Khantoke Dinner - Trying Traditional Thai Food From The North!
Khantoke Dinner – Trying Traditional Thai Food From The North!
Have you ever tried traditional Thai food from the North? Khantoke dinner may be the answer if you’re looking to get a little bit closer to the Thai culture than to its mesmeric, jewel-blue sea. Today’s post is about the unique experience and the Lanna culture where the idea of Khantoke dinner originates from.
Khantoke dinner dates back centuries and up until now, this tradition has been preserved by many locals who celebrate major festivals and national holidays accompanied by the Khantoke dinner.
Staying in Chiang Mai for Christmas? Or maybe thinking of the Lantern Festival at New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai? We chose to celebrate both Christmas dinner and New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai and we thought it would be good to share our experience with you in our article about Christmas in Chiang Mai, Thailand here. For us the option of combining Christmas celebration with Khantoke dinner was by far the best opportunity we could have picked! Why not kill two birds with one stone?
What is Khantoke dinner?
Khantoke dinner derives from the word Khantoke, also referred to as khan toke, khantok or simply toke. Khantoke is a low, round wooden table adorned with beautiful carvings and polished with lacquer. The legs of the table are connected to the tray fitted on top of it. Unsurprisingly, the tray is round shaped and originally it was made with teakwood but the bamboo or rattan trays are not uncommon.
In the past, some of the wealthiest families would decorate the table with gold and use it for a variety of special occasions, like weddings, funerals or monkhood.
Khantoke dinner is not a country-wide tradition and is undeniably one of the more authentic experiences, limited to Northern Thailand. Khantoke dinner is a heritage of Thai Lanna. In the past, these remote, northern provinces used to be under Lanna Kingdom ruling. Khantoke table was traditionally used for dinner in the Lana Kingdom between 13th and 18th century.
The tradition started centuries ago, however, has been cultivated by the generations and this rich, authentic dinner experience has been well preserved until today by the local people residing in Northern Thailand.
What to expect from the Traditional Thai food served at Khantoke dinner?
Since it’s a centuries-old tradition, expect to be sitting down to a well-presented dinner served on a round tray, placed on a table only about a foot or two off the ground. Khantoke dinner consists of rice, selection of Northern Thai dishes and some finger food. Whilst you’ll be given a fork and spoon, it is encouraged to use your fingers.
As we were looking for the less ordinary options for Christmas dinner in Chiang Mai, Khantoke dinner experience conveniently coincided with that. If you haven’t attended the traditional Thai food ceremonies, just do it. Whilst we wanted something different rather than the Western style Christmas, Khantoke dinner is good to do all year round. The ceremony is very special and you won’t regret choosing it, whether during Christmas, Valentine’s, New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai or simply any other occasion.
Traditional Thai food served at Khantoke dinner is more expensive than the casual dinner out and has to be arranged in advance. There are several places where you can take part in the Northern Thai ceremony:
- Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center (located on Thipanet road, very central) – this place is definitely the most traditional one offering a truly village style traditional dinner. We picked it because of it. Open daily from 7pm till 9.30pm. It’s 650Baht per person and between 750-800 Baht including a pickup and a drop-off
- Khum Khantoke (located east of the town) – more modern type of Khan tok dinner
- Khantoke Palace
What type of Traditional Thai food is served on the Khantoke dinner tray?
Nothing that looks Western to start with!
Our menu consisted of:
- Hin-Lay (Burmese pork curry)
- Crispy fried pork skin
- Green chilli paste
- Minced pork in spicy tomato paste
- Fried banana and pumpkin
- Sweet crispy noodles
- Fried chicken
- Fresh veggies
- Stir-fried mixed veggies
We were offered some drinks of your choice and fruit (which I think was way too much anyway!)
Ah, there was even more fruit! Thanks to my birthday cake made out of watermelon and pineapples! They took me by surprise, it was totally unexpected and so sweet on the organiser’s and catering staff side!
Whilst you’re savouring every morsel of the Northern Thai food delicacies, the professional dancers will entertain you with their elegant moves. Ah, you will also get to see some of the local Northern Thai tribes!
As you might already know, these performers couldn’t do without the hypnotising Fon Lep, more known as the Thai Finger dance, followed by a Ram Dab (Thai Sword dance).
