Northern Thai food differs significantly from that of other regions of Thailand and has strong Burmese influences. Compared to North-Eastern (Isaan) cuisine, known for its generous use of chilli and spice, Northern Thai cuisine is comparatively mellow.
Northern Thai food is traditionally served on a Khan Toke (small round table), which diners gather around to share the meal. A preference for sticky, glutinous rice, over regular white rice eaten in other parts of Thailand, is characteristic here. The rice is rolled into balls and used to soak up dips and sauces, such as green mango dip with seafood; fish and fresh vegetables (nam prik ma-muang); peanut sauce (nam jim satay); pickled fish dipping sauce (nam prik pla-raa); and the very common Northern-style chilli-dip served with dried shredded pork and freshly cooked vegetables (nam pla prik). Seasoned minced meat and a fragrant salad traditionally accompany the sauces and rice.
Popular Northern Thai dishes include: kaeng hang le (pork curry with ginger, tamarind and turmeric); khao soi (noodles with coconut cream, pickled cabbage and beef); and kaeng ho (kaeng hang le refried with glass noodles, kaffir lime leaves lemongrass and bamboo shoots).
A wider variety of meats, like water buffalo, are available in the region and are thus used in cooking. Freshwater fish and crustaceans have traditionally been a key source of protein and are often used – dried or fermented – for flavour and texture.
Garlic, ginger, tamarind and turmeric are used extensively in Northern Thai cooking, as are fresh coriander, mint and Thai basil, which are usually added towards the end of cooking.