The Food of Mae Hong Son

I spent last week in Mae Hong Son province, by far my favorite place in Thailand. Mae Hong Son borders Myanmar (Burma) in the far northwest of the country, and is extremely mountainous and remote. The province is home many Shan or Thai Yai, a group of people who are today mostly found in Myanmar, but who are actually of the same ethno-linguistic group as the Thai. The Thai Yai have had a large influence on the cuisine of Mae Hong Son, which is a combination of Shan and northern Thai cooking. Mae Hong Son is certainly not a culinary destination, but the food is unlike anywhere else in Thailand, and Mae Hong Son is probably my favorite province to eat in. The staple food of most northern Thais is khao niaow, sticky rice, which in Mae Hong Son is dished up "to go" in bai tong tueng, the leaf of a type of teak tree:

One of the most famous northern Thai dishes is a curry-and-noodle dish called khao soi. The true origin of the dish is unknown, but it is thought to be a Shan dish brought to northern Thailand from Myanmar by Muslim traders, and is today available in virtually every town in Mae Hong Son:

Shan food is similar to Burmese in that it relies on thick, oily curries and some dried spices, in particular turmeric. An important Shan staple is tomatoes, especially the tiny, sour ones known as makhuea som:

These tomatoes are used in a northern style chili paste of Shan origin known as nam phrik ong. The chili paste is served with veggies and deep-fried pork crackling, and resembles a thick spaghetti sauce:

Another staple of Mae Hong Son is thua nao, disks of dried and compressed soybeans, used much the same way as shrimp paste is in the rest of Thailand :

Northern Thai food relies on a great deal of vegetables, probably more than with other Thai regional cuisines. A very common vegetable is phak kaat jor, often used in stews:

The northern Thai love for veggies extends to some unusual ingredients, such as the flowers below, called dok khaan, and seen in the evening market in Pai:

and which were evident in the yam below:

Veggies are so important to northern Thai cooking that at fresh markets they are sold pre-cut and portioned for use in curries, such as the ingredients for kaeng om:

and the ingredients for kaeng khanun, a curry of young jackfruit:

Simply buy or make the appropriate curry paste, some meat, and add these and the veggies to boiling water, and you have a curry!
Northern people also like grilled foods, such as aep, curry paste and meat, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled:

And finally, a pic of the evening market in front of the Burmese-style temple of the city of Mae Hong Son:

This is just an appetizer. In the coming days I'll share the deliciousness by making a few Mae Hong Son/northern Thai dishes.