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In Singapore

Restaurant 1: Tamarind Hill Singapore (by Villa Samadhi Singapore)

A sign pointing to where the restaurant is located.

Address 1: 30 Labrador Villa Road, Singapore 119189

Tamarind Hill Singapore is a restaurant within a historic colonial bungalow. It is located at the heart of the Labrador Nature Reserve, a 2-minute walk away from the 5-star hotel, Villa Samadhi Singapore. The restaurant is surrounded by Labrador Nature Reserve’s captivating beauty. Its idyllic ambience and well-decorated building (1856 British army building) creates a unique environment for diners’ to dine.

Tamarind Hill Singapore has a good reputation on TripAdvisor (a reliable travel and restaurant review website) where they have rated as 4 stars based on 341 reviews. Hence, they were awarded the “Certificate of Excellence” by TripAdvisor. It is best to book the restaurant in advance to get a table.

The interior of Tamarind Hill Singapore.

Tamarind Hill Singapore mainly focuses on Thai and Shan (Burmese) cuisines. This can be seen in the lunch menu in the appendix. They have different categories of food that they serve, namely appetizers, noodle & rice and soup.

Some well-known dishes they serve that originate from the northern Thai cuisine are Khow Soy Kai (or Khao Soi, a curry egg noodle), Sai Aue (or Sai Oua, a grilled herb sausage) and Nam Prik Ong (red/green chili dip with a tomato-based paste mixed with ground pork). These Northern Thai dishes (also known as Lanna food) are influenced by countries such as Burma and China, due to the countries nearby the geographic location.

Other dishes they have on their menu that originate from places other than Northern Thai are Sago Nam Kra Thai (sago with honeydew), Lab Pha Salmon (salmon cube salad tossed in spices) and Gai Yang Tah Khai (roasted chicken with garlic and lemongrass).

Tamarind Hill Singapore is not your average Thai restaurant in Singapore with the food prices, the authenticity of food served and location-wise. However, the unique experience of being able to dine in the Labrador Nature Reserve and eating authentic Northern Thai dishes will surely satisfy diners.

Khao Soi, as served by Tamarind Hill Singapore.
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In Chiang Mai

Restaurant 1: Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant (Chiang Mai)

Address 1: Ratchapruek Rd, Tambon Nong Kwai, Amphoe Hang Dong, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50230, Thailand

Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant.

Described as an “imaginary jungle”, Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant has 2 outlets in Thailand, one situated in Mae Sot District and another in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai. The Khaomao-Khaofang restaurant in Chiang Mai is surrounded by graceful waterfalls and a variety of blooming flowers and greenery which offers diners a unique experience of “dining in the rainforest”. Finding the restaurant may be tricky as it is not located near tourist areas; getting your own transportation is recommended.

It is best to book a reservation to avoid disappointment if you are unable to get a table as the restaurant is quite well-known among locals and will definitely get crowded.

Awarded the Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor, there is a reason why diners chose to dine here when they come to Chiang Mai. They certainly enjoy not only the experience at the restaurant but also the authentic Thai cuisine that they serve. Though not the most affordable in terms of food prices, the unique experience makes up for it.

Diners can choose to eat a wide variety of Thai, regional and authentic seasonal dishes or they can choose to eat other cuisines such as the western cuisine. Some categories of dishes that they have are ‘salads’, ‘fried rice & noodles’, ‘curry’, ‘catfish’, ‘desserts’ and of course the ‘Northern Thai dishes’. Under these categories are the different dishes they have.

Dishes that are considered a staple and special to Chiang Mai are the famous Sai Ua (grilled sausage), Laab Kua (spicy pan-fried minced meat salad), Nam Prik Ong (chili dip) with vegetables and Kaeng Hang Le (northern-Thai sweet curry) and Khaomao-Khaofang restaurant serve these dishes at their restaurant.

All in all, if people were to visit Chiang Mai and don’t mind spending a little bit more money on Northern Thai dishes and wants to have a unique ‘dining in the rainforest’ experience, Khaomao-Khaofang restaurant is the place to dine.

Menu Excerpt from Khaomao-Kaofang Restaurant.
Northern Thai Spicy Minced Pork Salad from Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant.