Here’s the full list of the dance in case you want to look it up in advance:
- Fon Lep (Thai Finger dance or The Fingernails dance),
- Ram Dab (Thai Sword dance),
- Fon Thiean (Thai Candle dance),
- The Shan Dance
- Ram Wong (group dance)
- Thai Lue Dance
- Tai Dance
- Mahn Mui Chiangta Dance
- The Magic Fowls Dance
- The Flame Worshiping Yogis
- Forn Guy Lai
- Noi Jai Ya Dance
- The Silk-reeling Dance
- Rumwong or the Circle Dance
- The Celebration Dance
Whilst the majority of Thai performing dancers wear their beautiful and colourful traditional, Thai silk attire, about halfway through the evening you will also get to see dancers from the remote hill tribes:
Check out our article about our trip to Chiang Rai where you can learn all about best places to visit in Chiang Rai and near Chiang Rai. It’s a great guide to those who would like to see how these fantastic hill tribe communities go about their lives far up in the mountains. I’ve also written an article about the fabulous Doi Mae Salong village, a Chinese village right at the top of of the mountains near the Golden Triangle, a special place that’s also a border to Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (former Burma).
Traditional Thai food and dance at Khantoke dinner in more detail – Yes or No?
Our Khantoke dinner included a pick up by an assigned driver who took on a few other dinner guests on the way to Khantoke dinner. This service seemed to be very convenient as it was only a little more expensive but included a drop off at your condo or a hotel.
We got to the place a little later than expected, blame it on the evening traffic I guess? All in all, we got there about 10 minutes before the start which was about enough to get ready and pick the food selection for our well-deserved, festive, Christmas / Khantoke dinner.
Upon arrival, we were immediately greeted by a Thai hostess wearing a traditional Lanna Thai dress who led us all the way to our table. You’ll be asked to take your shoes off before entering the hall to make you feel cosy as you get seated on cushions and the soft, carpeted floor. At some point, we found ourselves almost lying down whilst watching the show!
We were sat in a very good location, near the stage, in the proximity of the musicians as well as entering and exiting dancers. No lie, it was a really good view! I guess sometimes it pays off to mention it’s your birthday (Khantoke dinner was actually shortly after my birthday!) as we got a lovely treatment from the staff.
The waitress prompts you with three available options for your Khantoke: regular, halal and vegetarian. And nope, the food doesn’t come served on single plates, in case you wondered! Traditional Thai food is served in a variety of bowls, each one to be shared between the guests sat at the roundtable. Don’t worry, you won’t be sat with a group of strangers, only the ones selected in your booking.
Whilst waiting for the performers to start, we met a photographer who came with the intention of capturing the unique looks of Northern Thai dancers wearing traditional attire. Food was the icebreaker! Or mouth waterer to be more precise, since his food arrived first. You will be served these delicious, traditional Thai dishes on a pretty heavy, round tray in a very elegant way! The waitresses are known for their gracious etiquette.
Maybe not the entire selection of food would satisfy my taste buds but I can say with confidence that it’s quite a unique food set which you’ll find it hard to find elsewhere in Thailand, including Isaan region which is different from the Lana food, particularly present in the area of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. All in all, I think you should give it a go.
Dip the chilli paste called Nam Prik Awng goes with the crispy pork skin (this is so addictive yet so unhealthy!!!!). Hang Lei Pork or chicken goes well with stir-fried cabbage and rice but feel free to mix it as you go along and pick your favourites, this way you won’t feel bad when you leave half a tray full, it’s simply too much to handle! It’s hard to focus on eating whilst you’re being enticed by the dancers performing to the best of their skills, and their skills can be at the very least impressive!
I don’t think my palms are anywhere near as flexible as the ones of the Thai dancers, not to mention the sword dance. We were a little disappointed by the hill tribe dance as it didn’t seem to be as impressive as the former performers, however, the music and the moves of the hill tribe people definitely integrated local folklore.
Shortly after we finished eating, I was invited by one of the beautifully dressed Thai dancers to join them in the last dance, Kevin managed to get a short recording of it for a memory of this wonderful evening!
The whole ceremony lasted around 2.5 hours from the moment we entered the hall until we left the Chiang Mai Cultural Centre. At the end of the show, you’ll be encouraged to browse through the local market and get a few souvenirs. Sadly, the market closes down shortly after the show so if you want to stay and enjoy the comfy cushions, you will need to hurry up or simply give the market a miss. However, there are plenty of other things to do in Chiang Mai Old Town and Night Bazaar which I write about in our Guide To Best Things To Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand here.
We were one of the last ones to leave, thanks to the comfy settings and music played from the traditional instruments that made our visit very pleasant. As soon as we left, we felt a little bit pressed for time since our driver had already been waiting for us to drop us off at our condo. Poor guy!
Overall, a definite ‘Yes’ from us for attending Khantoke dinner. You shouldn’t give it a miss, whether or not you’re into Thai culture. Not only because of the authentic and traditional Thai food from the Northern provinces, but also because of the general atmosphere and the very friendly staff members who know how to look after their guests with wide, Thai smiles.
Don’t forget to check out our guide with best ideas on what to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It will save you time and help you organise your trip! If you enjoyed this article or have some questions for us, don’t forget to leave a comment!
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