Avril Vickery at the end of August. Dishes included Chicken Satay, spicy mushrooms cooked in a garlic sauce, green chicken curry and Phat Thai. The family had spent time in Thailand before, so there was plenty to talk about. This was the second occasion that Thai Gourmet had visited the home of Avril.

Philippa Vickery Birthday Party

Special Offer:

Thai Gourmet premier Thai Caterers in the south-west of England can put together a full Northern menu served in Khan Toke fashion for those who would like. Just send Thai Gourmet an e-mail expressing your interest in a khan Toke evening and we will put together a special evening for you, including Northern music on cd. With the master chef skills of Khun Lek and the experience of our Chiang Rai born sous chef it is not a problem.


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