Restaurant 2: Huen Muan Jai Restaurant

Address 2: 24 Ratchaphuek Alley, Tambon Chang Phueak, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand

Huen Muan Jai restaurant, located in Ratchaphruek Road in Chiang Mai, is the place for diners who want to have the taste of authentic Northern Thailand cuisine (also known as Lanna food).

Even though the local restaurant does not have much information about it available online, they are known to have many good reviews on platforms such as TripAdvisor, FourSquare and Google Reviews. On average, they are rated as a 4.2 – 4.5 star restaurant based on 100-800 reviews based on the platforms mentioned above.

Situated in an old-style wooden deckhouse and furnished with wooden furniture, it is often described by diners as homey and cozy while dining here. Finding the restaurant is quite easy as it is not too far away from the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar (around 15 mins drive). Do take note that the waiting time might be long if diners come after 5 p.m.

The restaurant serves such a wide variety of dishes from the Northern Thai cuisine that diners can choose from. Other than serving the popular Northern Thai dishes such as Khao Soi and Soi Aua, they do serve Lanna dishes such as Gaeng Pla-Chon (spicy soup with fish Northern Style), Kab Moo (deep fried pork rind), Tam Khanun (spicy pounded raw jackfruit salad) and many more. Below are some pictures that are taken by a diner who posted on TripAdvisor. Diners still go for Gaeng Hang Lay (Northern pork curry) and it is one of the more popular dishes.

The local Lanna food experience here in the Huen Muan Jai restaurant is the reason why it is so well-known and loved by diners. It is definitely a must-go restaurant when tourists visit Chiang Mai.

Huen Muan Jai Restaurant
Huen Muan Jai Restaurant
Menu of Huen Muan Jai Restaurant
Menu of Huen Muan Jai Restaurant

Modern Interpretation

Restaurant 1: Rosy Cheeks

Address 1: 52/2 Village No.8 Soi 4, Soi Wat Umong, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

The first restaurant with a modern interpretation would be Rosy Cheeks. Rosy Cheeks is a decently priced restaurant which offers a variety of healthy food made from clean, organic ingredients and paired with amazing sauces and flavors. There has been a growing trend of eating vegan and this restaurant has dishes that are mostly vegetarian-friendly and also has vegan options.

Rosy Cheeks has been awarded TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence as many customers who visited are extremely satisfied with the quality of the food prepared.

Rosy Cheeks serves vegetarian options such as the Papaya Padthai, Tamarind Leaf Salad and Tea Leaf Salad. At the same time, the restaurant does not neglect meat lovers as they also provide dishes containing meat such as the Yellow Curry Chicken, Atlantic Salmon Fillet and Brown Rice Salad with Grilled Chicken Skewers.

Menu Excerpt from Rosy Cheeks.
Rosy-Cheeks Salad from Rosy Cheeks.

Brown Rice Salad with Grilled Chicken Skewer from Rosy Cheeks.
Papaya Pad Thai from Rosy Cheeks
Tamarind Leaf Salad from Rosy Cheeks.

Restaurant 2: Maximato Thai Fusion Cuisines

Address 2: 135/75 Moo 12 Ban Rongruea Kham Soi 16, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand

Image may contain: people sitting, table and indoor
Maximato Thai Fusion Cuisines Restaurant

The second restaurant with modern interpretation would be Maximato Thai Fusion Cuisines. This is a restaurant which offers an intimate dining experience and makes people feel as if they are at home. It is also a fine dining restaurant with reasonable costs which serves authentic Thai food and unusual fusion dishes. The dishes served do not contain MSG and make most of their dishes from scratch.

Maximato has been awarded with the Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor, which shows that the customers who dined at this restaurant has had a great experience and recommended those traveling to Chiang Mai to dine at this restaurant.

Grilled New Zealand Rib-eye & Crushed Cucumber Salad from Maximato Thai Fusion Cuisines
Green Curry with Pork Crackling from Maximato Thai Fusion Cuisines.
Penne Stir-fried with Spicy Sausage from Maximato Thai Fusion Cuisines.

Even though they do not have a menu, they had posted images of what dishes they serve. They have an album dedicated to their signature dishes such as the Green Curry with Pork Crackling and Penne Stir-fried with Spicy Sausage. Penne Stir-fried with Spicy Sausage is an Italian-Thai fusion dish, with Spicy sausage being one of Chiang Mai’s specialties. The Grilled New Zealand Rib-eye and Crushed Cucumber Salad would be another example of fusion dish served as it contains the New Zealand Rib-eye and the Crushed Cucumber Salad which is one of the salads that Thailand is famous for.

