World-renowned chef, author and Emmy-winning television personality Anthony Bourdain visits Thailand in the next episode of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," airing Sunday, June 1, at 9 p.m. ET. Follow the show on Twitter and Facebook.
In Thailand, a person might greet a friend with the phrase "kin khao reu yang?" to simply ask how things are going.
The more literal translation, however, is: "Have you eaten rice yet?"
"In this part of the world you live and die by the harvest," Anthony Bourdain says of Chiang Mai province's fertile fields and sticky-rice-filled tables.
In this week's episode of "Parts Unknown," Bourdain travels to the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai to eat, drink and sweat his way through every night market, roadside restaurant and karaoke bar he can handle in the country's second largest city.
"It was like discovering a color I never knew existed before," Bourdain recalls of his first trip to Thailand more than a decade ago.
The region's multi-dimensional flavor profile (simultaneously sweet, salty, spicy, bitter and herbaceous) is hard to replicate outside Northern Thailand due to the availability and hyper-locality of some ingredients, but one chef, Andy Ricker, has made it his mission to recreate the food stateside. He specializes in "the good stuff," Bourdain says - like the region's ubiquitous dish of khao soi, a coconut milk and curry paste noodle soup topped with a nest of fried noodles, lime wedges and cilantro.
Ricker is the chef and owner of the acclaimed Pok Pok family of restaurants in Portland, Oregon, and New York City. The name of the restaurant is an onomatopoeic ode to the sound the pestle makes when it pounds ingredients into pastes in a mortar.
Test out your own mortar and pestle skills with a variation of the chile paste naam phrik, preferably the Chiang Mai way, with motorbikes whizzing by and a ice-filled glass of beer close at hand.
Almost overnight, the city-state became the city du jour for new openings as Michelin stars-studded chefs, wannabe restaurateurs and imported cooking talents scrambled for space to house their dream restaurants.
The trend continues. Jamie Oliver just opened a 250-seat Italian eatery at Vivo City, his first in Asia. Mario Batali recently announced plans to open Carnevino, his third food and beverage concept in the city.
Big name chefs aside, the scene is equally buzzy for indie operators - new small plate eateries continue to grab the spotlight, unfazed by the incessant stream of French, Italian and Japanese openings.
Previously - Fall in love with Myanmar's food
Hungry for more from Burma? World-renowned chef, best-selling author and Emmy winning television personality Anthony Bourdain is the host of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," CNN's new showcase for coverage of food and travel. The series is shot entirely on location and premieres Sunday, April 14, at 9 p.m. ET.
Eating does not usually pose a challenge to me. I’m a food writer by trade, with the appetite of a dozen varsity shot putters combined. It’s my job to eat and to know about what I’m eating, but I was having a hard time in Myanmar.
The problem wasn’t that I found the food unappetizing - far from it. I’m smitten by the flavors of curries, chilies, shallots and seeds, all of which make frequent appearances in Myanmar's cooking. The issue was that I was completely overwhelmed. Standing streetside in an early-morning market on my first day in Yangon, surrounded by vendors hawking strange spices, fantastical vegetables and prehistoric-looking fish, I’d never felt more unfamiliar with a style of food in my life.
So I spent the next two weeks methodically eating my way across the country, prowling produce markets, following the crowds to skilled street vendors and talking to the ultra-friendly locals about everything edible. It was hardly long enough to understand to all of the complexities of the cuisine, but by the end, I’d learned enough to finally feel a tiny bit at home.
Whether you’re planning a trip of your own or just armchair traveling, here’s what you need to know about food in Myanmar.