Anthony Bourdain described his affinity for Chiang Mai as a 30-year love affair that started with a mushroom. Mind you, not the mind-altering kind but a rare ingredient served in an herby curry broth with savory pork ribs. He loved the food and the place so much that he featured Chiang Mai in 2003 for the second season of his first show on the Food Network, A Cook’s Tour—and again in 2014, for the third season of his CNN show, Parts Unknown.
As a well-respected writer, chef, restaurateur, and TV host, Anthony Bourdain developed a following of foodies and backpackers eager to follow his footsteps and inspired to view the world in a more humble perspective. In every country he visits, he had a kind of Oprah-effect on almost every hole-in-the-wall food spot with legions of fans descending and sampling what he ate. With his untimely death, however, fans were left with a gapping hole no amount of other travel and foodie vlogs can fill.
Avid fans wanting to reminisce and experience Chiang Mai from the eyes (and taste buds) of Anthony Bourdain can follow his food trail through the city. To keep the travel costs down, stay at a centrally located Chiang Mai accommodation (ที่พักเชียงใหม่), and rent a motorbike for the day.
Here’s a list of the Chiang Mai restaurants, food stalls, and market featured on both shows.
A Cook’s Tour Food Spots
Aroon Rai Restaurant
45 Kotchasarn Rd, Chang Khlan Sub-district
With a sign touting to serve the best curry in Chiang Mai, diners’ expectations are immediately set high. According to Bourdain though, the place certainly delivers, with every dish he tried passing his standards even if the food presentation is left wanting.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Tha Pae and Chang Klang Road Intersection
With a plethora of food stalls displaying signs that are all in Thai script, you would probably end up not liking everything that you order like Bourdain, and that’s perfectly fine. While he did like the banana roti or banana pancake in this bazaar, you should definitely explore this market for more food finds of your own.
Huen Phen Restaurant
112 Ratchamanka Rd, Tambon Phra Sing
Bourdain ordered the much-recommended Thai Papaya Salad here, but the restaurant is actually famous for their Khao Soi noodle soup. Lunch and diner times can be busy with the restaurant serving a variety of Northern Thai cuisines. Another interesting fact, Huen Phen converts to a canteen-style eatery during the day and then transforms into a romantic restaurant by night.
Rot Nueng Noodle Shop
Charoen Prathet Road
Bourdain finished the show by proving an urban legend that Tuktuk drivers (or taxi drivers for that matter) know the best places to eat in town. His tuktuk driver took him to the Rot Nueng Noodle Shop where they all ordered the specialty of the house, which was the egg noodle soup with wanton.
Parts Unknown Food Spots
32 Moo 3, T. On-Klang
You would have to be one of the bravest foodie around to try what Bourdain tried here—raw pig’s blood soup or simply, Lou. He and his guest also had grilled pig tails, brains, and pork sausages that are the specialty of the region.
Laap Kao Cham Cha
Behind Prince Royal College, Rattanakosin Road, T. Wat Gate
This restaurant is one of only a few places that serve some of the specialty dishes of Northern Thailand. One of the notable dishes Anthony Bourdain and Andy Ricker tried is the Larb, a spicy dish made with ground meats and herbs.
Khao Kha Muu a.k.a. the Cowboy Hat Lady
Night Market, Chang Pueak Gate, T. Chang Pueak
The Cowboy Hat Lady is probably the most memorable character in this Chiang Mai episode. Specializing in Khao Kha Muu or Stewed Pork Leg, she’s arguably the most popular street food vendor in town, especially with Chinese tourists. Having a cameo in Anthony Bourdain’s show only increased her popularity with many foodies and vloggers featuring her food stall on their social media posts.
Anthony Bourdain left not just a trail of restaurants and food spots for his fans to try but a trail of possibilities for everyone he inspired to travel and go beyond their comfort zones. What’s more, he believed in the value of food bringing people from opposing sides together and the beauty of unpretentious meals.