Food Festival and Food Market

Food Festival

In Chiang Mai, there is an annual Chiang Mai Food Festival that is held at the Chiang Mai Airport Plaza. It is organized by the Chiang Mai restaurant club.

The Chiang Mai Food Festival is an event for where many different Thai foods (for instance Northern food and cuisines) are put on sale for people to enjoy.

Not only are there food and cuisines for everyone to enjoy, but also other attractions such as performances from invited artists, live music and food demonstration too.

A poster promoting Chiang Mai’s annual Food Festival in 2018

Food Market

Wararot Market.

The chosen traditional food market in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is the well known Warorot Market also known as ‘Kad Luang’ by the locals as the other half is Talad Ton Lam Yai market. It is one of the historical landmarks in Chiang Mai. It is known for its wide range of famous Chiang Mai food.

In addition, it is the longest standing market in Chiang Mai. The Warorot market is located at Chiang Moi Road, close to the River Ping in the north of Chiang Mai’s night bazaar. The indoor market is open from 9AM-6PM but there are outdoor evening food vendors that will open from 6PM-10PM or later.  

The 3-storey building was first built in the 1900s. It not only sells food but other items as well. These include souvenirs, cosmetics products, clothes and many other varieties of goods. The market sells traditional and famous food such as Nam Prik Ong and Khao Soi.  

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.

Since Warorot Market is located near the north of Chiang Mai’s night bazaar, it is a plus point for both locals and travelers who enjoy food. Both places have local snacks and ready-to-eat meals for them to enjoy. Therefore, it was stated that the Warorot Market is a place where travelers can have first-hand experience into local life.

Recently, the market has also added a mixture of different cultures such as Chinese, Muslim, Indian and Western to their products. This may also be due to the boat trading activities in the past between Chiang Mai and Bangkok.

Exclusive Food Products

1. Sai Oua

ไส้อั่ว

Sai Oua sold at street markets.

Sai Oua is a grilled Thai sausage, usually sold at street markets in coils roughly around 5 inches long. If sold in restaurants, it is normally sold with Nam Prik Ong as a dip.

‘Sai’ means intestine while ‘oua’ means to stuff or to fill. Though it is traditionally stuffed using pork intestine, Thais found that using pork shoulder tastes just as good.

Ingredients include turmeric, garlic, shallots, galangal, lemongrass, dried chilies, coriander root, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and curry powder. As for presentation in restaurants, mint leaves are sometimes placed on the side of the plate to add color.

Thai Mango Chutney

2. Thai Mango Chutney

Thai Mango Chutney is a jam produced using mangoes from the Uraiwan Farm in Chiang Mai by Little Spoon. The mangoes from the Uraiwan Farm are very sweet, and hence the Thai Mango Chutney’s sugar content is low, with slightly more vinegar added into it.

According to Little Spoon themselves, the Thai Mango Chutney goes perfectly with cheese and meat. It can also be eaten by itself.

Little Spoon promises that there are no preservatives or artificial flavorings added. It can be bought in certain malls in Chiang Mai such as Tops Market Airport Plaza, or in restaurants like 137 Pillars House.

Unique flavours of chocolate produced by Siamaya Chocolate.

3. Thai Milk Tea milk chocolate

Thai Milk Tea milk chocolate from Siamaya Chocolate is made using cocoa beans farmed from Chiang Mai Valley. After farming cocoa beans and creating milk chocolate, Siamaya Chocolate adds a Thai Tea extract into the mix to give it a flavor beloved by Thais. Besides cocoa beans, the chocolate also used cane sugar, organic sunflower lecithin and cocoa mass. The chocolate is made within their chocolate factory in Chiang Mai.

No additional preservatives or flavor is added into the chocolate. Its packaging is created by local artists in Chiang Mai, who collaborated with Siamaya Chocolate to support one another.

The Thai Milk Tea chocolate is sold in the official Siamaya Chocolate shop in Chiang Mai, as well as in different restaurants, cafes and bakeries all over Thailand, such as Food4Thought.

