When push comes to shove, northern Thai is probably my favourite regional Thai cuisine. Unfortunately, it’s also probably Thailand’s most elusive regional cuisine, and even up north, it can be hard to eat local food. There are quite a few restaurants selling laap and other similarly meaty dishes, but if you want the various dips, soups, salads and other northern Thai specialities, generally the only option is rather gentrified tourist restaurants, or if you’re lucky enough to have your own dishes and silverware, to-go bags from the local evening market.
That’s why I was so happy to come across Lung Phu and Paa Kaew, two adjacent roadside stalls in the northern Thai city of Mae Sai.
Lung Phu prepares more than dozen dishes, all of them northern, all with flavours that are closer to home cooking than restaurant food, and best of all, there’s seating.
I suspect Lung Phu is famous for his laap plaa, fish laap, because I and virtually every other diner had ordered a plate of it. The fish — grilled catfish, I think — is minced finely, and the dish looks more like a dip than a laap, but it’s tasty: meaty and with lots of dried spice flavour. I also had a tart, crunchy salad made from paper-thin slices of nor som, sour bamboo, and nam phrik num, fresh green chilies that, along with shallots and garlic, have been roasted and pounded into a stringy, spicy dip (the latter pictured at the top of this post).
Next door, Paa Kaew does northern-style grilled meats — pork teats (!), intestines, banana leaf packages of meat and herbs, and other similar good stuff — as well as a variety of northern-style nam phrik, chili-based dips:
Together, they represent virtually the entire spectrum of northern Thai food in one convenient location — at least if you’re in Mae Sai.
Lung Phu & Paa Kaew
Th Phahonyothin (across from Th Mueangdang), Mae Sai, Chiang Rai
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