It was unfortunate that it took as long as it did for Siri Wattana (Tanin) Market to come come on my radar. I was still enthralled by the markets at Chang Phuak and Chiang Mai Gate the first time I made that left turn off the 107. Not to say these markets are bad, they are far from it. But Tanin Market was what I originally pictured when I envisioned a Thai market. Narrow walkways packed on either side with new to me and tantalizing meals, English far from earshot, and busy locals going about their day the best they can. You won’t find any white boys wearing elephant pants here, and if you do be sure to help them find their way to the nearest 7/11.
Tanin Market is maybe the best all around market for locals. That’s to say there really isn’t any specialization here. Raw meats and seafood, fruits and veggies, preserved eggs and olives, pre cooked and bagged meals, even an almost separate clothes market can all be found in the same complex. All of which are at prices that locals are willing to pay.
The market itself is divided into a few different sections. Coming from the road, first you have the vegetable vendors, generally selling in quantities conducive to home use. All the classics are here and you’d be able to make 95 percent of all Thai dishes with a small perusal.
Off to the side is an enclosed room where the nightmares of vegans are born. Wall to wall protein from all the beast of the land and creatures of the sea. The variety of cuts on offer here is in the same league as Gat Muang Mai, but without the rays from the sun beating down on you. If you’re looking for any cut of meat, large or small, there is a good chance they have it here.
Next to the meat shack is a number of khao gaeng vendors ladling an assortment of precooked curries, laabs, stir frys, and soups into little plastic bags before sealing them much too tightly with a rubber band (I get you don’t want it to open accidentally, but I think 10 twists is enough, okay?). This is the real reason why I come here. The number of giant silver bowls and pots number well over a hundred. There are also quite a few harder to find and “more local” dishes on offer here than your run of the mill market of khao gaeng stall. The best stall of which is actually not in this grouping but the only one in the adjoining section of the market.
Venturing a little further you will find uniform rows with foods of all sort proudly displayed. This is where you’ll find all the ready to eat meat on offer. This is also where the items that may not fall into any single category can be found: salty crunch snacks, deep fried curry puffs, pounding pots of som tam, Nam prik near by muu kep, and various drinks. Off to the sides of the market that meets the incoming and outgoing street is where they keep the fruit.
The food court is on the other side of the parking area in a stand-alone rectangular “building”. This is a great spot if you’re in the area and want some variety to choose from. Or maybe more apt for this kind of place, a spot to eat before shopping – as dinner will still be some time away. I typically don’t eat here when coming to Siri Wattana, as I much prefer the take away khao gaeng inside, but the few times I have eaten here I was left impressed.
Surrounding the food court is a number of shops that sell mostly clothes, but have other general needs items as well: bags, small electronics, etc. This is one of the better places to get good cheap clothes that are inline with the fashion preferences of the people who live in Chiang Mai.
Things Not to Miss
Navigating such a packed market can be a little tough. You may not be familiar with what’s on offer, or not know where to start in general. So here are some of my favorite things to get here, as well as some things that are harder to find outside this place.
I’ve talked before about khao gaeng in previous posts. So I’ll save you that whole spiel about Grandma cooking, the over the topness of American health codes (and how they don’t apply here), food made with love, yadda yadda. But if you come here, and have a home to eat at later, the khao gaeng is what you want.
There are a good half dozen or so vendors slinging this type of food, and they usually have over a dozen offerings each. For me, the best of the lot is the one furthest from the others in the “aisle” section. These two ladies really know what they’re doing and the amount of business they get attests to that.
My suggestion is just let your eyes do the work. If it looks like you’ll like it, you more than likely will, but of I might suggest one thin in particular it would be the Hor mok pla krai. This is a fish curry, steamed in a banana leaf, and topped with coconut cream. The texture is similar to steamed eggs and it has a very intense kaffir lime flavor. Great for anyone who wants to eat more fish, but isn’t all that big a fan of the taste of fish. Honestly anyone would like this dish.