Notable Beverages

  1. Blossom Weizen by Chiang Mai Beer

The Bavarian Hefeweiss beer, inspired by the fine summer evenings of Northern Thailand, has a balanced scent of bananas, floral touches as well as clove.

Having a slightly sweet and citrusy taste, the Blossom Weizen beer was awarded in the 2017 World Beer Awards as a country winner.

The 5% beer uses raw fang wheat, cultivated in Chiang Mai, as one of the ingredients.

A 330ml beer bottle of Blossom Weizen.
Chiang Mai Blossom Weizen.

2. Angel’s Espresso by Paradise Mountain Organic Coffee

Paradise Mountain Organic Coffee spans over 200 acres and is the only Thai coffee farm certified as bird-friendly by the Smithsonian. Paradise Mountain Organic Farm can be found high above sea level in the Northern Chiang Mai.

Angel’s Espresso is a rich organic espresso that has a rare combination of six origin beans that make the coffee richer and smoother. It is slightly sweet with wine undertones and also contains dry mocha.

As the company itself says, this coffee is meant to be taken on its own, so as to really savor the taste.

A pack of Angel’s Espresso coffee, as sold by Paradise Mountain Organic Coffee.

3. Lanna Green by Monsoon Tea

Lanna Green by Monsoon Tea.
Lanna Green tea packet.

Monsoon Tea is a company that produces sustainable tea from Northern Thailand and specializes in wild and free tea.

One of their products, Lanna Green, is a green tea that has a malty flavor that is very balanced with a woody undertone.

The tea originates from Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai, and the leaves of this tea come from the Camellia Sinensis Assamica plant, which is indigenous to the Thai highlands.

Lanna Green tea leaves.

Notable Dishes

  1. Khao Soi

ข้าวซอย

Khao Soi is a noodle dish served in coconut curry. It is also likened to Malaysian dishes Laksa or Mee Rebus.

Ohn No Khao Swe, the Burmese version of Khao Soi.

Khao Soi has been influenced by Burma and India through their shared borders, and as such cooking methods were passed down via immigrants. Indian influences are seen through Khao Soi’s use of curry in meals, whereas Burmese influences are seen when comparing Khao Soi to Ohn No Khao Swè which is also a noodle dish served in coconut curry.

However, the differences between Khao Soi and Ohn No Khao Swè is the garnishing and the color of the curry. Khao Soi’s curry is more orange topped with egg garnish while Ohn No Khao Swè’s curry is more yellow topped with a half-boiled egg.

Spice levels are usually customisable.

Nam Prik Ong.

2. Nam Prik Ong

น้ำพริกอ่อง

Nam Prik Ong is a chili paste made using ground pork, tomato and fresh vegetables. It is usually served as a side dish together with rice, pork, lettuce wraps and more. The way to eat Nam Prik Ong is by dipping meat or rice in the chili paste. In Thai culture, double-dipping is not unusual. It reflects the Thai’s family-centered values.

In Chiang Mai, it is known as the Northern Thailand version of Nam Prik, which is a general term used to describe chili sauces. While Nam Prik uses roasted chilies, shallots, garlic, lime juice and either fish or shrimp paste, Nam Prik Ong uses dried chilies, ground pork and tomatoes.

Traditional Mookata.

3. Mookata

หมูกระทะ

Mookata, which is traditionally known as ‘mu kratha’, is a charcoal Thai-style barbeque. In Thai, ‘mu’ means pig while ‘kata’ means pan or skillet, which directly translates to pig on a skillet. It is a combination of the widely-famous Korean BBQ as well as the highly-recognized Chinese Hot Pot.

Though there are many different stories of its origin, the most well-known one states that the meal came from desperation mixed with the creativity of Korean soldiers during the Korean War, who when they found raw dog meat, cooked it on their heated steel helmets. Thus, the half-spherical shape of the Mookata grill came about. Combining their love for meats as well as their love for Japan’s Sukiyaki (which is similar to the Chinese Steamboat), Mookata today includes a moat surrounding the grill to be used for soup and gravy.

Typically, Mookata comes as a buffet at cheap prices, thus attracting the younger crowd. Another thing that attracts young people to Mookata is the idea of cooking the dish yourself. Unlike most barbeque restaurants, Mookata allows customers to grill the meat themselves to their own liking.

