by Catherine Bodry
(Chiang Mai, Thailand)
Chiang Mai is a market town: its most notable street market (for tourists) is the Night Bazaar, where clothing, souvenirs, food, and entertainment stretch for blocks. Saturday Walking Street, Sunday Walking Street, Wororot day market, the Friday night market outside Central Mall… the list seems endless.
But the Friday morning market, held in a small lot close to the north end of the Night Bazaar, is a real culinary treasure. An unassuming gathering, with vegetables displayed on tables and on the ground, the market has an obvious Burmese influence. It’s a great place to sample some Burmese and Shan specialties, while photographing the bright produce and some of the unique offerings (one woman bottled honey from a honeycomb that she set up on the ground).
You have plenty of belly-filling options at this market; here are some of the items we’ve sampled.
Tofu Nway – In Burmese, this simply means “warm tofu,” but this isn’t a tofu in the sense that most westerners are familiar with. It’s made of chickpea flour, a little salt and turmeric, and water, and then heated and stirred into a thick, smooth porridge. The soup is ladled into bowls, and then topped with ground toasted soy nuts, a bit of chili paste, some cilantro, and a bit of sesame oil. Savory and warming, it’s a wonderful winter dish.
Even better, once the paste cools it hardens into a firm Jell-O-like consistency. The vendor slices up the solid tofu to make what is similar to a Western pasta salad. The tofu gets tossed with oil and spices and is served as a cold dish.
Mohynga – This is a Burmese fish soup, made with thin rice noodles, lemongrass, banana stalks, onions, and eggs. Traditionally a breakfast dish, mohynga is spiced up with chili powder, cilantro, green onions, and a squeeze of lime. We bought some flat, crispy discs of ground yellow peas (dhal fritters), which we crumbled into the soup for texture.
Chickpea roti – Most backpackers are familiar with banana roti, that delicious crispy pancake filled with bananas and then topped with chocolate and sweetened condensed milk. The roti we sampled at the market was similar, but instead of bananas it was filled with a savory, salty hummus. Crisp on the outside, creamy within, and warm throughout, it was a perfect appetizer.
Samosas – I have friends who swear that the samosas at the Friday morning market are the best in town. You can smell them as you walk through the informal entrance, a blend of oil and curry.
This is by no means a complete list: you’ll also find sweet corn pancakes, traditional Thai coffee, and a whole host of other delights that you’ll have to discover yourself!
The market is open every Friday from around 8am until noon-ish. Arrive early to make sure nothing that you want is sold out, and bring your camera. The market is located at Charoen Prathet, soi 1.