As the second largest city in Thailand, it’s no surprise that Anthony Bourdain felt pulled to visit during his travels. While we can’t deny that Tony was a city guy, he also understood that big cities in different parts of a country would have vastly different foods. Compared with more southerly Bangkok, Chiang Mai gives travelers more perspective on the diversity of Thai cuisine and culture – two things Tony always did a great job of showing us.
Anthony Bourdain visited Chiang Mai twice, to film season 2 (episode 10) of A Cook’s Tour and to film season 3 (episode 7) of Parts Unknown. These were his only two on-screen visits to Chiang Mai, and offer perspective: on Tony’s style, his maturity as a traveler, and how the world changed in the first decade of the 21st century.
If you’re planning a trip to Chiang Mai, let Uncle Tony be your guide. In this post, you’ll find a list of all the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Chiang Mai, as well as what he ate at each one. Don’t forget that northern and southern Thai food are quite different – so a dish you may have tried elsewhere is well worth trying again at one of these spots. Let’s dig in!
A Cook’s Tour (2002)
Anthony Bourdain’s travels in Thailand begin early in his career; his 2002 visit is a return to Southeast Asia that gives him a chance to explore Chiang Mai and Bangkok, as well as other areas like Singapore and Hanoi.
Unsurprisingly, Tony loves this part of the region too: “There’s absolutely nothing bland about Northern Thai Food with its unflinching use of fiery hot chilis in just about everything you eat.”
Aroon Rai Restaurant
Right off the plane, Anthony Bourdain goes to the very popular Aroon Rai which locals claim is a place “where everything is supposed to be good.”
As is the case with nearly every Northern Thai dish, a heaping pile of rice is served with a side of Nam Prik, which is a sort of dipping paste accompaniment of mashed fried chilis, shrimp paste, tomato, and spices that bring the heat level up to a “bowl of screaming hot goodness.” The sticky, aromatic rice on the side is there to cool your mouth down if the Nam Prik is a bit too much.
Next, Tony tries a pan-friend Mackerel and a deceptive-looking fresh salad that turns out to be just as spicy as the Nam Prik, as most things in Chiang Mai are.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Bourdain next finds himself at a seemingly endless amount of street vendors at this historic Bazaar on the hunt for dessert. There is a lot to choose from so Tony tries a few things: a caramelized banana soaked in syrup, an unknown fish and olive mix cooked in a banana leaf, and then finally stops at The Best Banaroti, which serves up a banana-egg crepe with condensed milk and sugar on top.
Jok Sompet Restaurant
For breakfast, Tony finds himself on a short walk from his hotel to the Jok Sompet Restaurant. The specialty here is Jok, a classic Thai meal that is comprised of thick rice porridge, runny egg, pork parts, coconut milk, ginger, and scallion.
Directly outside of Jok Sompet is a street vendor that Bourdain decides to stop by that serves a sweet coconut cream and “some sort of gelatinized vegetable matter.” An early dessert, but an altogether tasty one.
Napa Saekou’s Guest House
In the mood for a homecooked meal, Bourdain stops by a local’s house, Napa Saekou, to have her prepare a meal after a quick trip to the market. Napa grabs some eggplant, sky-pointing chili, sweet basil, mouse-dropping chilis or birds-eye chilis, galangal (which is a ginger variation), and shallots. Napa ends up preparing some Gaeng Keow Wan, which is a coconut-based green curry with chicken as well as Tom Yum Goong which is a Thai hot and sour soup with prawns.
Tony cannot stop thinking about sausages from street vendors so he ventures on from Napa’s delicious meal and makes his way to his next destination.
A common sausage in Chiang Mai is called Sai Ua which is an herbal pork sausage stuffed with galangal and lemongrass.
Arriving at a village about 60 miles North of Chiang Mai, Bourdain next finds a gathering where he partakes in some “Buri Shio” which is locally grown tobacco rolled up in a banana leaf. After this, he joins some of the elderly’s of the village to try some Miang which is a fermented tea leaf that is wrapped around a chunk of salt and popped in your mouth to chew, and Anthony later learns, not to swallow.
After the food is prepared, Anthony joins the locals for a Khantoke dinner which is a celebration where dinner is eaten while sitting on floor mats and sharing communal dishes. Sticky rice being the only utensils needed, they enjoy a plethora of water buffalo dishes, which includes spicy buffalo tartar with some tripe mixed in. Aside from all the buffalo dishes, there is chicken soup, various Nam Prik, some local Mangosteen (an exotic fruit), and fried pork rinds.
Huen Phen Restaurant
Anthony Bourdain comes back to the city to try the Papaya salad that has been recommended to him by so many of his colleagues. Huen Pen serves a ton of different Northern Thai dishes, but Tony sticks to his guns and gets the papaya salad. Prepared with julienned green papaya, various chilis, peanuts, and dried shrimp it’s a salad that looks refreshing but is misleadingly spicy.
Rot Nueng Noodle Shop
After asking his TukTuk driver for a noodle recommendation, Bourdain and his driver stop at Rot Nueng which is apparently the go-to noodle spot for TukTuk drivers. After an order of fish noodles with wonton, Tony asks for advice on how to spice his noodles up. The answer? With a side of hot chutney, fish sauce, and pepper.
After seeing what his driver ordered, Tony decides to try the same thing, a glass noodle soup with wonton, fishballs, sausage, and plenty of chili sauce to heat it up.