Development (Past to Present)

Chiang Mai’s cuisine is influenced by its neighboring countries such as Myanmar and China, ever since many decades ago. This is due to trade routes, immigration as well as globalization. These said influences come in the use of herbs and spices, such as curry leaves or coriander seeds. Other influences come in the form of kitchenware used, such as the traditional steel wok used for frying.

Communal eating, important in the customs of Thailand.

Chiang Mai’s cuisine has changed a lot since the past. These days, much of their food has many different international influences. The use of cheese in what was once traditional chili paste (known as Nam Prik Ong) is just one of the examples of international influences in traditional Chiang Mai food of today. Nowadays, many people have also decided to pair red wine with Thai Beef Salad, claiming that it is a good culinary pairing for two different palettes. Tannins in the red wine melt the fats in the beef, producing even more flavor than usual when paired together.

One of the things that has never changed about Chiang Mai’s cuisine is the way food is being eaten; communally. Thais have always believed in eating and enjoying meals as a family – a trait also shared by its neighbors.

Differences

Northern

Northern Thailand, which is the area bordered by Burma in the west and Laos in the east, has always had a strong regional identity that is distinctively different from Southern and Central Thailand.

Hills in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The cooler climate of the hills means that many types of European fruit grow well there, so peaches, apples and strawberries are commonly found growing alongside lychees.

Northern Thai curries do not use coconut milk as a result of their Burmese influences and hence, their curries taste fierier and are thinner in consistency as compared to Malaysian or Indian curries.

Generally speaking, the dishes in the North (known as Lanna or Isaan) tend to be salty and sour in taste with great depth of flavor. They are usually served with sticky rice and can be jazzed up with spicy green or red chili sauce. Although you won’t find much seafood in the North – due to the huge distance from the coast – you can try traditional meats like the spicy Sai Oua sausage found in Chiang Mai.

Southern

South Thailand, located in between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, is mainly known for their scenic beaches and islands. The region of South Thailand has an approximate area of 70,715 sq km and is home to 14 provinces such as Chumphon and Krabi.  They are surrounded by the sea and the mountains such as the Tanaosi mountains.

A map of Southern Thailand.

Southern Thailand is known to rain heavily throughout the year while being very humid at the same time. The general climate for Thailand is summer all year round with monsoon and rainy seasons.

Seafood and fish are the predominant features of Southern cuisine and are acceptable to all, both culturally and in regard to religion, with the advantage of two long coastlines, fresh fish and seafood are eaten in abundance.

Southern Thai curries and soups are often enriched by the addition of coconut milk or cream. Spices include turmeric and pepper and chilies.

Under Muslim influences, Southern Thai dishes use ghee and oil rather than coconut and use a larger range of fragrant spices including cardamom, cumin and cloves.

The use of ghee is extremely common in Southern Thailand.

Fish and seafood are often grilled and flavored with chilies and lime, roasted in a pot filled with sea salt, boiled in curries, stirred into salads or simply deep-fried. Outdoor vendors operated by Muslim Thais sell deep-fried fish and chicken, with packets of sticky rice and sweet chili sauce or a ladle full of fish sauce laced with fresh chilies.

Numerous seasonal vegetables are available year-round along with tropical fruits like mango and papaya which are served both ripe or unripe.

The Phuket Vegetarian Food Festival, also known as Nine Emperor Gods Festival, is a traditional festival that is celebrated by the Thai and Chinese communities.

An example of an act for the Phuket Vegetarian Festival.

The ceremony was brought into Thailand by a Chinese opera group in the 19th century. The purpose of the festival is to honor the gods and celebrate their existence. During the ceremony, there are fire walks, body piercings and many more daring and dangerous acts. The festival takes place in 6 Chinese temples in Phuket. Since it is a vegetarian festival, soybean and protein act as a substitute for meat.

Comparison

The North of Thailand is mountainous and more temperate than the rest of the country, with slightly cooler weather year-round. Its location near China and Burma has made the North a trading centre and a crossroads for culture and people like the Thai, Burmese, Chinese and many various hill tribes who all brought their own foods and cooking styles.

The South of Thailand, especially the islands, focus on fresh seafood with sweet, sour and spicy flavors. Most of these dishes are served with jasmine rice instead of sticky rice which is one way to know if you’re eating Southern Thai food. Many of the dishes and drinks also are fruity thanks to the abundance of delicious, fresh, tropical produce.