I've spent the last couple weeks upcountry, first in Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, then on a long drive along the west bank of the Mekong River all the back to Bangkok. While in Chiang Mai I really wanted to stop by a place that I'd eaten at years before, a late-night joint selling a variety of deep-fried meats and northern-style naam phrik or chili-based 'dips'.
The place, which doesn't even open until about 11pm, is known among some as midnight naam phrik num, although I don't think it officially has a name. The image above doesn't even begin to describe it. The oil used to deep-fry virtually everything they serve is black and sludgelike--I reckon it hadn't been changed in several days, at least. The dining section of the restaurant alters between dark and intensely florescent-lit, and is the favourite haunt of a family selling flower garlands. Despite all this, the place is something of a Chiang Mai legend, and if you can temporarily put aside fears of carcinogens, avoid eye contact the horribly messy, oil-splattered 'kitchen', and prepare yourself for the gloomy atmosphere, the food here is actually pretty tasty.
Although the emphasis appears to be on deep-frying, the real deal here are the dips, of which there are two kinds: nam phrik num, made from grilled green chilies pounded up with grilled garlic and shallots:
and another called nam phrik taa daeng ('red-eye chili paste), made from dried red chilies. The former, pictured above, is one of the better versions I've had of this dish, and was spicy but balanced, with delicious tiny cloves of tender garlic. The latter employed a strong shrimp paste and had a sweet flavour, resulting in a flavour not unlike the dressing used to top the Malay/Indonesian dish rojak. Both dips are served with a small plate of par-boiled and pickled veggies for dipping, and your choice of meats. These range from sai ua, the famous northern Thai herb-filled sausage (grilled, mercifully), to vast chunks of deep-fried pork fat. No, that's not a typo. And yes, it's actually pretty good, especially with the nam phrik num. All the meats are deep-fried once, presumably in the previously-mentioned vat of sludge. When you order something, they deep-fry it again in a smaller and slightly less black pot of oil until hot and crispy. I also had an interesting dish of naaem, raw fermented pork sausage, combined with an egg, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled.
The restaurant is located approximately two blocks south of the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel. If you ask about for the midnight naam phrik num you'll inevitably be pointed in the right direction.