So far, I haven’t had the best luck with street food unless it’s been a very detailed recommendation from a trusted source. Not that I’ve eaten anything unpleasant – just not life-alteringly wonderful. I’ve been waiting for that moment of foodie discovery, the chow hound’s Holy Grail of discovering a totally new and amazing source of deliciousness. It’s not as easy as it looks, here in a Thailand full of tourist traps, fruit shakes and ho hum pad thai. On my last day in Chiang Mai, I went for a walk on my own, across the river from the main city centre to check out a neighbourhood reputed to have quiet leafy streets. Yeah, right. Quiet and leafy in Thai terms translates to balancing on the 30 cm between main road and concrete wall as motorbikes and vans hurtle past you at a rate of knots. Maybe I never found the right turning and the pretty streets were hidden just a block away. There’s a lot in this city that you’ll never find unless someone takes you there. Either way, I had had enough and decided to make my way back to the hotel when, right on cue, I noticed something rather interesting going on across the street. I couldn’t tell what the women working at several stations facing the street were doing but my foodie spidey sense was prickling and I had to go check it out. Each bright white cooking station consisted of a steamer pot covered tightly in muslin, on which the women were pouring rice batter and expertly shaping it into crepe rounds. Next, they spooned small globs of a very interesting looking mixture on top, then rapidly cut and folded the flat rice noodles into little ravioli parcels.

I had to know more. Luckily the guy who seemed to be in charge of the operation was amenable to photography, insisting I photograph the woman pictured on top. He kept telling me how beautiful she is, so I’m assuming she’s his wife. Either that, or she isn’t his wife and that’s why the other lady looks so grumpy…

I was dying to taste these super fresh, just filled noodles, but traumatically, I didn’t have the right change. I had 15 baht or a 1000 baht note, and the noodles were 20 baht. It’s an ongoing problem here as the notes the ATM gives you are regarded by most vendors as insanely large, kind of like attempting to pay for a coke with a £100 note. But as soon as you break one, this supposedly huge amount of cash vanishes rapidly, 40 baht here for a coffee, 100 baht there for a taxi ride. I think Thailand is a bit like Target: for a western tourist everything seems incredibly cheap so you keep picking up little things, but at the end of they day you’ve spent £75 and you have no idea how. Anyway, he wouldn’t give me a smaller portion for my 15 baht so I had to go look for someone to make change, vowing to return.

Just down the street was a sign that looked like a general store but transpired to be a cafe. Ok, I thought, I can sit here over a coke for a little while. Little did I know how the travel gods were smiling on me. It turned out to be a cat cafe, with several kittehs prowling around the place looking for customers to adore them. One couple were vaguely trying to type on a laptop while this adorable fluffball rolled around on the keyboard. I sat down only to get a marmalade cat immediately by my side. He curled himself into a ball and thunked by my side, demanding to be petted. Cold coke, warm fur, a lovely view of the river, and free wifi? Surely it was all a fevered dream…

When I’d had enough cat love, I paid this lovely man who has a tiny kitten overseeing the work on his desk! He took my giant note and even played with the kitten so it would turn its head for a photo. That’s what I call service.

Armed with small change, I returned to the noodle vendor, who gave me a styrofoam box loaded with noodles, a pack of fried shallots, a couple of chilies, and a sachet of coconut milk sauce. It was a bit fiddly to eat whie walking, but I managed to pour over the shallots and sauce, and then speared a raviolo with the little plastic fork provided. And…it was amazing. Heavenly. (Possibly) the best thing I’ve eaten in Chiang Mai. The filling included roasted peanuts, shrimp paste, palm sugar, probably some pork in there somewhere, I’m not entirely sure. It was sweet but a savoury, caramelly, salty, chewy sweetness that made it lunch rather than dessert. I ate each one literally talking to myself about how good they were and counting down till the tragic moment that there would be none left. I don’t know what they are called or what is in them, but I do know that I’ve experienced chow hound discovery joy and the pleasures of true Chiang Mai street food.