The secret to cooking authentic Thai food is to create a balance between its four pillars of flavour: sweet, sour, spicy and salty.
Food in the north is different to anywhere else in Thailand, and Chiang Mai is the best place to learn about this highly enjoyable cuisine. Burma and China have had a major influence, so the curries are a lot milder and you'll find lashings of ginger and turmeric throughout. Northerners don't put coconut cream in their curries, and they favour sticky rice known as kaao niao.
The signature dish of the north is undoubtedly khao soi, a mild yellow curry soup. It consists of a rich broth, filled with gai (chicken), soft thin noodles and topped with crunchy Chinese egg noodles that you crush into the soup. No Thai dish would be complete without a plate of condiments, and this one is usually served with spring onions, pickled cabbage and slices of zesty lime.
Some other popular dishes you'll come across are khanom chin nam ngiao (Thai rice vermicelli with spiced chicken curry), khao soi (curry soup with noodles), kanom jeen nam ngeow (spaghetti-like noodles served with fresh vegetables and a pork-tomato curry), khaep mu (pork rind) and nam prik on (a popular curry sauce made from ground pork, tomatoes and vegetables).
One of the best ways to enjoy your meal is in the traditional khan toke style. A khan toke meal consists of several small dishes served with sticky rice and presented on a round table. You eat with your right hand, scooping up a handful of sticky rice from the bamboo basket then dipping it into the curry or chilli paste before devouring.