Parts Unknown (2014)
Twelve years later, Anthony Bourdain returned to Chiang Mai as part of filming Parts Unknown. Enough time has passed that the world has changed – and his worldview along with it. As such, he has very different experiences.
Chiang Mai Farm
First up, Anthony Bourdain dines with the local Chiang Mai farmers and good friend and chef, Andy Ricker. Ricker is a renowned Thai chef that flies back and forth from the States to Chiang Mai and Thailand so he can keep his knowledge of Thai Cuisine current and fresh.
For breakfast, Anthony and Andy have some of the farmers have made: Thai rice whiskey alongside a plate of Nam Prik Goong, a pork dish that’s served with chili paste (of course), garlic, shallot, freshly made shrimp paste, and tomatoes. Instead of using a fork or spoon with this dish, Thai dishes like this are accompanied by sticky rice that can be used to scoop and soak everything up.
After the Nam Prik, Tony eats a plate of fried fish, specifically Nile tilapia/carp. It’s left with the skin on, salted to all hell, and then deep-fried.
“In this part of the world, you live and die by the harvest.”Anthony Bourdain
May Yon Village/Him Tang
Starting off with a shot of Lao Kho, Tony and Andy eat at a restaurant in the “middle of nowhere” called Hin Tang. Andy orders some Grilled Pig Tail, which is exactly what it sounds like as well as an order of Sai Ua, which is a Northern Thai pork sausage.
Much to Anthony’s dismay, Andy decides to add on an order of Pig Brain. They take the brain, mix it with a curry paste and some local herbs, throw it into a banana leaf, and cooked over an open flame. If the pig brains weren’t enough, Andy finishes their course with an order of Luu, which is just a bowl of raw blood, uncooked. The Luu is soaked with lemongrass so it loses its gamey flavor of the raw blood, after that they add chopped larb, which is a minced meat salad, then on top is a generous scoop of deep-fried pig innards for texture.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a guy who loved “the nasty bits,” Anthony ended up loving both the Luu as well as the cooked pig brains.
Larb Gouchung Cha
Next, Bourdain and Ricker visit Larb Gouchung Cha, a restaurant mainly known for its Larb/minced meat salad. They decide to try the deep-fried frog which is first salted and grilled, then chopped super small and flash-fried with tons of garlic. After the frog, they of course have to try the larb. This minced meat salad is garnished with parts of cow stomach.
TukTuk Bar Crawl
On the first stop of their bar crawl, Tony and Andy stop at a roadside Karaoke bar where Andy orders a side of French Fries, claiming it is one of the most commonly ordered side dishes at most Thai bars along with a few shots of SangSom Rum.
At the next bar, Bourdain eats some pork chin and intestines served with a side of spicy dipping sauce and cucumber slices for dipping. After a few shots of Chinese Liquor that Tony likens to the taste of “boner medicine,” they move on to their next destination.
Cowboy Hat Woman Vendor
By the old city’s north gate, a woman donning a cowboy hat stands out from the rest of the street vendors on Sri Poom Street. Andy calls this the best Khao Ka Moo, slowly stewed pork leg, in all of Thailand. She slowly stews the pork in a huge pot of Chinese Master Sauce, hacks it up, and serves it on a bed of sticky rice and a topping of sour chili sauce and some pickled mustard greens on the side.
Continuing on their TukTuk ride, the two chefs stop at a vendor to try some Nam Prik Tua Daeng, which is a combination of chilis, garlic, shrimp paste, and fried fish. They also take an order of the Midnight Nam Prik Num which consists of roasted and pounded green chilis, shallots, garlic, lime juice, and shrimp paste. After these appetizers, Andy and Tony go for the classic fried chicken and one of Anthony’s favorites, the herbal Thai Pork Sausage which he also tried years back on A Cook’s Tour.
Pad Kee Mao, otherwise known as “Drunken Noodles” except that, there aren’t any noodles and instead, it is a dish that’s cooked with rice, pork, and various chilis that are both fresh on top and cooked and stir-fried on the bottom.
Khao Soi Lam Duan
After Andy’s and Tony’s long night out of drinking, eating, and TukTuk adventuring, Bourdain looks to sober up the next morning with a Thai Iced Coffee and a hearty bowl of Khao Soi which consists of a curry broth base, coconut milk, noodles, and spices.
Not yet fully satisfied, he then orders a spicy papaya salad also known as Som Tham, which is a simple and fresh papaya salad loaded with Thai chili, lime, onion, and varying garnishes depending on where you order from.
Pa Daeng Jin Tup
Bourdain and Ricker round out their trip to Chiang Mai with a visit to Jin Tup, a roadside restaurant that specializes in hammered meats that are pounded to a sort of thin, ropey texture and grilled to perfection. They are served with different nam priks, Thai dipping sauces that are made with, of course, chilis, and some region-specific Thai spices and herbs.
They finish out their meal with a dish called Tom Yam Kap, a sour and spicy buffalo tendon soup that is spiked with a little bit of stomach bile and garnished with cilantro and chilis.
Chiang Mai Food Tours to Try
Looking for even more foods to try in Chiang Mai? Food tours are a great option, and there are some fabulous food tours in Chiang Mai that will take you to the markets and farms to show off the best of northern Thai food.
Have any questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Chiang Mai or the foods he tried? Let me know in the comments below!