Nam Prik Noom and Kaep Moo
Name Prik Noom is a Northern Thai classic. So much so that it’s a common gift to bring back to Bangkok when making a trip to Chiang Mai, not unlike sai ua. Consisting of pan roasted green peppers and shallots, it has a certain Babaganoush vibe to it. Usually eaten with sticky rice, Keap Moo (crispy pork skin), or crunchy veggies, it’s a great addition to any meal.
I love these things so much I’ve already done A STAND ALONE POST about them, and the ones they fry up at Tanin are a big reason why. They are just absurdly flaky and perfectly greasy (the white piece of paper they’re wrapped in can attest to that). Usually filled with minced chicken, taro, mashed potatoes, or my personal favorite sweet yellow bean, it’s a delightful contrast of textures. Be careful, they retain heat like a Yeti thermos.
Jin Som aka Naem
Uncooked sour pork doesn’t sound all that appealing, let alone a market highlight. However, anyone who’s had this slightly squeaky pink mush will tell you otherwise. It really is a favorite of mine, especially when cooked in a banana leaf alongside an egg. Great drinking food and infinitely better if you trade notes with a spicy pepper.
Kai Jeow Cha Om
You’ve more than likely had kai jeow (Thai style omelette) before. Whether it was filled with, the most common of parings, minced pork or a selection from a spread of precut veggies in their own little trays, kai jeow is always good (if you don’t mind levels of grease this high). The lesser available version, kai jeow cha om might be my favorite though.
Cha om is a thorny green plant that has a rather unpleasant smell. It’s leaves however have a more subtlety pungent smell that all but goes away with a quick fry. It is a member of the acacia family and lends this dish a nice earthy flavor. Commonly eaten with Nam prik gapi (shrimp paste dip) or even gaeng som, it makes me feel as if its origins are Southern Thai. I’m unsure of whether or not that’s true, but they do it justice at Tanin Market.
Grilled and Fried Fish
There are a number of grilled meat stalls that offer an assortment of things that you won’t find at the super market back home. These are usually whai I go for. Chief among them being the catfish. The Thai variety of which is a far shot from what the good ‘ol boys are noodling south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The Thai catfish is longer and a good deal more thin than the American variety. The meat is a bit dark and mimics the texture of chicken about as well as any fish could.
I also enjoy any of the other deep fried fish here. With three slashes and devoid of any batter, this is my preferred method of frying seafood. They are also usually the cheapest sources of omega-3 you’re likely to find in Chiang Mai.
Near the back corner of the market, next to the curry puff stall, is a vendor that has a large selection of chips, nuts, and other crunchy tidbits. Towards the left you will find large puffy waffer looking things. These are starchy concoctions with a fishy flavor. Not for everyone, but they give a nice textural contrast to a bowl of jok or any random Thai soup.
What I do think is for everyone would have to be the kaffir lime peanuts. It’s essentially a two part snack mix where you only eat the peanuts. But just like in a bowl of Tom Yum the leaves are there to add flavor, not substance.
Tam Som O
Kitty corner from the chip vendor, you’ll hear the unmistakable sound of clay pestles banging against their corresponding mortar. While they do many varieties here I tend to get Tam Som O. It’s main ingredient being pomelo and having your usuall “dressing” of fish sauce, lime juice, chilies, and garlic. However, Tam Som O is also typically made with Naam Buu. The description of which will not make you want to eat it, so I’ll just say it’s name in English is “Crab Water” and leave it at that. If you’re not feeling adventurous, or if you don’t much like black and bitter substances you can ask for it to be left out.
I really can’t suggest making a trip here enough. It’s the best all around market for anyone really interested in authentic and hard to find Thai food. It’s more of a spot for locals than travelers, but anyone can find something they’re gunna love here.
Price: Fair and on the cheap side
Open: 06:00-20:00 Everyday
The Good Stuff Chiang Mai